© Linda Gorchels (2008)
Product managers typically have job descriptions listing duties and responsibilities, such as competitive analysis and new product development. But sometimes it is easier to understand a position by focusing on mistakes to avoid rather than simply tasks to complete. Here’s a partial list.
1. Having a view that is too product-centric
It may seem counterintuitive to say that product managers sometimes make the mistake of focusing too much on their products, but it’s true. An overemphasis on products can divert attention from the customers. Many product managers (particularly in business-to-business and service-sector firms) are hired for their technical expertise with a specific product or service – and subsequently focus on the next “killer app” even if customers want something else!
2. Responding solely to customer requests
Having just warned against becoming too product-centric, it may seem contradictory to call responding to customer requests a mistake. Yet it can be. While responding to current customer needs is important, it’s just as important to ask yourself, “how will customers of tomorrow be different from customers of today – and what does that imply for my product line?” Many companies have missed significant trends by looking inside rather than outside the firm.
3. Being a fire fighter
Product managers overlook these customer trends when they are too busy putting out fires. Over time, fire fighting becomes the norm, preventing product managers from devoting any serious time to strategy. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, product managers must structure their time to allow for long-term planning.
4. Viewing the position as a “specialist” position
To move beyond the specialist “fire fighter” image, product managers must work to create products and services that deliver superior customer satisfaction while simultaneously providing long-term value for the company. To accomplish this, a product manager needs a broad knowledge of virtually all aspects of a company, functioning as a generalist who can accomplish work through other people and functional departments.