Junior product managers face both opportunities and challenges in the constantly evolving tech industry. They are learning to oversee the development and launch of new products while developing a deep understanding of the market, user behavior, and technology. Despite the industry’s ongoing changes, the potential for these new product managers to shape the product’s future and make a significant impact is vast.

With this immense opportunity, it’s natural to make blunders while navigating the complex landscape of product management. While these missteps may be inevitable, it’s important to learn from them to grow as a professional. To help, we’ve gathered insights from top senior product managers who have generously shared their expertise. In this article, we’ll explore the most common mistakes made by junior product managers and provide actionable advice on how to overcome them. Our panel of experts includes:

These experienced product managers have identified the following seven critical mistakes that junior product managers often make, along with guidance on how to avoid them: 

  1. Putting the solution before the problem
  2. Lack of confidence
  3. Difficulty saying “no” 
  4. Misusing or ignoring data
  5. Poor stakeholder management
  6. Overidentifying as the CEO of Product
  7. Insufficient understanding of the customer or product.

By learning from these common errors, junior product managers can gain confidence, improve stakeholder management, and better understand customers’ needs to create products that customers love. Keep reading to learn more.

→ Test your product management and data skills with this free Growth Skills Assessment Test.

Learn data-driven product management in Simulator by GoPractice.

Learn growth and realize the maximum potential of your product in Product Growth Simulator.

→ Learn to apply generative AI to create products and automate processes in Generative AI for Product Managers – Mini Simulator.

→ Learn AI/ML through practice by completing four projects around the most common AI problems in AI/ML Simulator for Product Managers.

Q. What are the most common mistakes junior PMs make and how can they avoid them?

Putting the solution before the problem

A common mistake I see among junior product managers is the belief that they have to define what the team will actually build. This can often result in detailed specifications or features that leave little room for the team to experiment and (almost always) poor results. It takes practice to find a good collaboration with the team and understand that you as a product manager are responsible for defining the problem and not the solution. Building the solution will be a continuous trade-off between commercial viability, technical feasibility, and usability. You are mainly responsible for commercial viability.

Anton Larsson (Senior Product Manager at Volvo Cars)

Only focusing on the solution is a common misstep if you came from a client focused industry (like I had). It takes time to train our mind muscles to not jump to implement the solution proposed by the one client. In my experience, we built far more scalable and sustainable solutions when we spent enough time refining the problem statement and understanding all target users.

Zareena Ashraf (Senior Product Manager at Booking.com)

Falling in love with the solution is a mistake that I’ve seen. Every solution is built to meet a business objective or to solve a problem. Junior product managers will evaluate various solution options and may end up liking a specific solution for a myriad of reasons. For example, a solution might use the latest “cool” technology or might be the “cheapest.” However, when product managers take their eyes off the problem statement, the solution delivered typically loses its business justification. If it was supposed to solve specific customer pain the consequences can be painful.

Sowrirajan Padmanabhan (Senior Product Manager, Cybersecurity)

One of the main problems that people face when starting off in product management is the focus on requirements instead of gaining a good understanding of the problem space. There is a tendency to build what a customer asks for instead of taking a step back to understand the persona, problem space, and the impact. This can lead to the creation of a perfect solution or feature for the customer that shouts the loudest, which is ill-suited for the vast majority. Such a short term win can have a long term impact on satisfaction and ultimately retention.

Andras Horvath (Senior Product Manager at Microsoft)

A common mistake is starting with features instead of problems and becoming too feature-focused. For example, wanting to incorporate AI into the product and directly focusing on getting buy-in without clearly defining the problem and why AI would solve it. Always start with the problem before the solutions. It may be tempting to create complex solutions to problems. This can result in longer development time and increased costs. Simplicity is often better, and product managers must consider the trade-offs between complexity and usability.

Nicu Parente (Senior Product Manager at Salesforce)

Imitating the competition under the guise of competitive intelligence is a problem. Product managers are expected to know the market. They need to see what their competition is up to. But I also see a lot of “Our competitor is doing this so we should, too.” I believe this to be the lazy approach. Instead, think of the end states and the best path to that state. Think of whether the said feature makes sense for your product and customers. Think about whether you want to be recognized as the product pioneer or the follower.

Soumitra D. (Senior Product Manager at Walmart)

Lack of confidence

Don’t be scared to speak up. Realize that you are in control and are not to be controlled. In the early stages of the role and being in a smaller company, there was an understanding of sorts that the product manager would only focus on executing what was decided by senior management. But if you have a customer focused and data-driven approach, you will be able to put across your opinions in an impactful way. Product managers should work to develop and hone that voice early on.

Zareena Ashraf (Senior Product Manager at Booking.com)

Sometimes junior product managers don’t ask enough questions. Early in careers, junior product managers may be intimidated by more senior managers and others. You may be working with engineers or developers with much more experience. Junior product managers should work past that feeling and ask the questions they need to fully understand the needs and requirements of the customer and to successfully find a solution. The Five whys approach works well.  

The reality is that your employer hired you on the strength of your knowledge, skills, and background. Remember that to get past the insecurity and face the uncertainty that is part of product management, no matter the level. The earlier they get comfortable with ambiguity, the more successful they will be as a product manager.  

Accept a project outside your comfort zone. The reality is that product careers are full of pivots and shifts, from new products to new customers to new technologies to new companies.  For example, AI winds its way into data, consumer apps, business systems, and more. Finding a way to take on small projects outside of your comfort zone early on will not only give you tremendous experience in new areas, but will enable you to “connect the dots” more easily, no matter the project or product.

Craig Norman (Senior Product Manager at Kroger Technology and Digital)

Difficulty saying “no”

Many junior product managers struggle to set up a long-term vision for their product. This can often result in your team only addressing urgent problems raised by various stakeholders, often without considering the long-term. A good product manager should start in the business, understand where the market is heading and what your company aims to be, and create a vision for how your product will help out in that journey. This will make it easier to decline requests for short-term-oriented problems that will not take your product closer to where you need it to be and to prioritize problems that are actually aligned with your product strategy.

Anton Larsson (Senior Product Manager at Volvo Cars)

Saying “yes” to everything is another pitfall faced by new product managers who believe that product management is about finding a way to build everything asked. This is sadly far from the truth. Prioritization is an essential and valuable skill for a product manager. By applying a suitable prioritization technique that aligns with the business, product managers must learn to objectively determine the business value of different ideas and make a “yes” or “no” decision.

Sowrirajan Padmanabhan (Senior Product Manager, Cybersecurity)

The best thing about early career product managers is that they are hungry for experience and often ready to take on any project that comes their way. This sort of attitude is exactly why they were drawn to product management in the first place: being able to exert influence on product strategy through a curious and energetic disposition. However, junior product managers may not yet realize that when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Taking on too many projects at once can do damage to the projects that would be most impactful for the business, but it’s hard to know this until you’ve been burned a few times. If you’re a talented product manager, lots of parts of the organization will want your time, and nothing is more valuable than your time. Know your priorities and stick to them. Learning to say “no” diplomatically (and often) will become a key part of your success. 

Paul Dickens (Senior Manager of Product Management at Palo Alto Networks)

A common mistake is not saying no enough. This isn’t just saying no to meetings; it is saying no to stakeholders’ requests, timelines, or customer feature requests. This can be hard, especially if you want to please everyone, but saying no is critical to prioritizing the things that align with the product vision and strategy.

Nicu Parente (Senior Product Manager at Salesforce)

Misusing or ignoring data

I regret not stressing the need for data-backed decisions in my early roles. Lack of research teams or tooling should not limit you. The clarity that comes in with key metrics backing your hypothesis cannot be compared with the pain of having to fight multiple biased opinions in the room.

Zareena Ashraf (Senior Product Manager at Booking.com)

The job of a product manager requires us to listen, in a balanced way, to different input sources, such as sales team opinion, market status, engineering costs, metrics, support, etc., in order to make intelligent decisions. Each of these sources has a particular weight, and the weight can vary depending on the situation. A typical mistake from a junior product manager is to either forget one of those information sources, or to mentally assign the wrong weight to any of them.

Juan Gallardo (Senior Product Manager at Cisco)

Being extremely data-driven is a common mistake. It is great to be data driven, diving into the numbers and knowing the top metrics for all your initiatives like the back of your hand.

However, data is flawed, so you need to take it with the proverbial pinch of salt. Listen to your instincts. As a product manager, you should know your ABCs : Always Be Closely-observing.

Over time, this becomes second nature and you will start to view everything through this lens, becoming a better product manager all around, which translates into a better product.

Soumitra D. (Senior Product Manager at Walmart)

Data is essential for making decisions but is not the only factor. Junior product managers must move from data-driven to data-informed decisions, which factor in market trends, business objectives, intuition, and context.

Nicu Parente (Senior Product Manager at Salesforce)

Poor stakeholder management

Stakeholder management is critical for any product manager, not only in order to pitch ideas, prioritizations, and strategic directions, but also to sort out dependencies on other teams. I often see junior product managers confusing “having communicated something” and “having aligned on something.” Making sure that what you do is well-anchored and understood in the organization often takes over communication and repeating the same thing over and over again.

Anton Larsson (Senior Product Manager at Volvo Cars)

Not getting to know the stakeholders is a common problem. Depending on the size of the organization and the complexity of the product, the people who must sign off on an investment vary. If you do not know who they are and their goals, your first proposal will face significant hurdles for approval. A new product manager must spend a good portion of the initial days in the role getting to know key decision makers and the product development lifecycle of their respective organizations. This will set up a good baseline to launch your first product or feature with considerable ease.

Sowrirajan Padmanabhan (Senior Product Manager, Cybersecurity)

To me the most obvious mistake made by junior product managers is trying to please too many people with their decision making. When you’re new, lacking in experience, and learning the ropes, you don’t tend to trust your instincts. You doubt your decision making ability so you ask for help. It’s a perfectly natural reaction and the best way to learn. The problem is you often ask too many people for their thoughts or opinions and then struggle to come to a decision. 

My advice is to not waste time trying to please everyone. Once you’re happy or have a vision, believe in it  and put all your efforts into making it happen. Not everyone will like your idea, but that’s also to be expected, after all we’re all different. Also find a mentor. When asking for advice try to identify someone who you connect with professionally and personally. They’re great at providing perspective in areas you would otherwise not have thought to ask about.

Andrew Dolan (Senior Product Manager at Adidas)

Overidentifying as the CEO of Product

A problem that is quite common for junior product managers is the communication style. Due to the endless literature stating that the product manager is the CEO of the product, people tend to have an authoritarian style when they start off in this role. This causes friction in the wider product group, inefficiencies in delivery, and even features riddled with bugs being shipped. It would go a long way for people starting off in product management roles to learn how to effectively communicate, leverage the strengths and expertise of the people surrounding them, and empower them to make the right decisions for the product.

Andras Horvath (Senior Product Manager at Microsoft)

Thinking that you are the CEO of the product is a problem I’ve seen. We have all heard that said, and it is very empowering to hear. But if you believe this, you are going to start assuming an authoritative role and mindset. In actuality, think of your role much like a diplomat. You are going to cut the birthday cake in a way that makes each stakeholder feel they got the largest share.

Soumitra D. (Senior Product Manager at Walmart)

If a new product manager comes in with the mindset that they are going to be the “CEO” of anything right away they can end up being grossly disappointed. Observing other successful product managers in the organisation, shadowing them, and seeking a mentor are some good approaches to setting the right expectations. Mapping what one learns as a theory to reality is the key to success.

Sowrirajan Padmanabhan (Senior Product Manager, Cybersecurity)

Insufficient understanding of the customer or product

A classic mistake is when a product manager does not do the necessary homework to understand for whom the product or service is being built. A product manager is the voice of the customer and must be able to empathise with them. A product manager who does not know the customers is not meeting one of the basic criteria to be in the role. All product managers starting their journey must develop customer empathy by being in the shoes of their customers every day. 

Sowrirajan Padmanabhan (Senior Product Manager, Cybersecurity)

Many inexperienced product managers do not know enough about the product they are working on. You need to know your product backwards, forwards, and inside out. You need to know the flaws, the limitations and the top customer requests and complaints. I see flaws in products that I use every day. Are these product managers  not using their products as much, or not ranking this bug fix high enough in their prioritization, or a combination of both?

The end result is a dissatisfied customer.

Soumitra D. (Senior Product Manager at Walmart)

It is quite common to envision a complete product or feature and expect 90% of it to be delivered in the very first release, only to find a trove of issues; the most common one being the lack of adoption. The purpose of an MVP (minimum viable product) is to ship the minimum functionality that would allow you to validate a hypothesis. It is a great way to understand usage patterns, see customer adoption and uncover the most pressing areas of improvement, based on qualitative and quantitative insights.

Andras Horvath (Senior Product Manager at Microsoft)

It’s product management 101 to ship in small, measurable chunks and deliver value to customers, and get subsequent feedback from customers, early and often. What can get lost is the stories that come from these cycles, and telling those tales to the rest of your team and organization. Understanding how to tell great customer stories is key to getting buy-in and can also be highly motivating company-wide. A product manager’s job is not just to ship; it’s to solve customer problems. 

Paul Dickens (Senior Manager of Product Management at Palo Alto Networks)

We’d like to thank Stephanie Walter for incredible help in creating this article.