Five Deadly Product Management Career Sins

In this article, we’re going to talk about some issues that can stop people from rising quickly in Product Management. I call these the five deadly sins that can kill your career, and it’s based on watching people over the past 30 years in my career. In some cases, I personally have committed some of these sins, so I have an idea of just how challenging things can be if you make a big mistake.

The First Deadly Sin

No One Understands What You Do

Imagine I have 100 Product Managers in a room. I ask them to raise their hand if they think team members from other departments have a clear understanding of what they do as a Product Manager. Probably less than 10 would actually raise their hand.

It’s very common that executives and others you work with don’t have a good idea of what you do day-to-day as a Product Manager. This is partly because the job position and role varies dramatically across companies. And often there is a lot of overlap and confusion with other roles.

The result: the perceived value of Product Management is much lower than it could be. That limits your ability to influence and also puts you at risk if the company needs to downsize.

In a 280 Group Facebook poll, we asked “Is the Product Management role in your company well understood by executives and other groups?” We found that 75% of companies don’t really have a good understanding of Product Management.

In another 280 Group study we found that only 29% of the respondents felt that the executive team understood what Product Management is and the value it brings.

Source: 280 Group Challenges in Product Management Survey

The “sin” here is letting this continue to be the case with your product management organization at your company. You need to constantly and consistently explain what it is Product Management does and emphasize the successes your team achieves.

The Second Deadly Sin

Not Being Effective

Most Product Managers are expected to learn on the job and are never trained. In 280 Group’s Product Management Skills – Benchmark Report, we found that only about a third of Product Managers had ever been trained. We also found that the higher you rise in Product Management, the more likely you will have had formal training.

Source: 280 Group Product Management Skills – Benchmark Report

Imagine hiring someone in Finance and not training them how to do their job. Or hiring an engineer who’s never been trained on how to code. That would be ridiculous. It’s the same for Product Management.

It’s rare that companies have their own dedicated in-house training and career path plans for Product Management. Few have fully optimized the Product Management department and role. It’s also rare to have standardized document templates and consistent ways of doing things.

The result of it all is that as a Product Manager you often are not very efficient. You end up doing a lot of tactical work, learning on the job, and reinventing the wheel with each new task. This takes up a lot of time and hampers you from being able to focus on the strategic and leadership elements of being a Product Manager.

The Third Deadly Sin

Being Tactical and Not Strategic

Most Product Managers are underwater. They’re too overwhelmed to be a strategic leader. They are too busy doing the urgent tasks and they don’t spend any time on the important tasks.

What suffers in this environment is job effectiveness, career advancement, and job satisfaction. After all, who can be satisfied with their job if all they are doing is constant tactical low-level work?

To become more strategic, it first helps to address Sin #1 above, getting teams and folks you work with to better understand what you do and don’t do. This should allow you to pare back on the tactical work that really doesn’t belong to you. Second, you need to try and carve out time in your calendar every week to dedicate to strategic work. During our upcoming webinar, we’ll prove more tips on how to do this.

The Fourth Deadly Sin

No Formal Career Plan

In most companies, creating a career plan is completely up to the individual. You have to come to terms with the fact that companies are not going to take responsibility for your career success. That’s not the way the corporate world works (though it did many years ago). You, as a Product Manager, have to create your career plan yourself. When you do, you’ll thrive. If you don’t, you’ll stagnate.

If you’ve already started on your own career plan, then you’ve got a jump on most of your peers. If not, start by thinking about where you’d like to be in five years, and consider the steps you’d need to take to get there. We’ll provide more tips to help you here during the upcoming webinar.

The Fifth Deadly Sin

Not Enjoying Your Job

A 2017 Mind the Workplace report, released by the nonprofit group Mental Health America (MHA) and The Faas Foundation, surveyed more than 17,000 U.S. workers in 19 industries and found that 71% were either “actively looking for new job opportunities” or had the topic on their minds “always, often or sometimes” at work. Only 19% said they “rarely or never” think about getting another job.

If you aren’t happy with your job or your situation you need to remember first that it’s your responsibility to be happy. Product Management can be a tremendously enjoyable job but you have to be focusing on the right things and you have to take responsibility for making it fun every day.

Taking responsibility for fun makes a huge difference. You can be very effective and get credit for your work. But if you aren’t having fun and spreading that to your team and co-workers then you are missing the point. No one ever looked back at a time in their career and said “Gee, I’m so glad that I worked so hard but didn’t enjoy myself back then.”

If you don’t make your job enjoyable, over time, you’ll become disillusioned and jaded. The last thing you want in your career is to become known as the person who has a bad attitude, who is negative and who is jaded and cranky.

What Next?

Now that you are aware of the five deadly Product Management career sins, what do you do next? Start by checking your own behaviors and attitudes, and watch as others make mistakes and make mental notes to yourself. Commit to not making the same mistakes and your career will have a much better chance to thrive. Join our co-hosted AIPMM webcast, How to Accelerate Your PM Career, Part 2: Five Deadly Product Management Sins to learn more in-depth about these common career-limiting Product Management mistakes and how to avoid them in your own efforts and continue on a path for rapid career advancement.

To catch up on Part 1 of our series, check out the blog post and slide deck here: Top Strategies to Advance Your Product Management Career Rapidly – Part 1.

This article was written by Roger Snyder and Brian Lawley.

NOTE: This webinar has passed. You can access the slide deck below.

About the Author

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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