9 Product Leaders on the Challenges Product Managers Face

One of the perks of specializing in product recruiting for early-stage, high-growth tech companies is that we get to spend our days talking with incredibly talented product professionals. Luckily, it’s a generous community—full of innovators, disruptors, and the “get-shit-doners” who are building the next generation of delightful customer experiences and solving real world business problems.

We recently put out a call and asked members of the Toronto product community to share their insights, and they did not disappoint. In fact, one of the reasons we value working with Toronto product management leaders is their consistent interest in building up other product leaders by sharing insights like the ones you’re about to read.  

We asked 9 Product Managers to share: “What is the most common hurdle every new Product Manager has to overcome in their first 6 months in a new organization/role?”

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“Understanding how major decisions are really made and the cross-functional stakeholders that need to be managed. Fundamentally, product managers need to influence without authority, stakeholder management and cross-team communication are critical aspects of that. Every organization/stakeholder is different and require new learnings.” - Aaron Cheng, VP Product at KOHO.

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“Learning the product from a user perspective and truly understanding the external view of the experience offered.” - Mike Leibovitz, Senior Director of Product Management at Extreme Networks.

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“Understanding the mission of the organization, the customers of the product, and the nuances of getting things done.” - Brien Buckman, Product, Studio at TechStars.

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“Typically Product Managers are hired because they have a very diverse skill set (e.g. technical, marketing, evangelism, sales). Usually this becomes apparent very quickly and Product Managers tend to start getting scattered thinking they are creating value because they are making a bunch of internal people happy. Then reality sets in that their job as Product Manager is to create value for the customer in exchange for revenue.” - Daniel Shapiro, Founder at Gigsy.

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“Managing expectations while maintaining a level of focus. Product management is such a cross functional area of a company and it's easy to be pulled in multiple directions. It's particularly difficult to do this in product management because the diversity of topics that will be asked of you can be very wide. Managing the expectations across stakeholders while staying focused is fairly challenging to new product managers.

Being grounded and setting expectations with their stakeholders is one of the more difficult things I've seen new product managers struggle with because early on, they're in the process of determining where to add value in the most strategic way possible.

In short, it's about understanding how to say "No" and asking for help from your leaders and your team when you need it.” - Andrew Chung, VP Product at Veriday.

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“As a product manager, you don't have much "authority" over other employees, because chances are they don't report to you. You need to win their respect.

The second hurdle is common if you are new to an industry. Gaining industry expertise is something any new product manager needs to focus on.” - Mehrad Karamlou, Product Manager at Viafoura.

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“Trust is one of the most important factors for success as a Product Manager. Building that trust with all of the internal and external stakeholders to give them the peace of mind that their interests will be considered and represented fairly is critical for any Product Manager in a new role.” - Alexander Schwertner, Product Management Consultant at Schwertner Consulting.

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“What I've learned over the past number of years is that learning a product isn't the biggest challenge facing new Product Managers or even experienced Product Managers in a new organization. The most common hurdle is understanding the different functional areas within an organization and how they work together to bring the product's strategic vision to life. This holds true whether the organization is large or small.” Karim Rashwan, Director of Product Management at AdvisorStream.

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“Stakeholder management: every Product Manager new to an organization must figure out the landscape of their stakeholders - who they are, what matters most to them, and how much clout they hold. This varies drastically from org to org, from context to context, and it's crucial for a new Product Manager to understand this quickly in order to achieve material success and progress.” - Dennis Chow, VP Product at Touch Bistro.

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As you can see, there’s a fair bit of alignment (and some friendly disagreement) about the common challenges new Product Managers will need to overcome. It’s clear that a laser focus on generating value for the business, developing product and customer knowledge, and learning the ins and outs of stakeholder management at a new organization are critical areas of focus for successful product managers.

Whether you’re new to the product management function, starting a new role, or are already deep in the weeds creating value for your organization, we hope that these responses can help guide you to even greater success.

Are you ready to grow the Product team for your organization? Our team of executive recruiters specializes in finding, attracting, and landing the best product talent on the market.