How To Be A Good Product Manager

Tips on product management and product marketing for product managers. By Jeff Lash

Manage issues and risks

Posted on May 3, 2007 by Jeff Lash · 3 Comments

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If you want to be a bad product manager, ignore issues and risks. Try to pretend they don’t exist and hope they go away. Don’t tell other people about them — especially higher-ups — since if they find out, it will make you look weak and like you can’t control your product. Downplay the likelihood of risks becoming issues, and downplay the impact of issues that have come up. You want to look like you know what you’re doing, and you can’t do that if people are focusing on all of the things that are going wrong.

If you want to be a good product manager, identify and proactively manage risks and issues. Project managers know this, and product managers should too. Though this is most often the responsibility of the project manager, product managers can not just offload this on the project manager and remain removed from the situation. Rather than trying to ignore or downplay risks, product managers can work with project managers to confront these risks and issues head-on.

Issues are anything that are impacting your product or project negatively, and risks are anything that has the potential to impact your product or project negatively. You need to do prevent risks from becoming issues, and prevent issues from having a negative impact.

Traditionally, risks and issues are discussed in the scope of a specific project — a new product being developed, enhancements to a current product, a new line extension. However, product managers can also track issues and risks for their product in the market. This is often done as part of a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), but SWOTs tend to be done once as a snapshot in a certain point in time. Tracking risks and issues on a weekly or monthly basis for your product can help keep you from being caught off guard by a new competitor, a change in the market, or other factors that can present problems for your product.
Identifying risks and issues early and getting them out in the open can help them get addressed. There may be simple things that you or others on the product development team can do to minimize the likelihood and impact of risks or mitigate issues. It can help provide evidence for additional support needed from others within your organization — additional funding, resources, or assistance. Proactively communicating the impact of potential risks that are outside of your control will allow you and others to plan for how to react if they do become serious issues. Stakeholders may not be happy with these issues, but they at least will not be surprised and can help work through solutions.

A successful project or product is not one where there are no issues or risks. Instead, a successful project or product is one where there are many issues and risks, but the product manager and project manager are able to work together to identify, address, and mitigate them, and still deliver a successful product.

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How To Be A Good Product Manager features tips on product management and product marketing, written by Jeff Lash (@jefflash on Twitter), Vice President and Group Director for the Product Management and Portfolio Marketing research and advisory services at SiriusDecisions.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • Derek Morrison // May 3, 2007 at 9:21 am

    I agree and in the past have suffered loss as a result of keeping risks to myself. However when I have shared the risks I have found that it has diminished possible loss because others have been involved and have been able to act accordingly – either dedicating more resources or not making unnecessary promises to customers or even delaying marketing campaigns until the next issue/edition.
    I suppose the old adage is true then “a problem shared is a problem halved!”

  • Jeff Lash // May 4, 2007 at 6:23 am

    Interestingly, just a few hours after I wrote this post, Victor wrote a post much along the same lines — Bad News Should Travel Fast

  • Learn how to escalate issues: How To Be A Good Product Manager: Product management tips // May 9, 2007 at 7:01 am

    […] If you want to be a good product manager, escalate issues appropriately. While there are many decisions for which you as a product manager are responsible and accountable, there will always be some issues that require escalation. Part of managing your relationship with your boss and managing issues and risks is knowing when and how to escalate issues. Escalating too many issues is just as bad as not escalating any. Escalate too frequently, and it will appear as though you are not competent in your job. Escalate too rarely, and others may have to help clean up problems that could have been avoided had they been informed of them earlier. […]

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