10 Dysfunctions of Product Management

by Sakshi 

There is a saying in product management that it often feels paradoxical. 

Take this question, for instance:

Does product management deliver outcomes for the business or the customer? The answer is not an either-or scenario but rather a balance of both.

Similarly, does product management succeed by setting the right priorities or planning further ahead? Product management does not succeed in just one scenario. So we need to have our priorities right, as well as plan further ahead. The answer to this one is also both.

Likewise, should product managers be held fully accountable for results, or do they lack the necessary authority? Here, too, the answer is both. 

There are many such questions, and often, when product managers are presented with two contrasting scenarios, the answer is both. That’s why there are complexities in product management. Many companies end up getting caught up in these complexities and need help to reach their full potential. Even the companies that say, “We totally get product management”, end up struggling. 

These are some common dysfunctions that companies around the world often face.

In this article, I will go through ten such dysfunctions and possible solutions to them. 

So, let’s get right into them.

The first dysfunction is the Hamster wheel. 

We all have seen or heard of a hamster wheel, where the hamster keeps on running without any destination to reach. 

Similarly, in product management, a hamster wheel occurs when all that matters is continuing to run even if you are not getting anywhere.

The product team is entirely focused on outputs —- hitting deadlines — with no regard for the outcome. 

Compare these two questions, and you’ll see the difference in perspective: 

  • Did you ship that feature on time? (output-oriented) 
  • Did that feature deliver value to customers and grow revenue? (outcome-oriented)

What’s the use of shipping a feature on time if no customer wants or is willing to pay for it?


Get out of the hamster wheel by focusing on the outcome rather than the output.

The second dysfunction is the counting-house.

Counting-house dysfunction happens when there is an obsession with internal metrics, with little to no regard for customer success. The team  is focused on internal metrics like revenue growth, monthly active users and customer retention, which may not directly reflect product impact

Although tracking metrics can be valuable, product teams may deviate if they overly prioritize lagging indicators that are distant from the product itself.

After all, these metrics might not be relevant to the product.


Question as to how we can effectively deliver greater value to our customers.

In a recent mobile app development project, the challenge for us was to build an MVP within three months so the product could go into the market as soon as possible. The clients wanted to quickly receive feedback from users and improve it based on feedback. Read about our experience in this article.

The third dysfunction, and my favorite one, is the Ivory Tower. 

The product team starts thinking that they know the customers better than the customers know themselves. So, the product team ends up delivering a product that no one wants.

This shows that there is a staggering need for more customer research.

This situation can lead to mistrust between project management and other departments. Product management feels like they’re building the right product (though they may not be), so when the product doesn’t perform well, they assume the fault lies elsewhere.


Stay on the ground with your customers.

The fourth dysfunction is the science lab.

It happens when the team focuses on the optimization of already existing products. There is no real innovation there. 

Focus on highly measurable yet superficial improvements to their product.

Optimizations can not take the place of real evaluation. The assumption is that making improvements to existing solutions will drive results. Still, even effective optimizations can’t take the place of real innovation.


Sometimes you need new solutions, not optimization 

The fifth one on the list is the feature factory.  

What happens here is that the company is just focused on building features without a clear understanding of customer needs or strategic goals.

Reasons can be prioritization based on internal factors like deadlines or technical feasibility, not customer value, and misalignment between product and business goals.

Now, what happens is that the product teams fall into this trap of building features as they are led to believe by customers or internal stakeholders that if they just had this one next feature, they would close incremental deals or keep customers who might otherwise leave.


The only way out of this is to break the cycle of building features. Instead of that, why don’t you utilize agile methodologies for faster feedback loops and iterative development?

You should shift your focus from features to problem solving. Ask “why are we building this feature?” and ensure it solves a real customer need.

Our team recently worked on a project with a tight two-week deadline. The pressure to deliver features within this timeframe was palpable. However, we recognized that our ultimate goal was something else: providing value to our clients. Read our experience in this blog. 

The sixth dysfunction is the business school. 

Business school is where people go to learn business, but they do no real business there. Just like that, a team with this dysfunction gets wrapped up in over-analyzing everything to avoid making tough but essential judgment calls.  


Consider the customers and the larger business strategy, not just mathematically calculated ROIs.

Product managers focused on ROI to decide which features to pursue.

The seventh dysfunction is the roller coaster. 

This dysfunction is all about fast thrills and wild, whip-lashing movements. 

Immediate results are often expected, leading to potential abrupt pivots by investors and executives, creating a roller-coaster whip-lash. 

The root cause of this dysfunction can be a need to deliver impressive results to stakeholders constantly and an obsession with keeping up with trends, But it just shows that you have misunderstood product development as a whole.

It’s essential to exercise patience and allow ample opportunities for success. Rushing can lead to false negatives, where a potentially valuable feature fails due to insufficient time for proper execution.


Be patient and provide sufficient opportunities for success. Measure your progress towards long-term goals, not just immediate spikes. Take calculated risks and learn from mistakes.

Focus on iterative improvement.

The eighth dysfunction is the bridge to nowhere

Consider a scenario where a team of engineers dedicated significant time, funds, and resources to construct a bridge spanning a river, linking an established city to a potential future city in a wilderness area. Despite their efforts, the envisioned second city never gets built. This outcome highlights the considerable investment expended without realizing the intended benefit, illustrating a significant waste of resources.

It is the case of over-engineering a product, trying to account for future needs that aren’t relevant — and may never be. You keep building, but there is no end result.


Focus on the current needs; in the future, you can constantly adjust.

The ninth dysfunction is the negotiating table

Imagine a product manager sitting at a table, bombarded by demands from every direction. Sales want immediate results, clients want flashy features, engineers wish for technical feasibility, and executives need profits. In this chaotic scenario, the product manager becomes a negotiator, desperately trying to please everyone. This is the negotiating table dysfunction.

When a product manager believes that success means keeping all of the stakeholders happy and desperately tries to give everyone what they want, it leads to dysfunction. There is also a fear of saying “no” due to conflict avoidance.

It leads to everyone wanting more than is practically deliverable, pushing deadlines and straining resources. 

Give customers what they want but prioritize the right things for them - you help the team. 

Communicate transparently and set realistic expectations. Involve the stakeholders in decision-making but clarify that not every demand can be accommodated. Also, learning to say “no” whenever necessary is a skill that comes in handy often.

One hack I use is that I use data and insights to justify my decisions. In that way, people won’t get swayed by emotions and look at the actual impacts of decisions.

The tenth and the last dysfunction is the throne room. 

Imagine a king barking orders from their ivory tower, oblivious to the actual needs of the kingdom. Sounds pretty dysfunctional, right?

Unilateral decision-making creates a culture of fear. 

Teammates stop voicing concerns and stifling innovation and honest feedback. The product roadmap becomes a royal decree, inflexible and out of touch with reality. 


Remember, your team is the brain trust, the knights on the frontlines gathering customer intel. Shutting them out is like leading an army blindfolded.

Final Words

In this article, I have explored the ten most common product management dysfunctions. I am sure that it will be insightful to many of you, whether you are a manager or anyone in the product team. Take a good look at your decision-making, communication, and roadmap. Are any of these dysfunctions lurking in your team? 

If the answer is yes, then remember, the solution is within your grasp. Foster open communication, empower your team and prioritize customer value to build unique products your users will love.


Gurzu is a full-cycle software development company. Since 2014, we have helped world-class customers get to their markets quickly with high-quality products built with modern software technologies. Our team of experienced developers, designers, and test automation engineers can help to develop your next product.

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