More than a decade of grousing about product management

Why are we doing this?

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Product managers often find themselves stuck with struggling or outdated products, forced to turn them around despite the challenges and resistance from executives and sales teams.

In all product manager careers, it is inevitable they will be assigned to a “stinker” of a project or product. It could be a product on life support with anemic market penetration, or it could be a once mighty product that really nailed it … 15 years ago, but the market has moved on, but for some reason – perhaps nostalgia – your company can’t seem to walk away from it.

Or it could be an executive’s pet program that has to live somewhere, so tag, you’re it.

You dig into the metrics – Ugh.

You look into the market – Ugh (for a variety of reasons).

You look at the “product” – Ugh.

Shit as far as the eye can see. You know that the right thing to do is to gracefully exit the market, sunset the product, mothball the tooling, reassign the engineering team.

But you can’t. Your manager wants you to run it.

n.b. – any product manager who believes or believed that the product manager is the CEO of the product, once they have this thrust upon them realizes how much bullshit that statement is…

So, you roll up your sleeves. You figure out how to halt the slide in revenue. You build a roadmap, and a plan to pump some life back into it. You embed with the engineering team and work to lift their spirits (note: engineers know when their product is a shit show, and aren’t happy about it either.)

You do some real market analysis. You might be the first person to do a serious segment analysis, and perhaps there are some adjacencies you can target.

You talk to some of the (remaining) customers, and find out their real need. This can be discouraging, especially when they tell you that instead of the product being a critical part of their daily workflow, but instead is kept around for lower end technology use.


So, you are stuck with a mediocre product, one that is struggling. Surely, you can begin the End of Life process, to sunset it, to shut it down and release the engineering and operations resources to better programs.

Not so fast. The Dude forgot to tell you the biggest twist. If this was a once mighty project, generating shit-tons of revenue. Usually, the ‘father’ of this product has become a powerful executive. And he (n.b. it is almost always a him) has a fondness for this product. That means that you can be assured that he will block any attempts to sunset it.

And if that wasn’t enough headwind, sales will usually also become a blockade. Because, even though their forecast for the product is nil, they never want to remove something from their bag.

But wait, there’s still more. The GM of the business unit, one who really is the CEO of your operation, will be addicted to the unpredictable orders that it brings in. They like the fact that even if you go 6 quarters with $0 in bookings, that 7th quarter will drop an unforecasted bluebird of a couple of million dollars.

So, you have a lot going against you. Perhaps you redesign the product. Perhaps you find a market adjacency. Perhaps you go on the road and work to cram the square peg into a round hole.

And, against all odds, you are <gasp> SUCCESSFUL. You save the day, turn a sure turd-in-the-punchbowl into a winner. Maybe not a huge success, but consistent enough that you can claim victory.

Your reward? Another steaming pile of shit.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Other product managers get the plum, “easy” programs. You are the clean up hitter. Yeah, you can take some pride in turning lemons into lemonade. But it is tiring.

Written by

A crusty veteran from the product management trenches. Plenty of salty language, references to cannabis, and a connoisseur of White Russian cocktails

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Written by pmdude