Six Signs of Weak Product Management

Is Product Management Holding Your Business Back?

Sputtering Growth Engine?

While sales and marketing provide the fuel to propel revenues, product management is the engine that powers long-term growth through new products & services. So, it should be no surprise that when revenues and profits consistently underperform, product management may be a key contributing culprit.

As career product people, Deacon Lloyd consultants have seen and experienced the full spectrum of product management performance. In roles as product managers and product management leaders, we’ve come to know what helps and hinders strong, effective product management. We have also seen the signs that can point to an underperforming product management function.* In our view, here are the top six:

Weak Product                                     Management
1. Slow to Market
Do key competitors seem a step ahead in launching innovations or product enhancements? Does bringing new products/features to market take longer than seems reasonable? Is your IT or engineering team clogged with “top priority” projects?
Speed-to-market is one of the most common concerns among business leaders and one tied directly to product management processes. Impediments can emanate from all facets of product lifecycle management -- from planning and ideation to feasibility and development to launch -- which helps explain why the issue is so common. Unfortunately, significant improvements require more than one simple fix and most certainly require strong product management leadership.
2. Bloated Development Costs
Does it feel like the full cost to develop and launch new products/features is significantly higher than it should be? Do even relatively simple product improvements consume more resources than reasonable?
While many factors can come into play, such as deficient IT/engineering teams and antiquated systems or production platforms, product management generally merits the brunt of the blame, with: 1) poor direction – lack of clarity on product vision, strategy, and requirements; 2) indecisiveness or flip-flopping on product requirements; 3) feature packing - including low-value or unnecessary features; and 4) excessive, burdensome practices that hinder the development team.
3. Underwhelming Product Value
Are you seeing extended sales cycles? Higher than expected discounting? Uninspired customers? Poor marketing campaign ROI? Disturbing customer churn rates?
Insufficient value in the eyes of prospects/customers is revealed in many ways, with sales results the most obvious. It is product management’s job to deliver compelling product value to target markets. Why do they fail in this most crucial responsibility?
Most frequently, the lack of product value stems from inadequate up-front due diligence – a product manager out of touch with customers and markets. It’s not always on the product manager, though. In the absence of adequate feasibility and prioritization processes (see #5), it is common for sales or marketing organizations to force development of a new feature or product – in spite of evidence suggesting questionable value. Sometimes in an effort to trim cost (see #2) and/or maintain a launch target date (see #1), compromises are made during the development process that trim too much product value in order to stay on schedule.
4. Product Launch Failures
Have too many of your product launches fallen flat? Did the market “not get it” and simply yawn? Painfully slow customer uptake, muted media/analyst reaction?
More often than not, product roll-outs fail to meet expectations. Lack of differentiating value (see #3), poor launch planning, anemic product positioning and messaging, and insufficient organizational readiness are just a few contributors. A frequent root cause is a disconnect between product management and marketing during the concept feasibility and development process. Prior to approval of any development project, the organization should know the targets, why they’ll buy, and how the new product/feature will be positioned (at least a draft.) All of which is part of the up-front due-diligence process that product management – working with sales & marketing – conducts to ensure their view of market need matches reality.
5. No Product Vision / Roadmap
Do you know where your products are going? Do you seem to be reacting to market/competitive pressures rather than proactively leading the market?
Company-wide, there should be a clear understanding of the plans for product line evolution, expansion, and growth. Plans articulating a logical but compelling product vision inspire and guide those tasked with delivering the vision as well as those who will sell it. They also help align resources and support budget plans. Lack of vision/strategy has many consequences (see #1, 2 & 3 above), and rarely do bold market leaders lack product vision.
6. Poor Product Prioritization
Does your company tackle product development projects on a “first come, first serve” basis? Does your organization know which product development projects are highest priority? Do you have a sequencing of projects based on their priority/business value and projected resource availability, or do you roll with a more ad hoc political process?
One of product management’s main responsibilities is to optimize product investment to maximize profit growth while supporting corporate objectives and strategies. As new product/feature concepts are identified, assessed and approved, the organization must decide where they should be placed in the development queue (timing, sequencing.) Poor prioritization and sequencing practices almost always leads to a product pipeline clogged with the wrong projects.

*Note: An underperforming product management function does not necessarily mean the product managers are incompetent or unqualified. Good product managers can be dragged down by poor policies & practices as well as dysfunctional inter-departmental relationships.

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