3 things Product Managers shouldn’t be afraid of (but are...)

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Fear is the ultimate motivator. Fear drives action. Fear sets your limits. For a Product manager, fear is the real gut feel — reminding you of the times things went bad, and forcing a course correction.

However, there are 3 fears that Product Managers ought to generally ignore. These fears slow you down from going up. And going up is the only way forward for you.

In this article we’ll discuss those 3 fears and a potential way to deal with them.

1. Fear of failing

What is this fear?

Do you regularly consider the worst case scenario of your idea that you decided not to try it at all? Or has a fear of failure meant that, subconsciously, you undermined your own efforts to avoid the possibility of a larger failure? Well, you have a fear of failing. Some product managers I’ve worked with, simply abandoned a really cool feature because they thought it’ll fail to make the backlog, without attempting to build a case for it.

Why should you ignore this fear?

We’re all afraid of failing. Failing is why we can rise back up. However, an excess of this fear makes a product manager shy — afraid to take an action, afraid to jump into the unknown. A shy product manager, unwilling to take action, is worse than not having a product manager. Product management requires action in the face of the unknown, the daring to venture into the unknown.

How should you tackle this fear?

To tackle this fear, we’ve to first define what ‘failure’ means for you. Different benchmarks exist — the definition of success is objective; degree of failure is subjective. Your failure is a learning experience for another — why not you? Treat every low point as a learning experience and you’ll find yourself wiser (and writing articles on Medium).

Great Product Managers look forward to the next challenge, taking learnings from their past successes and their failures. Don’t dwell in the past.

2. Fear of others failing

What is this fear?

This is a common one. ‘I’ve written this beautiful user story, but I cannot rely on the team to execute it properly’ OR ‘I don’t trust the UX team to deliver the right UX for my product since they made that mistake last time’. If you said something like this or in a similar vein, you’ve experienced this fear — people you work with may not live up to your expectation of competency. You cannot trust them to do the right thing, at the right time.

Why should you ignore this fear?

Gross incompetence aside, remember, your team has been chosen to do the task with you, by powers higher than you, and you’re not a lone wolf. No matter how good you are, you cannot do all the tasks of the team — if you are, then you’re not a Product manager, you’re a God. Go build worlds, not products. You need the team, as much as they need you.

Product building & growing is a team effort.

How should you tackle your fear?

Empathy. Empathize with the person who’ll let you down. Know that you were once in their position; they too have the capacity to learn. Help them learn, gently correct them in their approach. As I wrote in my previous article (3 things they won’t teach in Product Management school), any knowledge acquired comes with the caveat of it being shared. If you know what success is for that person, you have a duty to try and help them avoid failure.

Please don’t take ownership of the item! Your time is precious, you cannot be taking on items you have resources for… help where you can, and let them course correct. Gross incompetence can and has to be reported to save the product.

3. Fear of conflict

What is this fear?

Ever felt this sense of doom in a meeting, as a topic comes up on which you hold a different view? And you try to jump over the topic? Well, you’ve a fear of conflict.

This fear creeps up in the reserved product managers, who face an endless barrage of illogical discussions and discourteous retorts in meetings. They want to avoid conflict because of which they settle. And product managers do not settle, without a fight.

Why should you ignore this fear?

Unfortunately we’ve to accept that disagreements are a part of a product managers life. Especially when the stakes are high and passionate committed people are working together. It matters not how bad the conflict is — it matters how well we handle it.

You are not always right. Accepting other view points, no matter how stupid they sound, is essential to your growth. Every little thing contributes to your growth as a Product Manager. As long as the intention of the parties involved is for furthering the growth of the product, you can safely ignore this fear.

How can you tackle this fear?

Here are a few steps you can take to tackle this fear:

  1. Active listening
    Sometimes, when we’re convinced of an idea, we get myopic in our listening — always trying to listen to the words, building our retort to it and not focusing on the intent of the message. Active listening means that we focus on the intent, the underlying objective of the words being said. Focusing on that tends to relieve tensions — forcing proactive, not reactive, responses.
  2. Bring evidence (objectivity)
    One of the best ways to release tensions is by bringing evidence/data to the table. Most of the discussions ending in conflict are formed due to subjectivity and the biases it brings. Objectivity relieves some of this and aligns the parties to a single objective of interpreting the evidence.
  3. Get commitments
    Even if you disagree to a view point, get a commitment from the opposing party. Commitments with clear defined success criteria are good ways of ensuring the all involved parties are staking their reputation on the view points — it also makes it a team decision (and not a us v/s them)
  4. Remember the fundamentals
    Fundamentals are crucial for taking product decisions — if the business focus is to ensure profitability in the face of customer confusion, then that is what the product will be — profitable with some customer confusion.

One side note I’ll make for this article — do not completely ignore your fears. There is a balance to be achieved in acknowledging your fears and stopping yourself from action. Stopping yourself is an action in itself, but you’ll only know when to stop when you’ve acted, despite fear, one too many times. Experience cannot be trumped with knowledge. My experience led me to writing this preachy article, but your mileage will vary.

Do not be afraid of fear — embrace it to grow yourself and your product. The results, which speak volumes, will demonstrate the value of your learning and illustrate the capacity of what you are able to achieve.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this, don’t forget to follow. Checkout more product management articles:

  1. 6 non-negotiable expectations from a Product Leader
  2. So you think you have a Feature Prioritization Framework?
  3. 3 things they won’t teach at Product Management school (if there is one)

As always, any feedback or comment would be highly appreciated. Those of you who’ve taken the time to do so, thank you. You’re the real MVP.

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100+ Articles on Product, Design & Tech | Top Writer in Design | Simplifying complexities at Majid Al Futtaim | rkakodker.com

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Rameez Kakodker

Rameez Kakodker

100+ Articles on Product, Design & Tech | Top Writer in Design | Simplifying complexities at Majid Al Futtaim | rkakodker.com

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