Product School

How to Identify Problematic Product Managers

Jay Perlman

Jay Perlman

January 09, 2023 - 6 min read

Updated: April 25, 2024 - 6 min read

There are thousands of articles, books, videos, and conferences that discuss the traits necessary for you to become the greatest Product Manager ever. However, information on what makes a disastrous Product Manager is much harder to come by. This is exceptionally strange because a bad PM can theoretically cause more damage than a great PM can produce success.

Thankfully, for those out there who want to avoid being a complete mess of a PM (hopefully all of you), or for hiring managers who want to recruit a new team member who won’t cost their company millions (maybe billions…), here are some traits that you should avoid at all costs.

woman biting pencil sitting at desk in front of computer

The Procrastinating PM

Product Management requires making lots of quick and important decisions. Delaying workflow or being slow with responses can have irreversible negative effects on a project.

How can you spot a slow-acting PM? Generally, they will exhibit some of the following tendencies:

  • Pushing projects back.

  • Lacking punctuality.

  • Missing key deadlines.

  • Falling short of expected results.

If you know – or are one – of these types of PMs, then you likely have experienced a great deal of frustration. This is because these negative qualities not only affect the success of a project but also adversely impact the work of other team members and departments. Since projects require a high level of collaboration, if one person (let alone the leader of a project) lacks punctuality, then the process of everyone’s work slows.

Furthermore, procrastination not only reduces productivity but also accountability. If a PM doesn’t feel the need to be responsible for meeting deadlines, then the entire team loses a group sense of responsibility. This wide. This type of managing (or lack thereof) is easily one of the most detrimental qualities any type of team leader can possess.

Stressed man in room with open boxes.

The Micromanaging Manager

Having your boss hovering over you while you’re trying to accomplish a task is never a very comfortable feeling. Even though a PM who micromanages may intend to be helpful, the result of this looming behavior has a smothering effect.

Overbearing managerial styles not only suppress productivity but also stifles creativity as well. This is especially true for employees who are tenured and experienced. Office veterans are in their roles because they have a track record of producing results, and by trying to control their work, the rhythm becomes disrupted and inevitably prevents them from accomplishing their goals.

The best Product Managers allow their employees to control their own work processes, while also ensuring that the team’s work is in sync and organized enough to produce results. Avoiding micromanaging by building trust and collaborative rationalization is an essential part of creating harmonious solutions.

Angry face on yellow board

The “Yes PM”

This type of poor Product Manager is difficult to identify. Their enthusiasm is abundant and they are happy to put all ideas into action. While in rare circumstances this can be a productive mindset, the fact is that PMs have to be able to say “no”.

saying no is critical for ensuring productivity. Not all ideas contribute to solutions and allowing an overflow of suggestions can flood a product roadmap with unnecessary obstacles. PMs capable of shutting down opinions or requests are more capable with shepherding their team towards successful outcomes.

One other consequence of a ‘Yes PM’ is the propensity for them to burden their team members with extra (and unnecessary) work. This type of problematic ‘yes-overload’ generally stems from PMs who are afraid of conflict with superiors, or unaware of their team’s capabilities. In either case, saying yes to too many requests on the department’s behalf can overwhelm a team to the point of inefficiency.

The Demeaning PM

Calling out your colleagues isn’t just an unfriendly thing to do, it is a department fracturing maneuver. Cohesiveness within a team is a crucial element in creating positive results, and there are fewer ways to corrode togetherness than by publicly shaming an associate's mistakes.

It’s probably an obvious fact to everyone that people don’t appreciate public criticism. The less obvious side of this is that teams will often sympathize with the accused individual, and thus band together through resentment against the person that should be their leader. It this scenario of bad Product Managing it is nearly impossible to achieve success.

With this in mind, it doesn’t mean you have to be the most popular person in the world to be effective, but alienating team members is a guaranteed way to torpedo your chances of creating a thriving work environment.

PMs Who Don’t Track

Quantifying and tracking the impact of projects is essential for understanding the success of a product. tracking allows teams and PMs to see where ideas and processes are working, as well as what was successful and what needs to be altered for a better solution. Eliminating these processes creates a state of limbo, where team members, stakeholders, and executives are effectively left in the dark on the status of projects

Eliminating tracking also obscures transparency. Without documenting steps and metrics, teams under this type of management are likely to be out of sync. No tracking means no awareness of where team members stand on current processes and also produces confusion on overall product performance. Metaphorically speaking, working under this style of managing is like trying to hit a bullseye on a dartboard in complete darkness: nearly impossible.

Computer monitor on a unorganized desk.

Avoiding these Pitfalls

The reality of being a PM is that you are bound to make mistakes. The work is taxing, time-consuming, and requires a great deal of mental stamina and strength. So, what can you do to ensure that you avoid the mistakes of bad Product Managing?

First off, being vigilant with self-reviewing your performance can be very effective at staving off poor habits. Personal reflection will not only have positive outcomes beyond the avoidance of bad behaviors: it will have a radiating effect of good practices that will be adopted by dedicated team members.

Lastly, training is one of the best ways to ensure that bad habits are eliminated completely. Training will highlight weak areas, and effectively eliminate them by building up these specific skills. In essence, corporate training is similar to practice, and practice makes perfect.

Have any horror stories about terrible PMs? Head to our Slack Channel to enlighten everyone on what tendencies we can all learn to avoid.

Updated: April 25, 2024

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