6 common mistakes product managers should avoid

Elad Simon Published: 14 Dec 2018 Updated: 04 Jul 2023
No left turn, road closed and wrong way street signs on a road

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

There are few professions where mistakes are part of the process as much as they are in product development. Trial and error are a vital part of innovation and every mistake you make is an opportunity to grow. The lessons you learn from your blunders put you one step closer to the next success. That said, there are specific oversights many product managers are prone to. Focusing on avoiding these commonplace mistakes can make the road to success just a little shorter.

Here, in no particular order, is my list of mistakes typical of inexperienced product managers:

1/ Focusing on the product, not the user

In the hectic process of product development, it’s easy to forget that your users don’t actually care about your product. People everywhere want solutions for their problems and will spend money on products that suit their needs. That’s why the best product strategy focuses on the problem, not the solution. Decisions made on the basis of an assumption without proper discovery and validation will not likely point your product team in the right direction. Even if,  you are working in a niche you have a lot of experience in, (as s product manager building a tool for product managers, this one hits close to home) don’t assume you already know everything. Seeking feedback from your users is extremely important on every step of the way. The closer you are to your product, the more you should seek external validation. The successful product is the one that really meets the user’s needs.

"wrong way" sign next to a road

2/ Not communicating your vision and strategy

The key to good management is first and foremost communication. It’s crucial for product owners to communicate their vision early and often with as many people as possible. The same goes for your product roadmap: let everyone on the team know what you think the gameplan is. Don’t hesitate to share, even when you think it may change, as it surely will because planning and replanning are a big part of this job.

3/ Underestimating copy and design

Many tech-oriented organizations forget how much the design of the visual interface and texts in the product matter for its ultimate success. For managers who are busy with making features work under tough deadlines, it’s easy to view design as superfluous, a nice-to-have aspect that is the first thing to go when budgets get strained. This kind of thinking simply overlooks the significance of emotions in the process of product adoption. Consumers are bombarded with new products constantly and make rapid choices based on first impressions. So even if your product provides them with a great solution, they won’t take the time to figure that out, if the design in unattractive or the copy is confusing. It makes sense to invest in the UX of your product to make sure users have an emotional connection with it. Products that excel in creating that connection are the ones that stand out from the crowd.

No left turn, road closed and wrong way street signs on a road

4/ Falling in love with unnecessary features

The most important thing product managers have to remember to do is to step back and look at your product objectively. It’s not always easy to be humble enough to recognize your week points and acknowledge when a feature isn’t working. But without this process, the product will never reach its full potential. Remember that your user doesn’t care if a particular feature took months to develop or required a great effort from your team. Don’t be afraid to edit. Even if some of your users are happy with the feature and are raving about it in their feedback. The important question should be whether it has incremental for your userbase as a whole. After all, you’re not in the business of building everything that everyone wants.

5/ Tweaking Forever

This one goes out to the perfectionists out there. When you spend months, or even years, developing a product you want it to be the best anyone can imagine right from the start. It seems unfair to yourself, the engineers, and the user to release it when it’s not quite done. It is in these moments you must remind yourself that the perfect is the enemy of the good. The simple truth is that none of those additional improvements can replace the value of getting your feature or product in the hands of real users. Letting go of imperfections in favor of quick version release is a strategy that proves effective in the long run.

"This way" written on wooden fence with arrow pointing right

6/ Losing sight of the big picture

With the pace of digital change and the intense competition between new products hitting the market, planning a strategy for a brand is not an easy task. Many of us get sucked into working on the minor improvements required for the next product release forgetting to look at what’s happening beyond the realm of our responsibility. But in this ever-shifting world, it’s all the more important to look around and keep a finger on the pulse. Take time to explore new technologies, stay aware of what your competitors are doing and be on top of the latest buzzwords. Constantly learning is the trademark of a good product manager, don’t get stuck in a rut and lose sight of what’s happening around you.

Elad Simon
Elad Simon

CEO & Co-Founder, craft.io