Challenges of product leadership

Product leadership creates a product-led strategy that prioritizes and helps the product align with the organization’s mission and vision. Successful product teams are developed by leaders in product-inspired cultures. This involves several management-level duties, such as putting together and leading the product team, owning the strategic goals, and ensuring the team has access to the tools and resources it needs to create a successful product.

According to Gartner, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in various challenges such as cancellations and lost customers, changing customer needs and priorities, changing dynamics for customer interactions, disrupted product launches, and delayed product milestone events. Leaders have had to reconsider their approaches to managing personnel, attracting new clients, handling finances, running businesses, and planning for the future of their organizations. What distinguishes a successful product leader is their ability to make the right decisions in a quick space of time, and by overcoming the pressures of unpredictable circumstances.

A product leader is responsible for tackling ever-present uncertainties in a changing market along with leading a team to create products that solve the pain points of the customers. It is never easy to make decisions when there are uncertainties surrounding the product. Steven Kilpatrick, Director of Product Development, at EAB says that he always fears competitors are getting the piece of the market, exploring the next big product feature, or making the next big move first.

Depending on the unique requirements of any firm, managing a product team presents several challenges for product leaders.

Creating a product vision and strategy

A company’s foundation is its product vision and strategy, which not only spells out its long- and short-term objectives but also gives the team a clear path to follow as they work towards achieving them. It helps in the comprehension of the product’s overall goal by the entire organization. A great product vision is enticing and ambitious, difficult but doable, coordinated and inclusive, and unique and clear. A clear and concise product vision can be created, in part, by describing the rationale behind the product, having a shared vision, keeping it brief while instilling inspiration into it.

Adaptability to the changing market

As said, “Change is the only constant” and with market forces evolving so often, adaptability and flexibility play an important role in the process. As the needs of customers change, so does their demand and it is necessary to inculcate the changes and redefine the product whenever required. Product leaders must make decisions as per the circumstances and adapt themselves to changing market conditions. According to Anthony Girolamo, Vice President of Product and Engineering at FLEXE, in order to deal with the rapid change in industries, one must have a fundamental curiosity about how things operate and how they might be improved. This is significant and helpful, particularly in the early stages of product leadership and management.

Competition in the market

Everyone is looking for opportunities to make themselves heard, so understanding customer needs and providing the right solution go hand-in-hand. It is one of the factors that determine how well the product will stand out in the crowd from the competitors. Early-decision making along with a customer-focused framework and real-time market feedback can help smoothen this process.

Establishing smooth processes

The process of product leadership involves all of the organization’s teams. It requires several distinct teams to work together, which necessitates the development of skills like networking, negotiating, etc., as well as a great deal of motivation to make everything work well and smoothly.

Balancing responsibilities

Product leaders are posed with many day-to-day responsibilities. Making sensible leadership decisions, prioritizing tasks, managing time, analyzing and reflecting on choices, seeking assistance, and adopting the proper mindset can help balance these responsibilities.

Creating a great work culture

Culture does not emerge on its own but has to be created. It is guided and encouraged by the organization’s leadership and practiced and built by other members. A great culture may be developed by giving trust to various teams, promoting swift action and decision-making, continuously analyzing real-time data to gain insights, and formulating plans for the future using lessons learned from the past.

Nate Walkingshaw, Chief Experience Officer of Pluralsight often wonders how she can paint the same picture she has in her head and demonstrate to her team members how to tackle a problem and make them feel that they are a part of it. She believes that learning to balance being an individual contributor and a leader, and having a solid and clear mission and vision, keeps her and the team members anchored. Questioning if the work aligns with the larger vision helps her take the right decisions.

According to Benny Wong, CTO of Spin, the two most important qualities that aspiring product leaders should develop are curiosity and the perseverance to always find solutions to even the most difficult challenges.

The number of difficulties that product leaders must overcome can be daunting but rather than dwelling on them attention should be directed toward opportunities and solutions that might help to learn from them. Finding appropriate and efficient solutions to these difficulties is the best method for a product leader to advance. To ensure that their teams and products successfully achieve their goals, product leaders must take several steps. These include developing and mentoring teams, putting processes and practices in place to improve teamwork, fostering a culture of collaboration, and consistently experimenting and learning.