What are the challenges of product management? In order to gain a deep understanding of product management, it is important to recognize the challenges that come with the role, and how to overcome them for success. In this talk, Microsoft Azure Head of Product Fawad Khan will discuss the responsibilities of a product manager, and the key challenges they face. These include effective communication with stakeholders, balancing strategic and tactical work, partnering across different teams in a matrixed organizational environment, maintaining the roadmap, and staying informed of emerging trends.

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On life cycles as a challenge of product management

“One is the actual product lifecycle when you are building a product, and the other is the customer lifecycle. If you’re building a new product, you have to go through these phases. And you have to be involved in these phases. This is a lot to cover, especially if you have a product that’s already in the market. You might be working with the customer lifecycle here where customers are taking your product there. They’re doing initial proof of concepts, they’re trying it, then they’re signing up. They’re configuring and putting it in production use and you have to be involved in supporting them, getting feedback from them, and helping them scale and maintain. 

“If you are starting a new product at the same time, you have to go through the phases of product lifecycle from ideation to creating an MVP, getting customer feedback, and improving the product until you get to a better version. Then, you start getting feedback on regular basis, you release your product version, you continue to get feedback, and you update your product. Looking at the challenges of product managers, 56% of the respondents said that they were spread too thin. 

“When you look at the life cycles, there’s a lot to handle. Another 50% said that they were always involved in some kind of firefighting, where they might not be able to concentrate on one key thing that might be important at a certain point in time. The important thing to understand is that these two life cycles are intertwined.  It does create challenges for you or your team to make sure that they are able to concentrate on a few key things.”

On the challenges of prioritization in product management

“Prioritization is a huge challenge. There might be some laws coming into place that might force you to change your product. If you are trying to make your product ready for certain industry verticals, make sure your product has industry compliance. If you have some niche and emerging technologies and trends that you want to bring into your product, that will also change your priorities. There is also internal compliance that can force you to change your priorities and change the roadmap. Especially if the engineering teams have accumulated a lot of compliance. 

“Here at Microsoft, we want to make sure that our products are secure. We care a lot about customer data privacy and accessibility. If the engineering teams or ignore are ignoring internal compliance, it will come up as a debt that you might have to pay within a fiscal year. That obviously will mean that you will do fewer features and more fundamentals work or internal compliance work. It’s important to understand the drivers and understand that prioritization will change. This will create a challenge. Get comfortable with it, and accept that it is going to happen. 

“There are going to be factors that are not in your control. And you have to consider those factors and tweak your roadmaps and what you prioritize. As priorities change, you definitely want to notify your stakeholders and your customers. Make sure you build expectations with customers on what is going to be released, when it’s going to be released, and what’s going to change.”

On looking to the future as a product leader

“Looking to the future is a challenge for product managers because this stretches them even more. You have the customer lifecycle that you have to worry about. You have your product lifecycle to worry about, but you also have to understand emerging trends and technologies. What technology is coming out? Is it machine learning, is this generative AI that is creating such a buzz going to change your product? Talk to other teams, and talk to other leaders and experts to see what they are doing. See how you can take these niche technologies and emerging technologies and build them into your product. 

“Don’t use technologies is for the sake of technology. It’s not about having bells and whistles and using the latest toy that’s available to you. It’s about understanding customer use cases, and seeing if the new technology is going to help your customers. Is the new technology going to give you an edge over the competition? Is the customer going to be happy, and more satisfied? Those are the key things to consider. I would start with creating use cases first. You need to go back to your customers and have those use cases validated. 

“Once you have identified the technologies, you have to talk to the people, you want to do some quick experimentation. Look at technical feasibility, and look at some quick integration if you can do it with your current product. You don’t want to forget the business side of things, you will have to talk to your business planning, your product marketing team, then business development, to understand any new business models that might have to be created. Or if you need to identify other customer segments that will be using your product if you were to incorporate this technology.”

About the speaker
Fawad Khan Microsoft, Head of Product - Azure Lab Services Member
About the host
Deba Sahoo Fidelity Investments, SVP, Head of Product for Customer Journeys
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