17 Mobile PM Challenges and How to Overcome Them
Between interfacing with multiple teams, coordinating release schedules, prioritizing customer happiness, driving the mobile product roadmap, messaging product announcements internally and externally, and myriad other activities, the list of “to-do’s” for mobile PMs may seem endless, and the job is ever-changing.
To understand just how complex the role of a mobile PM can be, we asked respondents in our 2017 mobile product management survey to share the main words they use to describe their jobs. Here’s what they had to say:
As you can see from the word cloud above, mobile product management is nothing short of a challenge, no matter what industry you work in. But with great challenge comes great opportunity, and most PMs thrive on regularly taking on new tasks and solving difficult problems.
To understand specific challenges, we asked survey respondents to weigh in on their biggest challenges. Not having enough time in the day (44%), not testing enough with users (36%), having too many responsibilities (34%), and having a small team (33%) topped the list of challenges.
Every challenge listed above is valid, and we can definitely empathize. However, none of the challenges in the list are unsolvable!
Rather than responding just to our respondents’ top challenges, we want to share tips on how to approach each. There is no challenge too big or too small to address, so here are our tips to face them head-on—with color commentary from everyone’s favorite co-worker, Michael Scott, to help lighten the mood. :)
17 tips to conquer mobile PM challenges
Challenge #1: I don’t have enough time in my day.
We hear ya. You can’t get more hours in the day, so it’s important to use the ones you have as efficiently as possible. The key to rearranging your day to give yourself more time is to figure out which productivity method works for you, and to stick to it as much as possible. Whether you need chunks of meeting-free time blocked off, are better working in sprints, or find that Tuesdays are better spent working off-site, there are plenty of ways to hack your day to give you more time to get things done. LifeHacker has endless tips and practices to experiment with. Pick one you think that works for you and give it a shot!
Challenge #2: We don’t test with users enough.
What better time to start than now? If you’re a PM, you’re in a great place to suggest new types of user tests throughout your mobile experience, especially if you plan the strategy and goals ahead of time. Your mobile customers are the best focus group you can learn from, and there are plenty of cheap, quick ways to give them a place to share their experiences. Consider using in-app surveys to gather feedback on a new feature, open-ended text fields to learn more about an in-app engagement experience, or proactively reach out with in-app messages to encourage customers to engage. To start, check out how one of Apptentive’s international retail customers leveraged in-app feedback to help with testing that ultimately drove their product roadmap.
Challenge #3: I have too many responsibilities.
Similar to not having enough time in your day to get tasks done, feeling overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities can become paralyzing. If you feel like you have too much to do, it might be time to restructure your to-do lists in order to adjust the priorities of your responsibilities. Perhaps you rephrase your tasks as questions, or maybe you start following the 1-3-5 to-do list rule, but whatever you decide, be sure to constantly question the priority level of the work you must complete. Also, be transparent with your manager if you truly feel like you have too many responsibilities to manage. Speaking up might spur a conversation around how to adjust your role to better fit your needs, or better yet, to bring in another team member to share your workload.
Challenge #4: My team is too small.
Here’s the thing: No matter the size of your team, you will likely always feel as though you need another teammate (or five!) to reach your goals. When you feel this way, it’s a good sign you’re setting BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals), which is what every team should strive for. If you truly have resourcing issues, it’s always worth talking with your manager to understand your team’s hiring plan as your insight will be helpful in putting together a job description for your next teammate. If you’re in management, be sure to work directly with your teammates to figure out where your biggest resource constraints lie before asking for additional headcount. Which leads us to our next challenge…
Challenge #5: I don’t have a budget.
When it comes to budget, gaining access to more is all about proving your product’s ROI. Because mobile teams typically struggle to acquire budget, even at large companies, every dollar spent and returned on the mobile product is under incredible scrutiny from executives. By supporting your product through proving ROI ahead of time, you have a stronger business case for scaling your scope, team, budget, and product positioning within the company. But modeling ROI takes time, patience, and a whole lot of number crunching. For detailed calculations around how to model mobile ROI, check out our in-depth post on the topic to help you make the case for a bigger budget.
Challenge #6: Our competitors are moving faster/earlier than us.
This challenge primarily affects folks in leadership roles, but keeping momentum flowing and accelerating is an all-company effort. When your competition seems to jump ahead of you, it can be easy to get discouraged. Instead, try to use your frustration as fuel to take a step back and realign your goals and mission. Be flexible to change, and be willing to reorder priorities and projects based on what it will take to get ahead in the market. Above all, remember that it’s not just about the competition; shifting priorities can help you better deliver a product your customers will love.
Challenge #7: We only get a small volume of customer feedback.
As we’ve previously mentioned, gathering and implementing customer feedback is vital to the success of a mobile product. First, take a look at your current efforts to see where you can turn up the volume. Can you reach out to a larger segment of your customer base? Is there a better place to prompt customers for feedback within your mobile experience? What do you offer customers for their time once they share their feedback? All of these places are typically full of low-hanging fruit that can allow you to gather more customer feedback, which gives you a better sense of what customers want to see improved and changed.
Challenge #8: We have too many ideas and choosing one is hard.
Prioritizing features and product ideas is definitely challenging. We recommend gathering stakeholders and spending a morning (or even a full day) going through all of your current and upcoming project ideas. Once the room sees how many projects or ideas exist, it can be easier to prioritize based on a realistic amount of time. Also, be sure to invite your co-worker who is great with dates and scheduling to the meeting—it always helps to have a regimented planner in the room to keep the conversation on track!
Challenge #9: I don’t have the data I need to make educated decisions.
It sounds like you could benefit from setting up a mobile product management dashboard. An important element of any mobile product is being able to track, measure, and report on its progress, and a product management dashboard is a great way to do so as it keeps all of your relevant data in one location that’s shareable, easy to access, and (typically) updated regularly. We wrote a post covering five steps to set up a product management dashboard you’ll want to read before you begin. It might take a bit of time in the beginning, but tracking down the data you need to make decisions is entirely possible when approached strategically.
Challenge #10: I don’t have enough technical skill.
Have no fear! Boosting your technical skills can be the most intimidating place to start, but is one of the areas we get most excited about helping people tackle. Head back to the How to Improve Your Technical Skills section of this guide to take another look!
Challenge #11: I want a better work/life balance.
It’s as important (if not more!) to take care of yourself as it is to take care of your mobile product. If you’re feeling stretched too thin by your work, take time to seriously consider how to better balance your home life and professional life. If you don’t take the time to focus on you when you start feeling work/life balance stress, burnout is sure to follow. To start, we recommend checking out this list of 37 tips for a better work/life balance.
Challenge #12: Fragmentation in the market.
Fragmented markets occur when no one company is influential enough to move the market in a new direction, and typically affects small to mid-size companies. It may seem helpless, but you can actually leverage a fragmented market to your advantage within your product if you have the right mindset. If you’re battling market fragmentation, use it as an opportunity to differentiate your company and product, or to take advantage of the low barrier to entry customers will have with your brand. Your marketing expenses will typically be less than they might be in a more competitive market, so work with your marketing team to come up with some great campaigns highlighting the uniqueness of your mobile product.
Challenge #13: We hire out our development.
We all hear the horror stories of hiring out development, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Overseas developers can be your pocket aces, but only if you build and manage the team the right way. There are plenty of actions to take to ensure your hired out developers are truly invested in your product, like scheduling regular in-person meetings, offering company stock, and pay them a fair wage for your market. Check out this TechCrunch article for more great tips.
Challenge #14: I don’t have the authority to make decisions.
You might not have the final say, but most mobile PMs have more authority and influence than they might think. When it comes to signing off on or prioritizing new features, products, bug fixes, etc., let the data do the talking instead of allowing the decisions to be made with emotion. As a mobile PM, you have amazing insight into your mobile customer experience, and you have plenty of metrics to help support and rationalize your decision-making. Challenge yourself and challenge your team by finding data points to support your thoughts, and your influence might surprise you!
Challenge #15: We release with too many bugs.
Code reviews, beta tests, automated tests; there are many ways to test software and squash pesky bugs before they wind up in production. Take a look at the current process your engineering team follows in order to see where quick improvements can be made. The more technical you are, the better you’ll be able to understand how to fill the gaps in this process, so if this is a challenge you’re facing, we recommend brushing up on your developer-speak before you start.
Challenge #16: My product hasn’t hit product/market fit.
Once you hit market fit, everything generally becomes easier: expanding product usage, shortening your sales cycle, boosting your prices, etc. But while you’re waiting to hit market fit, learn as much as you can about what would make your product better from your customers. This is the time to dig into churn and understand why people are leaving, and what might have kept them around and paying for your product. Ask questions, gather feedback, and re-prioritize your product roadmap based on what you learn.
Challenge #17: People aren’t finding our app in the stores.
Discovering new apps in the sea of the app stores can be tricky, but with the right app store optimization strategy, you’ll be surprised at how much more discoverable your app can be. App store optimization, or ASO, requires thinking strategically about all components of your app’s descriptive content, including your title, description, keywords, screenshots, videos, and more. For some serious ASO knowledge, check out our guide The Guide to App Store Optimization.
And there you have it! Hopefully the 17 tips above will help you conquer whatever mobile product management challenges are thrown your way.
To read more about facing mobile PM challenges head-on, and to level-up your mobile product management skills, grab your free copy of our guide, Mobile Product Management: New Trends & Data for 2017.