Factors that Damage Your Integrity. Reflecting on Adverse Conditions.



Product Managers rightly face criticism when negotiating or selling product vision to stakeholders. We increasingly turn to data analytics and customer insight in hopes of outlining a product's most pressing problems, whether it’s a user acquisition drop off, a shift in engagement, or failure to sway churn. My experience suggests that, if there is a poor acceptance or cultural fit, Product Managers end up with the bullseye on their back —and should take steps to understand cultural patterns that lead to unfavourable traction.

Like what? Like colleagues not being available, withholding information, not keeping their commitments, damaging your reputation by reducing your personal and professional credibility. To make progress against negative or uncomfortable situations, break them down — dissect the causes and analyze their impact on your ability to influence the group. You might start to realize the environmental factors that are leading you down a cliff.

Of course, much is to be learned from every work relationship, good or bad — Partnerships, Empathy and influencing others to shift behaviour always work. However, you probably don't want to stay with a company if you have doubts about cultural fit. Here’s my list of adverse conditions.

The documentation rabbit hole

Product and engineering are at the heart of the company. The cost of the partnership needs to balance against its benefits. The documentation rabbit hole happens when engineers repeatedly ask you to break features down into small, small requirements. It requires exceptional effort to ensure clear unambiguous written specifications. Having to commit to paper every exception, special case or scope exclusion may leave you feeling like you aren’t trusted. You may think you have met their expectations, but then their behavior says otherwise. Something inside of you tells you that they are withholding critical information and refusing to cooperate. Their dismissal of getting the product built through incremental releases is a waste of your time. You want to work iteratively, validate the evolving product, to learn early and discover unknown things! You can’t know unknowns. Product managers are typically trying to ship a reasonably good product in a reasonable amount of time, not the perfect product at an undefined point in the far future.

You probably know that trust is everything in a relationship — along with other key elements, like communication and shared values. But when trust isn't there, you’ve created an insanely huge opportunity cost on your business .

Every customer is "Human"

You used to be excited to meet with the customer service team and listen to the most disgruntled customer issues. Go face-to-face with your worst product problems, but now you dread it — you and customers support clash — as long as you can avoid seeing the horrors they create. In your conversations about how they use data analytics, you’re told customer empathy prevails. It’s not their job to make the product better, but it is their job to make customers happy. To embrace them, warts and all, and use their feedback to wastefully focus resources fixing features that don’t count.

if "customer requests" become a regular occurrence, it's a strong indication support has a reactive focus to the process. Support staff should be able to flag or tag a case as a possible enhancement. Final decisions regarding features, priorities, and product direction often falls to you. If you're thinking, ‘Every user complaint seems to create pressure, and interrupts current work to short-sightedly solve just one problem without regard to context ' it could be an indication that you're not planning a future for this relationship.

Leave the prioritization to the PMs

It's normal to turn a customer complaint into a possible enhancement that does not align with the products best interest. When you and engineering first met, maybe their customer empathy was one characteristic that drew you in. You weren’t afraid to make hard decisions together, and therefore had a streamlined prioritization process that valued technical debt as well as a more positive user experience. But now, you don't prioritize together. They're pulling away from you. They choose what enhancements to work on. You end up with a repository of features, not a product.

If you have a wave of appreciation and gratitude towards the "hit refresh and it’ll be fixed culture" engineering established, it is likely that you’re in a tight knit relationship. However, if you feel a deep sense of disgust, mistrust, alienation you might need to truly rethink the relationship. The product person sets the destination, specs features, focuses on the UI and UX and manages the prioritization process. The engineering person builds the product or manages the team that builds the product, or both.

I think most Product Managers have every intention to follow through on their roadmap promises, but the problem lies in their lack of communication and alignment with company stakeholders. There are adverse conditions and environmental factors that give a clear idea on what it will take to deliver. It’s important to carefully choose your commitments while listening to your instincts. Determine if you're actually unhappy but telling yourself to keep with it. Protect your integrity. At the end of the day, it’s the only thing you have.


I am a VP Product who has experienced different levels of product management positions and has learning's to share. I thrive in middle market and scrappy startup environments, where everyone does a little of everything. I work closely with CSuite leadership teams towards product-market fit and operating at scale. Check me out on Reflektions.com and view my LinkedIn profile.

Thanks to Judy Wong for reading drafts of this. Photo by Vitto Sommella on Unsplash. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article then shoot me an email.