Product Manager: Your Heart Will Go On (Fear of Failure)

Product Manager: Your Heart Will Go On (Fear of Failure)

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is a cover band that puts vintage filters on modern songs. One of my favorites is their cover of Celine Dionne’s My Heart Will Go On in a 1950’s Jackie Wilson style.

When this song popped up in my playlist, it got me to thinking about a post Scott Bradlee wrote about conquering his fears as an artist.

He says he spent seven years in “perfectionist limbo” before releasing his first video because he was afraid his technical flaws would be mocked, ending his dream before it began.

Then he had an epiphany:

Understand one thing:  you will never feel “ready.”  If you’re a musician and you’ve just written a song that you’re on the fence about, the best time to record it is right now

– Scott Bradlee

This perfectionist fear of failure applies to product management as much as any creative endeavor.

Have you abandoned a new feature because you didn’t think it would make it through your backlog grooming process? Or held back in a meeting, even though you had adequate evidence to back up your position, because you wanted even more evidence behind you?

That kind of fear has held me back in the past. To get through it, I had to realize — and now, remember — two critical things:

  1. Product managers drive innovation in the business, and that often requires making decisions — venturing into the unknown — with incomplete data.
  2. Everyone — including the executives — is making decisions based on incomplete data.

That second realization made all the difference to me, because it helped me move the executive stakeholders off Mount Olympus and down to the realm of the rest of us mere mortals.

Along with that mental shift came a strategic approach of “showing my homework” when needed and noting any uncertainty so everyone is aware of the risk.

We always want to mitigate risk by bringing solid analysis to the party. And when venturing into the unknown, one way to mitigate risk is to note where the risk is. Voice it in the conversations where appropriate. Note it in the systems of record. And get moving.

As you move forward, new information may come to light that affects your plan. And that’s okay. More than okay, that’s a good thing, because it means you’re learning. Correct as you go and bring the rest of the team along with you.

Bonus Content

Check out a prime example of the Beatle’s notion of taking a sad song and making it better:

My Heart Will Go On

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Christopher Cummings

Blogs about product management. Loves Jesus, his family, comic books, video games, and giant robots. Occasionally crawls through mud and leaps over fire.
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