The Nightmare Before Launch: Product Management Horror Stories

Gather around the campfire kids (which we’ve built by burning old copies of ET: The Videogame) because it’s the season of spooks and scares.

There’s lots that can go wrong in the day-to-day life of a PM. Slack can go down right when you’re in the middle of an important conversation with your remote team. You can send the wrong email to a stakeholder. Bugs.

We’ve gathered some of the most heart-wrenchingly terrifying moments from the lives of Product Managers in our community.

Girl behind glass

The Curse of the Live Demo

“I guess everyone’s scary moment is when unplanned events happen such as system going down and also whether live demos will go smoothly as per plan.”

“Live demos never go as planned!”

It’s enough to break any of us out in a cold sweat. You’re standing there, ready to present the product you’ve spent months carefully crafting. You’ve tested it in a million different ways and you’re excited to show it to the world.

Suddenly the screen freezes. Your computer whirs loudly as if it too is panicking. The faces of your audience are waiting expectantly, a few start to laugh. You try to tell yourself they’re laughing with you, not at you.

Live demos really separate the children from the adults. No matter how much you prepare it seems to be a universal law that they’ll go wrong. The bigger the launch, the bigger it’ll fail.

All you can do is prepare as much as you can, and maintain a positive attitude. And know that you’re not the only one. Even Steve Jobs wasn’t immune to the Curse of the Live Demo:

The Evil Management

“Having leadership change directions after you just spent the past 2 months of 80 hour weeks developing the plan and getting ready to execute…”

“Having leadership that doesn’t know what product managers do, essentially taking the entire focus down to the drain. I believe this is one trap I have seen so many fellow PM’s fall into when they end up joining startups where founders are clueless about what PM’s should do vs not.”

“Literally saying – here is some money – do something with it. I don’t care – just make more of it with whatever you can come up with.”

Good management can make or break a company. Some startups (though certainly not all) fall into the trap of being run by people who have never been in a position of authority over others before. Management is a skill which, like all others, must be honed over time. If your higher-ups lack the experience of running a company, you might find them making decisions that are detrimental to your projects.

Or your higher-ups might have all the experience they could need, and they’re just not nice people. In any case, it makes life at work a complete PM nightmare!

It’s difficult to know how to handle these situations. Hopefully, it’s something that can be fixed by organizing a meeting between key staff members and management. A good employer appreciates the opinions and needs of their employees.

If there’s truly nothing to be done, sometimes it’s best to walk away and start looking for a new venture.

People in mist

Invasion of the Bugs and Crashes

“Finding a bug (which we couldn’t foresee at the time of testing) after we go live, and getting complaints & further escalations from multiple customers regarding the same issue.”

Unfortunately, this is part and parcel of anything related to Product. If you make any worthwhile product, it’s going to have bugs at some point! If you absolutely said through production with no problems whatsoever, you either have an engineering team built by the gods, or you’re building an incredibly simple product.

All you can do when they appear after launch and catch the attention of your customers, is damage control. You have to fix the problem swiftly, but without rushing through to get a haphazard result. You also have to be humble, making sure you communicate with the marketing team as they’ll be bearing the brunt of the Twitter abuse!

Stay transparent with your customers, and swift in your actions, and the early bugs will soon be forgotten!

Spooky image

The Invisible Resources

“When the same people who just pulled more than half of the development resources from your project last month try to throw you under the bus in front of everyone for not delivering as planned.”

“Make commitments to a customer on a product and the executive team axes the entire engineering team needed to deliver on said commitment”

“Running out of funding”

This can feel like having the rug swept out from under your feet. Life in Product is challenging enough when you have everything you need at your disposal! Whether your team is too small or it’s your budget that seems to have vanished into thin air, knowing what you can achieve but not being able to get there is a real nightmare!

Being a Product Manager is all about being resourceful. In the best case, you’ll be able to find alternative methods – everyone has their tricks. In the worst case, it might be time to close the chapter, dust yourself off and carry on to the next project.

Have some more horror stories for us? Help us celebrate the season of spooks by sending them to us on Twitter. Find us at @ProductSchool.

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