Career

Struggles/Mistakes I have made as a Product Manager

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As a self-taught product manager, I struggled a lot with Impostor Syndrome. I got opportunities I didn’t even dream about and I felt like a fraud. I didn’t think I was good enough and I let it affect my work and my self-esteem.

While I dont consider myself perfect or above mistake, Writing down these remind me of how far I have come and how much work I still need to do. I also know some people are currently struggling with some of these things (as PMs or not). Hopefully writing about these will let you know that you are not alone and will also show you a few solutions based on what I have learnt. I write about my solutions in present terms because daily I fall, and daily I implement the solutions.


Not speaking up.

The way my personality is set up, I hate to talk when I am around people I am not comfortable with. I was lucky to work with a dream team at my first company where I was made comfortable to speak out and do as I liked This didn’t happen overnight, I worked in this organization for 4 years. This has not been the case after that. There is nothing as sad a quiet/timid product manager in a critical meeting. How am I working on this:

  • I think of my product as a child. No one is speaking about my child louder than I am.
  • I try to stay present in meetings, that way nothing is lost on me.
  • Being prepared: this is very hard to do especially if it’s an impromptu meeting but insist that every meeting has an agenda and work out your points very quickly before you go in.
  • If I absolutely have nothing to say, I try to pick out and reiterate action points during and after a conversation.
  • The most important thing to remember is that, if you are invited into that room, you belong there as much as any other person.

Allowing people intimidate me:

I struggled with this a lot.. Especially because I wasn’t a software engineer before transitioning to product management (which is really popular).  How do I work on this:

  • Get my self-confidence in check every day.
  • The fact that you know something I don’t, doesn’t make you better than me.
  • Check people who try to do this. I say “Please do not speak to me in this tone”
  • Take the blame away from me: If I don’t understand what you are saying, you probably are not communicating right. That’s on you not me.

Not saying NO

Saying no is one of the jobs of a PM: You need to learn to say no to both stupid and great ideas. I sometimes tend to be a people pleaser and as a former professional salesperson, I learnt NO= Impossible. Impossible is not a word in a salesperson dictionary. How I work on this:

  • I learn synonyms of NO. “nope, not possible, I don’t think so, NO.”
  • To say No with sensible reasons.
  • To think on the spot.. especially when I need to find alternatives.
  • To be transparent with your goals and timelines

Not being prepared.

You can never put the blame of not being prepared on anyone but yourself. When I settled into my first job as a PM, I kinda got relaxed and would go for meetings unprepared. I learnt very quickly that people are very happy to call you out your BS when. How I work on this:

  • Be Aware
  • Never start a meeting without an agenda.
  • Know your product like you actually own it.

Checking out/Tuning Off

when things are not going your way or everything’s seems to be breaking. It is very tempting to just throw the towel and just zone out for a short period of time. You know that bible verse about the thief coming in the night, that’s what usually happens.. Next thing decisions are being made without you and you are wondering what happened.. I learnt the hard way to be totally committed to the end… or just drop out completely. Being lukewarm or distracted is super dangerous. How I work on this:

  • I stopped taking on tasks or projects that don’t have an end goal or an end date.
  • Take constant breaks so I don’t burn out.
  • Commit to being committed.

Not taking a break

Career FOMO is real and a lot of us have it without knowing. You think when you disappear, someone else will take your job, your credit or everything will burn down. I don’t know how things work in your organization but no product or organization is worth the deterioration of your mental health. Do what you need to do and take a break when necessary. If you die, I promise you everyone will move on.

Not reaching out for help

No man is an island. This is something I still find hard to do and I am still learning how to do it. The worst answer you can get is NO. After that, you keep it pushing.

Losing my temper:

learning to work calmly with annoying people is a life skill that will take you to top places. Losing your temper makes you look like a baby throwing a tantrum. It doesn’t earn you any respect.

Not asking why:

This is the biggest mistake you shouldn’t make as a product owner. Building the wrong product sucks not only for you but for the developers and for the business. Please ALWAYS ask questions (no matter how silly they might be) before you dive into an endeavour.

In case someone is going through this too.. Let me remind you:

  • What you are doing as a PM isn’t as difficult as it is made out to be You are taking a problem and looking for ways to solve it. Don’t let anyone use code, strategy, data or algorithms to bamboozle you. Your common sense is your biggest resource.
  • If you have work to do, Someone took a chance on you. Be grateful. Don’t disappoint them. No matter how crappy they are
  • If you are already here, you are good enough. You are worthy, You deserve a seat and a chance to speak.
  • 85% (data made up)of people at work, do not know what they are doing all the time… A lot of people are packaging themselves right and learning as they go.
  • Tomorrow isn’t promised. Make the best of today.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made at work or in your professional life? Can you relate with any of these? Let’s discuss in the comment section below.

Hi, Im Yevandy.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Yevandy,
    This is a really helpful post for me. I am a self-taught product manager who switched into product some weeks back, so i dived into applying for a product manager role despite my 0 experience. Hahahah

    It wasn’t very funny then because I was desperate, and really needed an opportunity to learn on the job.

    Please Can you recommend resources and tasks for a self-taught product manager who is transiting from QA to Product?

  2. This is just what I needed to start my day. I’m also a self taught PM. 8 months into it and sometimes I go home feeling like I don’t even know what I’m doing. I can so relate to your story cus I don’t code. I made it this far so we keep pushing.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. Temitope Owolabi Reply

    Thank you for this. I am just learning/teaching myself to be a PM and really changing career path scares me. This article really calm me down and I think I can do this.
    Thank you a lot.
    I will love to learn from you if possible.

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