Articles

3 Challenges to Tackle as a Start-Up Product Manager

BY Antonella Cipresso

The role of a product manager is a challenge in itself. 

First of all, the job definition means different things to different companies. I am not only speaking about the role definition, but mainly the responsibilities and activities we have to deal with every day. For example, being a product manager in an enterprise is totally different from being a product manager in a startup company. Therefore, what makes up a successful product manager depends on many factors. 

What does it take to be a successful product manager in a start-up? Hard skills are of course necessary, but soft skills make a real difference. 

Here are three challenges of working as a product manager in a start-up: 

CHALLENGE 1. Everything moves fast - Be flexible  

In every company, reducing time to market is paramount. In a start-up, it’s a basic survival skill. 

Changes happen every day and it is crucial to address them quickly. What is true today might not be true tomorrow and you must be ok with it. 

Start-ups, more than any other type of company, need to adapt and continuously review their products. This doesn’t imply that your company shouldn’t stick to a vision, a strategy, or goals, which are absolutely necessary to build a successful product.

However, it is important to recognize experiment results and customers’ (or users’) feedback and adjust your path on the run. 

If you are flexible and willing to review your work until a market fit is achieved, then you will be able to face this challenge. 

CHALLENGE 2. Too many things to do - Learn to prioritize

As a product manager, you must be able to go from working on tactics currently in development to thinking about initiatives and goals for the next months. And in order to focus on what is truly essential, it is important to prioritize and learn how to say “no” (or “yes, but not now”). 

So the question is, how can you say “no” efficiently (and still sound polite and professional). It’s hard to refuse tasks in a resolved manner, and so it is important to justify your reasoning clearly, in order to keep your stakeholders’ trust. Moreover, remember to raise your hand and let your team know when you face time obstacles. 

Learn how to prioritize by value, and challenge the process in place if you feel it slows you down and asks a lot of extra time. 

CHALLENGE 3. Communicating is hard - Find the right style and balance 

Communication must be your superpower

As a product manager, your role is central and you have to speak efficiently with different audiences

People have a heterogeneous background and a personal understanding of the product itself. 

Make sure you speak clearly, give the right level of detail, and change your vocabulary depending on your audience. 

It is essential for team members to be on the same page, but in a fast-changing start-up environment, this can be challenging. 

There is no silver bullet for this; every team needs to find its ingredients to communicate efficiently. 

In some cases, asynchronous communication is enough (chat, shared documents, or videos). 

In other cases, scheduling a quick meeting might be a better option to really get your team members’ attention. However, remember that while it is important to have clear communication channels, it is also important to avoid over-communicating, which is just as harmful as not communicating enough.  

Efficient communication is key in a successful start-up culture, especially for product managers!

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