Matt Inouye, Senior Product Manager for Honey, the popular PayPal-owned browser extension, shares four common concerns that keep PMs up at night.
Product management is as much art as it is science. In addition to requiring core skills such as technical knowledge, roadmap planning, pricing and revenue modeling, and defining and tracking success metrics, product managers must also possess emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and the ability to keep their cool under pressure. “The best PMs know how to push hard on the right priorities, with urgency but without conveying a sense of panic or stress,” affirms Julia Austin, senior lecturer in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the Harvard Business School.
But even experienced product managers can struggle to prevent work stressors from following them home. Here, Matt Inouye, senior product manager at Honey, the popular browser extension owned by PayPal, shares common concerns that PMs face and actionable advice on how to mitigate such challenges.
1. Concern: Is My Team Building the Right Product Features?
Generally, many product managers are concerned about prioritizing the best product components at the right time to provide the best solutions for their customers. “There are so many different possible ways to spend your time and energy,” says Inouye, who primarily works on a product catalog for Honey and PayPal’s engineering and data science teams to access. “There’s always some degree of uncertainty — are we actually building the right thing at the right time?”
Solution: To mitigate this concern, product managers should aim to understand the true problem stakeholders are trying to solve by being brought into the end-user discussion. Often, delivering exactly what is asked can lead to uncreative solutions or large, unwieldy product features. “Have conversations around problems that need to be solved instead of immediately jumping into solutioneering,” recommends Inouye. Often, this involves being in the room when end users are sharing their problems so you can ask the strategic questions.
2. Concern: Do Teams Within My Organization Trust Me?
“Product management can be summed up by trying to get other people to do things without having any direct authority over them,” laughs Inouye. From marketing to engineering to sales, product managers are consistently collaborating with other teams within their organization — each of which have their own interpersonal dynamics and working styles. It’s a PM’s role to motivate these disparate teams to work toward a shared vision that will optimally benefit your product’s users. This can be intimidating, because if your product vision is wrong or veers off course, the consequences affect multiple departments within your company.
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Solution: Be a chameleon. Align your working style to mesh with the different teams you interact with. For example, your company’s engineering team may operate with a high level of structure and accountability, while your sales team may value exceptional communication. Build trust within these various teams by recognizing which working style makes them thrive, and always approach collaboration with respect.
3. Concern: What If Things Go Wrong?
When you’re working in tech, things are going to go wrong. There will be bugs. There will be outages in the middle of the night. “There’s a worst-case scenario fear in product management that could make you or your company look really bad,” says Inouye. “You’re working with complicated systems that can break — it’s part of the job.”
Solution: Have a game plan. Inouye says that preparing for worst-case scenarios with established processes will alleviate worrying about components breaking. That means having team members in place who are dedicated to troubleshooting buggy software or handling outages, moderation tools or a review process for content and updates, and established security protocols to prevent cybercriminal activity.
When adding new features, Inouye recommends that product managers painstakingly think about every action that’s possible with your product, and what could go awry. For example, if your product has a feature where users can upload a photo, what happens if an image refuses to upload? What happens if a user uploads an image that doesn’t adhere to your community guidelines?
At the very least, look on the bright side. Earlier in his career, Inouye worked on a product that one day sent the same email to every user 20 times. “In these situations, hopefully you can have a learning experience, and say, ‘That wasn’t very pleasant, but what can I do better and how can I think about improving my contingency process going forward?’”
4. Concern: I’m Dealing With Stress Alone
Product management can be a very stressful job, and it typically attracts personalities that set high standards for themselves. Unfettered stress can lead to burnout and can even affect your physical health.
Solution: Find several trusted peers within your company — not necessarily your boss — who you feel comfortable with sharing your concerns and stressors. A significant body of research suggests that talking about your problems and anxieties with others can mitigate the negative impact of stress.
“Peers in other groups or departments are great to talk to, as they likely have their own problems they want to share with a neutral party too,” says Inouye. Your peers can also be a sounding board for other concerns you may have. They’ll affirm if you are a trusted product manager within your organization, and if you are a new employee, they’ll share the dynamics of how your company works, and who the key decision makers are.
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Meet the Author
Author Bio: Jenna Blumenfeld is the product content strategist at Stream, maker of enterprise-grade activity feed and chat APIs. Stream is the fastest, most scalable solution on the market today, enabling application product teams to increase user engagement and retention and decrease time to market. See how Stream’s activity feed and chat APIs can transform your app or website by activating your free 30-day Chat Trial.