Avoidable mistakes novice product managers make – Part 3

By Shrinath V|15th Mar 2013
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This is the concluding part of the three-part series. Click on the links to read part 1 and part 2.

Mistake 7: Succumbing to the early adopter bias

Image credits: mkrohne, Flickr
Image credits: mkrohne, Flickr

You may have heard of building products according to defined user persona. But in reality, thinking like an average user is tough. Most members in your organization will act like early adopters, eagerly exploring new features and giving feedback. Novice product managers may sometime not realize the breadth of responses they would get from early adopters to laggards. While you definitely need early adopters for your product, they form a small segment of your potential user base. They are also the most vocal with feedback, so its easy to give higher priority to their suggestions.

However, most users do not want to think about how your product is when using it. They want to, well, just use it! And your aim should be to make it easy for them. Seasoned product managers look at the product as the vast majority of users would, leaving aside technical whiz-bang or items that would appear intelligent but confusing to lay users.

Tip: One of the best ways to see how people react to your product is to get someone from your target segment to use your prototype. Resist the urge to guide them through the process, as you will not be around to help once the product goes live. After the process, check what would have helped – better interface, a couple of guidance bubbles or a prominent help.

Mistake 8: Ignoring significant outliers

Somewhere down the line, you will aim to do an idea or product validation study. You will either do a focus group discussion or a qualitative interview with your target segment. And you may hear something that stands out. Maybe the logo reminded a user of something weird, or they expected something else to happen when they pressed a button. Should you pay attention to the fact or ignore it?

As a novice, ignoring outliers may seem safe. Dealing with outliers in your mental model is difficult. Usually, you’re so involved in the product development by this time, that you do not want anything to indicate that you’ve done something wrong. You think changes at this stage is not possible or will have huge costs, so it is easier to ignore some of the findings.

But often, outliers bring out truths that might affect how the product is perceived when you launch. If your logo didn’t look right to a user, it may pay to dig and see why, and what inferences they were drawing. Depending on the analysis, you may find that there is a perception problem that could be corrected by marketing the right message or presenting the software differently.

Mistake 9: Kneejerk reactions to changing market dynamics

Before starting a project, product managers do landscaping and competitive analysis. Product planning cycles are quite long, and it is possible that the market landscape will alter drastically during this time. Product managers have to keep track of this, but also factor in changes to their roadmap. With so much changing in the technology landscape, it is often impossible to keep track of all competitive moves, both of large companies and nimbler startups.As a product manager, you may often find out a little too late about a competitor move.

What should you do? Call off a product, change a feature or change marketing strategy? A lot depends on the stage you are, but ensure that you do a good evaluation of the current situation and find plausible ways forward. A kneejerk response and strategy change could hurt more than any competitor move.

Tip: Evaluate what you can change at the current stage of the project, and also whether being first in the market really makes a difference. Coming in after your competitors could also help you frame a comparative benefit that enables consumers understand your product better.

Mistake 10: Ignoring the cost of not making decisions

Product managers have to chomp complexity for breakfast everyday. As part of the role, a product manager is always making decisions, often based on incomplete information. As a novice, it is easy to balk at decision making. Once you have committed to a path, reversals can be costly. It may seem that its safer to get some more information before making the decision.

While this is wise for critical decision making, most novices don’t realize there is a cost to not taking a decision. By not taking a decision, you may be delaying the launch and hence affecting revenue flow, or holding up other projects in the future. This is common even among seasoned professionals. Often, projects are held up because of some minor pending decisions. Smart product managers often plan decisions so that there are reversals that they could look at along the way, but make decisions to go ahead.

Tip: When faced with a decision, try evaluating what is the cost of not making the decision on project time frame versus what’s the cost of making a wrong decision.

The author can be reached at shrinath@yourstory.in or @shrinathv.

Also read: Avoidable mistakes novice product managers make - Part 1

Avoidable mistakes novice product managers make - Part 2

 

 

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