How to deal with mistakes and failure as a product person
For anyone in a product role, one of the most important things you do is to inspire your team or give them the tools they need to do their best work or perhaps help them maximize their impact on the team’s goals. If you’re starting to feel some anxiousness around these responsibilities or a feeling of nervousness around being the go-to person at the cross-section of many stakeholders - especially if you are new to product roles - then you’ll have to quickly learn to start getting comfortable with the idea of embracing failure as a central part of your role (Quintero, 2019).
💬 What is the difference between making a mistake vs failure?
A failure is when something didn’t work out, but it taught you a lesson. A mistake is doing something wrong the second time out of carelessness, selfishness, or the knowing that it should have been avoided (Seth, 2011).
Common mistakes product professionals make (Zaki, 2015) (Universal Class, 2021):
📌 Not saying "No"
Rachel Davis, one of our mentors in PMDojo Product Accelerator program says that saying ‘no’ is an act of evaluating what’s important and making decisions. Saying yes to too many projects or requests might result in a product that does not align with the overall vision or in our own burnout. This is critical in both business and your personal life. Explaining the ‘no’ with empathy and demonstrating active listening will help people feel heard and be more willing to accept the decision (Davis, 2021).
📌Not taking the time to get to know your company culture and ways of working
It is equally important that a company fosters healthy collaboration and core values from the top down. When leadership exhibits a culture of humility, confidence, and acts with integrity, teams will be less likely to fear failure, and more willing to strive for feedback (Engel, 2018). At the same time, one needs to take the time to become familiar with the culture, norms and rituals at your company. Reflect and ask yourself if the company culture aligns with your way of working and values. Trying to change too much might make us the very antibody that the company culture tries to reject us.
Some of the other more common mistakes are:
📌Exacerbating the problem by failing to understand the problem worth solving
📌Confusing customer wants and needs with product requirements
📌Mistaking features for benefits
📌Wasting time building a product with no value or business model
The fear of failure. however, is the fear of failing to do something right the first time.
The fear of failure can manifest as (Jones, 2021):
📌 Avoiding situations that prevent you from achieving your goals
📌 Feeling insecure and worrying excessively about failing
📌 Thinking you lack the skills to manage a situation or fulfill a task
This anxiety around failure is often the result of society’s expectations of what success, and the path to success, should look like. It is in our best interest to unlearn this fear of failure, in order to get out of our own way (Psychcentral, 2021).
“Changing your outlook on failure may be the most important and powerful option you have… Failure is not a threat but an invitation to learn, improve, and grow as a product professional and as a human being.” Roman Pichler
“Product Management is a stressful, complicated, [and can often feel like a] thankless job that throws curve balls at you every day and you can never tell in the morning how your day will end in the evening. Welcome to the chaos. Learn to be comfortable with it. Don’t take either the criticism or the praise personally. Keep looking at the big picture, focus on finding solutions and be on top of your email. Really good product managers thrive in the unknown and just know that things will work themselves out.” - Zainab Zaki, Product Manager, Capital One
It is important that instead, you frame setbacks as life lessons. Failures are the building blocks that bring you closer to figuring out what works. By accomplishing micro-wins, you move past the fear of failure that is preventing you from starting something. Do something every day that pushes you forward (Psychcentral, 2014).
“You need to fail to win. And the faster you fail, the more quickly you’ll learn precisely what you need to do to win. So Fail Fast. Out-fail the competition. Out-fail the person you once were.” - Robin Sharma
Another way that helps reframe failure stories as stepping stones to success, is getting inspired by people’s comeback stories.
PMDojo has a community of alumni and mentors that openly share their journey landing their first role in product, making a career change, or advocating for themselves. Read those stories here. 🚀
“Some of the best life stories are entwined with chaos, madness, difficult emotions, and pain. What makes them remarkable is that through all that messiness, they somehow pulled it all together and still made it through (Psychcentral, 2014).”
Remember, your success can’t happen if you never start. Explore and enjoy the journey.
If you’re interested in an immersive way of learning what it takes to be a product professional alongside a team of folks from diverse backgrounds and a dedicated team of mentors that want to see you succeed, check out PMDojo’s Accelerator Program! Applications for the next cohort are open now🔥
“Common Mistakes Product Managers Make and How to Avoid Them” Universal Class, 2021, https://www.universalclass.com/articles/business/common-mistakes-product-managers-make-and-how-to-avoid-them.htm.
Davis, Rachel (2021). Saying ‘No’ As a Product Manager. PMDojo Workshop.
Engel, Jacob M. “Why Does Culture 'Eat Strategy For Breakfast'?” 20 Nov. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/11/20/why-does-culture-eat-strategy-for-breakfast/.
“Failure is Fuel for Success [If You Choose So]” www.robinsharma.com/article/failure-is-fuel-for-success-if-you-choose-so.
“Fear of Failure: How to Keep Going When Youre Afraid of Failing” Declutter The Mind, 30 Sept. 2021, declutterthemind.com/blog/fear-of-failure/.
Jones, Heather. “What Is the Fear of Failure?” 1 Dec. 2021, www.verywellhealth.com/fear-of-failure-5203385.
Pichler, Roman. “Leveraging Failure in Product Management” Roman Pichler, 4 Dec. 2017, www.romanpichler.com/blog/leveraging-failure-in-product-management/.
Quintero, Sofia. “How to Handle Failure as a Product Manager” Hungry for Insight, 30 Apr. 2019, medium.com/enjoyhq/how-to-handle-failure-as-a-product-manager-cc230e076772.
“The difference between a failure and a mistake” Seth's Blog, 18 Dec. 2011, seths.blog/2011/12/the-difference-between-a-failure-and-a-mistake/. Accessed 8 Dec. 2021.
“Why We All Have Fear of Failure” 23 June 2014, psychcentral.com/blog/why-we-all-have-fear-of-failure.
Zaki, Zainab. “5 ways I failed as a product manager and the lessons I learnt” 27 July 2015, www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-ways-i-failed-product-manager-lessons-learnt-zainab-zaki/.