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5 (Almost) Universal Product Team Dysfunctions

Updated: Feb 12

As a product management consultant for going on 11 years, I’ve dealt with a wide variety of product organizations around the world. Soon after I launched my practice, I developed an “assessment framework” designed to provide insight into the “maturity” of a product management organization. I define maturity as the ability to consistently deliver expected business outcomes and to continuously improve effectiveness. Over the years, I’ve seen all kinds of issues that keep product organizations from reaching their potential. Some are almost universal. In this post, I’d like to share the 5 most common dysfunctions I encounter that I consider important and suggest how organizations can begin to address them.


1. Lack of strategic thinking and execution

Unfortunately, many organizations have no written strategy at all. Most don’t even have a common definition of the term strategy. Add the typical operational overload experience by many PMs, and you end up with highly reactive product organizations that are thrashing between crises and not understanding why they’re not making more progress.


How to Fix It


Leadership should define what strategy is and capture a draft strategy at the organizational level. PMs should then create product-level strategies that are aligned. You can read more about defining strategy in [this post](https://www.coachpms.com/post/the-definitive-guide-to-product-strategy).


2. Failure to sufficiently segment the market

Successful products serve a market, which comprises all the entities with the means and interest to buy a product. Market segments are cohorts in the market with similar requirements or priorities. Serving an entire market is an extremely hard and often thankless task! It tends to bloat your product and make differentiation more and more difficult. It also stretches your marketing and sales investments so thin that they have little effect.


How to Fix It


You can start by trying to describe your perfect customer and infer “dimensions” of segmentation, e.g., geography, size, industry. Find the segments where you can be 10X better than the competition and then slowly broaden your horizons by pursuing other segments.


3. Focusing on customers at the expense of the rest of the market

Customers are just one segment of the market! Although there may be opportunities to get a larger “share of wallet” from your customers, the key growth opportunity for many products is increasing market share (acquiring more customers). Since we already have a relationship with customers, it is much easier to engage with them. If we’re not careful, they can skew our roadmap in a way that diminishes our ability to reach other segments. It doesn’t help that the terms market and customers are conflated in a majority of PM discourse. It’s important to keep your customers happy, but in most contexts you also have to keep a close eye on the rest of the market.


How to Fix It


Do some planning around external stakeholder engagement and set a goal for the percentage of that time that should be dedicated to understanding folks who haven’t bought your product first. Maybe you get active in a relevant community just to take the market’s pulse. Perhaps you can work with sales to better understand the needs of prospects. This investment in “the rest of the market” will give you critical insight, especially if you want to grow.


4. Failure to strategically engage with GTM

Product managers have a wide range of internal stakeholders. After engineering, the folks responsible for creating demand for the product, facilitating the purchase of the product, and ensuring customers can productively use it are probably your most important stakeholders. It’s therefore unfortunate the PM, who are responsible for getting the product “on the shelf” and those responsible for getting it “off the shelf” almost never have strategic discussions. Lack of alignment between these constituencies is the norm and hostility or animosity between them is not rare.


How to Fix It


As a product manager, you need to define a strategy that the GTM folks can get behind and help execute. You also should think about your engagement model with them and make sure you’re making time for strategic discussions (not just putting out fires).


5. Lack of knowledge/experience sharing

Early in my career, we used the phrase “everyone knows more than anyone.” I have worked with many global companies and, unfortunately, found that PMs on different (and even the same) team simply don’t talk enough shop. Good PMs are constantly learning. It only makes sense that this knowledge is shared.


How to Fix It


Developing a learning culture and a formal framework for knowledge-sharing and collaboration takes time. Start with a quarterly event in which a couple of PMs share a best practice that gets discussed and, ideally, followed up on. As folks get used to the idea and value of sharing, consider creating a simple portal for PMs that evolves over time.


If you recognize your product team in these points, don't stress! As I said, they're virtually universal. Now it's time to do something about them.

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