Some of the key challenges and how to address them

At Product Focus, we’ve worked with hundreds of product management companies over the past 16 years. We talk to product people every day, and regardless of their product type, every product manager faces fairly common challenges. We’ve gained a variety of insights into their daily issues and frustrations, some of which include:

  • Poor definition of their role
  • Having too much to do
  • Lack of ownership of the roadmap
  • Dealing with vague business strategies
  • Missing a common way of working and language

Combine these issues with the additional challenges that arise in particular market sectors and product contexts, and it can be not only confusing but overwhelming.

If you work in the manufacturing sector, you’ll face challenges not seen to the same extent by those working on the management of software-only products. Some of the challenges of managing manufactured products include:

  • Getting things right the first time
  • Introducing a product culture and balancing the need for speed to market against the high costs of failure from a product recall or on-site rectification
  • The importance of product quality, requirement traceability, and risk management
  • The challenges across the lifecycle for in-life optimization, product refresh, and product withdrawal
  • Engaging with manufacturing on forecasting multiple product SKUs and dealing with issues related to supply chain complexity
  • Managing interactions with third party products, firmware, and apps while seeking to maximize value once in the market

Let’s look at some of these issues in more depth.

Getting it right the first time

Getting the right product of the right quality to market the first time is critical but challenging for product managers in manufacturing.

One way product managers can respond to this challenge is by creating a prototype of their product.

While creating hardware prototypes and getting customer feedback can be time-consuming and costly, this needs balancing against the risk of setting up a manufacturing line for a product that might ultimately fail in the market. Rather than viewing the phase of building a prototype as a delay in the process, it should be seen positively as a necessary stage of work in the innovation process.

Using a prototype allows product managers to gain customer feedback and helps design and manufacturing to assess the best way to build the product. It minimizes the risk of expensive product recalls and rework, ensuring that what’s delivered is valued by customers and hits the quality standard required.

Dealing with product complexity

In many companies and industries, product managers have to manage multiple products. However, when looking after manufactured products, dealing with a range of products frequently takes too much of a product manager’s time.

The supply and complexity challenges can create work for product managers who might have to forecast at a very detailed level and support their procurement, design, and manufacturing colleagues working with suppliers, e.g., SKUs (Stock Keeping Units), each with a different BOM (Bill of Materials); long lead times on ordering some of the components in the BOM; existing suppliers discontinuing support on some key components.

This work needs doing, but organizations should offload the detailed work of maintaining BOM and SKU definitions to others. These are operational tasks, and it’s more valuable for the organization if product managers focus on higher-level strategy, roadmap, requirements, and plans rather than working at the operational level.

Working with a cross-functional team

Being a team player in a cross-functional team is vital for any successful product manager. It is especially valuable in manufactured products with a broader team of specialists to engage and align.

Clearly defining each person’s role in this environment can help avoid overlaps, gaps, and wasted efforts.

The product manager’s role is to:

  • Understand why a product is important
  • Identify why its target clients will value it
  • Communicate this message effectively through strategies, roadmaps, business cases, market insight, and other plans

Their insight provides the guidance needed by the rest of the team so that the specialists in design, manufacture, test, procurement, and others can use their expertise to deliver what’s needed.

The team may be limited to in-house colleagues, but third parties providing components, sub-assemblies, or the channel to market, must also be engaged.

Maximizing value in-market

Every product manager who has end-to-end responsibility across the lifecycle of their product faces the challenge of how much time to spend on New Product Development (NPD) or in-life management. NPD and innovation tend to get the headlines, but the organization receives payback on its product investments when a product is in-life.

We see some great work by successful companies to maximize the value of in-life manufactured products, including maximizing support and upgrade revenues, product refreshes, or boosting the potential in the after-market.

Support and upgrade revenues can provide a reliable income stream. As a product manager, the challenge is to find options for the customer to buy. For example, should multiple tiers of support packages be offered, and what should each contain? What upgrades could be created as replacements or add-ons to an existing product that would complement it and deliver value?

Over time, products get stale and need a refresh to kick-start improvements. Product refreshes are important to maintain differentiation, keep the product relevant if customer needs are changing, and as a “good news” story to stimulate customer interest. Even a small refresh such as a facelift, small functional improvement, or rebranding could be effective.

Some manufactured products are supported by a network of companies offering complementary services, such as cleaning, refurbishment, and maintenance. Supplying products and support to these companies helps them deliver a better service to your clients, provides an additional revenue stream, and helps the overall product proposition.

Focusing on better in-life management can reverse falling revenues and increase profitability.


It can be tough, and product managers need to be clear on their visionary and strategic role to help their colleagues and the organization be successful. Alongside this blog, we recently recorded a webinar on Product Management in the Manufacturing sector. To delve deeper into the issues we’ve mentioned and learn more about Industry 4.0, Wrights Law, the metrics that matter, the multi-faceted proposition, and much more, click play below.

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