Being pulled in different directions is nothing new for product managers. Product leaders, who play an equally critical role in software development, know this, too. They face many of the same challenges as they lead the product managers through the rigors of creating great products.
But the traditional challenges that plague both roles – time constraints, balancing opposing forces among different stakeholders, etc. – are evolving. Thanks to changes in the workplace and the resulting growing importance of software for both customer-facing and back-office applications, these two roles are becoming even more critical to success. Here is a closer look at the biggest challenges facing PMs and Product Leaders today.

1. Setting priorities without feedback

It’s rare, and perhaps even unheard of that a great product is developed without the use of any user feedback, market validation, or research. Teams need external input so they can gauge whether they’re on the right track, developing the right product and they cannot simply rely upon intuition. In the same vein, they can’t simply rely upon top-down commands from senior executives, who are removed from the product and its real users.

A quarter of PMs surveyed for the Product Managers in 2020 Report said that their biggest challenge was setting roadmap priorities when they had no user feedback. Great products are the result of working closely with users, and without their say in the matter, it’s pretty near impossible to steer a team in the right direction toward a product that serves the user in all the ways they want and need.

2. Juggling a lot of different opinions

As a PM or a Product Leader, you are privy to a lot of different ideas from your team members on how to develop the product. It’s good that everyone is passionate and they should be encouraged to contribute their ideas because that’s how innovation takes place. But as the Product Manager or Leader, you need to weigh all of this input while keeping the facts in mind. The decisions you make about where to take the product will likely factor in both sources of input – team ideas and basic facts about the product, like business needs, limitations, and other constraints. Your challenge is helping the team circle back to the facts, incorporating them into the discussion as you plot your way forward.

3. Cultivating a company-wide culture

As a Product Manager or Leader, you come into contact with just about every department in your company. You work with everyone who has anything to do with the product, including:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Engineering
  • Design
  • Legal
  • Finance
  • Operations
  • Senior Management

As the glue that binds everything together around the product, you own all the decisions that get made. As a result, you have an enormous influence on how the product gets developed.

Your role may be the glue that binds the development process together but if there’s not a cohesive, company-wide culture to support the process, you will always be facing an uphill battle in trying to build great products. We’ve talked a lot about company culture lately, and this is just one of the many reasons why.

Without a common mindset that encourages innovation and promotes collaboration, one that constantly reminds people to think of the user first, to practice design thinking, there’s no foundation for consistently building great products. Because your role touches so many departments in the company, so many different people with potentially opposing needs, there must be a solid foundation of values upon which you can all base your discussions. There must be a strong company culture. Then, and only then, can you establish a smooth, company-wide process for building great products that users love and which satisfy all the major stakeholders as well.

4. Dealing with dependencies

Cross-functional teams rely upon clear communication and a spirit of collaboration, as well as alignment to a common goal. Dependencies are common in the development world, and they describe when different initiatives must be completed in a certain order. For example, making progress on a certain story depends on the completion of another story, which is the responsibility of someone (or group) working in a different area of the team.

Dependencies aren’t set in stone, however, and sometimes there can be misalignment over how the dependencies should work. Your engineering team may push to complete Story B first, while the executive team thinks Story A should be completed first. As the PM, you are a member of both teams, so you should be able to understand both cases, from both the engineering and the executive teams’ perspectives. That’s not easy, and you’ll need to listen carefully to the concerns of both sides in order to make your decisions and deliver the news in an effective, respectful manner.

5. Staying calm amidst rocky market waters

One thing you can expect in the role of PM is change. There will always be new competitors, new sources for product advancements, and of course, new user needs to satisfy. Your job is to accept that there will always be change, and stay flexible enough with an agile mindset to deal with it when it arrives.

Conclusion: Evolving roles, evolving challenges

Product managers play an increasingly critical role in software organizations, especially as the world goes digital and business models change. With an increased focus on the user, the rise of Design Thinking, and the adoption of new software development methodologies, their role is expanding.

Just as it is with any change in life, the expanding role does not come without its challenges. As you’ve just read, those challenges can evolve, too, making the role of the PM or the Product Leader one of the most dynamic positions at a company. It’s also one of the most important roles, and will continue to evolve even further.