Be comfortable being uncomfortable

If you want to be a bad product manager, make sure you stay within your comfort zone. There are many different responsibilities in product management, and some of them might not be things in which you are experienced or even competent. Stay away from doing anything that will make you look bad or make you feel uncomfortable. There are plenty of activities you can do within your comfort zone, and either ignore or get someone else to do the things that make you sweat.

If you want to be a good product manager, be comfortable being uncomfortable. Product management is tough work. Some aspects of it are fantastic, and some aspects of it may be dreadful. Just because you may not like one part of the job does not mean you can avoid it. No matter how experienced or skilled you may be, there are some parts of the job you will like better and be better at than others. A good product manager can not avoid the less favored parts of the job just because they are challenging or painful to address.

What might make a product manager uncomfortable? There are some things that probably most would agree are difficult and not the most fun to handle:

  • Delivering a presentation to senior management about why your product launch is behind schedule
  • Confronting a developer who did not follow the requirements which were agreed upon
  • Trying to appease an important — and now upset — customer who is considering taking their business elsewhere

There are other tasks that may be uncomfortable for some product managers and enjoyed by others:

  • Analyzing the product’s revenue and sales forecast — Great if you love number-crunching; horrible if you feel less confident in your finance abilities
  • Delivering a booth presentation at a trade show — Great if you love giving the same 5 minute pitch over and over again; horrible if you hate repetition and can not focus when you have a transient audience
  • Engaging in business development discussions with a potential partner — Great if you know the potential partner’s strengths and like brokering deals; horrible if you are less aware of the potential partner’s business and are not an experienced negotiator

Product managers do not need to excel in every aspect of their job to be successful. However, there are key responsibilities that they need to accept as part of the position. Many of these responsibilities will make them uneasy, as they are not natural strengths or even competencies. Avoiding these aspects of the job is not an acceptable response. Successful product managers confront these head-on, and realize that they need to get outside their comfort zone for their own sake and for the sake of their product.

If there is an area where your discomfort comes from lack of experience or expertise, then bolstering your knowledge should make you more willing to address those types of issues. For example, if you avoid financial analysis because you are weak in that area, work with someone from finance or another product manager with a quantitative background to improve your knowledge. You do not need to become a finance expert, though they can help you improve at least to the point where your lack of experience does not cause you to avoid that important area of your job.

Good product managers succeed by learning to be comfortable doing things that make them uncomfortable. You do not need to necessarily have to learn to enjoy them — that may be impossible — though you do need to accept that they are necessary. A good product manager will put their own personal comfort level aside and do the right thing for the product and the organization.

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16 thoughts on “Be comfortable being uncomfortable

  1. I agree, this is how you grow as a person, but I must admit that the number crunching financial… thats just not my cup of tea… maybe I should look into it..

  2. Great post. I tend to fall back to my ‘comfort zone’ activities whenever I feel like I am getting overwhelmed with a tas or tasks that are outside my comfort zone and are not progressing as I expect/hope. Assuming time allows, I like moving to a more comfortable task for a couple of days allows me to recharge and rebuild my confidence. I find that after this I can go back to the uncomfortable task with renewed energy and sometimes a different approach.

  3. Excellent advice! Sometimes new concepts like integrated product management (learn more Apr. 24 in Minneapolis) can seem uncomfortable, but when you overcome the challenges associated with getting out of your comfort zone, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it before.

    Of course, once you’re comfortable, it’s time to move onto something else uncomfortable…

  4. Comfort has a lot to do with experience. There are always things about any job that you may not like or be good at, but pushing yourself to do those things makes you better at your job. As you gain more experience, the less painful the difficult tasks become.

    For me, one of the hardest things is being in the middle of a heated argument. I don’t so much mind the argument, but my urge is to resolve the conflict quickly, rather than let it play out. But I know that’s what needs to happen and just settling the conflict will likely mean that the discussion will happen again at a later date rather than getting resolved. But the more often that I let things play out, the easier it gets.

  5. This entry is exactly why I read this blog regularly. You always seem to have a timely topic for things that pop up in my career. This week I had to deal with a particularly uncomfortable situation, one in which I would have normally ignore it and hope it would resolve itself. Because of your article I was encouraged to jump in with both feet and use being uncomfortable as a tool to address the issue and not ignore it.

    Although I am not specifically a product manager, I am the marketing manager and I see a lot of parallel. Thank you for each and every entry!

  6. Hi, it is very good.
    It may be interesting to also mentioned tools for persons that are just starting a new job at a new company. Like how to address their energy during the first 3 or 6 months
    I see your documents very helpful and with potential. I hope you could consider to translate it to the Spanish. I have 1o year of management experience but I am working on improving my English level. Even that I had a great time reading it because they were very easy to understand, thanks.

  7. This is a boost to a young product Manager like my self, who is scratching all around looking for a solution,to issues comcerning my wide product line. For me I am always confortable dealing on issues about sales analysis while find is very unconfortable dealing issues concerning creating /improving the marketing straitegies. I think my greatest challengies are [1] the bottle neck in impliment or adorpting a new policy in my company is too long so ,this always discourages me in my research for an improved stratagies. [2] the wide rage of the prodcut an handling couple with my experience as young product manager.

  8. I once worked with a VP of Dev. He had a mandate to change how Dev got things done. It was his staff that though change was needed. He took a slow process to implementing the changes. He was constantly saying, “Let the process work. Soon.”

    Edwin, you already have a strategy. Find the augmentation. Implement the augmentation gradually. Experiment with one particular product, and if the strategy validates, then spread it. If you implement the strategy within your product line, you won’t have to ask for permission. Then, when it works, evangelize it to the other product managers in your company. If you have P&L responsibility, you have policy control within the scope of that P&L. That means that you can make changes tomorrow morning if you wanted to. You won’t be able to change sales compensation, or processes owned by other functional units, but you can change the product strategy.

    I just started reading “Mobile Advertising.” There was plenty of strategic thrusts in that book, and they were relevant beyond advertising.

    Are you viral? Will your virus have to transition subcultures? Do you enable user generated content? Who are your whole product partners? What are the value propositions of each of your product? Can your products be sold on value?

  9. A sales forecast is a set of predictions about when you will make a series of sales. You do this in terms of currency. An example of a sales forecast would look like the following:

    2008 Q4 $1M
    2009 Q1 $.8M
    2009 Q2 $ 1.1M
    2009 Q3 $ 1.2 M

    You can make such a forecast for the current quarter based on your sales funnel. How long does it take to close a sale? How many prospects will be approached this quater? How many prospects are now qualified? How many deals are being closed? How many have already closed this quarter? How much are these deals worth? How much is the average deal worth?

    You can do a sales forecast as a pro forma, which means as a fiction, a guess, …. The further out you forecast, the less reliable the nubers become.

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