The 'Miss'

Finance often has blinders on forecast accuracy, and needs to gain perspective before berating product management for trivial variances

The 'Miss'
Photo by Anelale Nájera on Unsplash

Revenues are softening, some long-term decline is suddenly accelerating, and you are missing plan. Senior management wants to know why, and – more importantly – what are you doing about it. They point their fingers to Product Management to right the ship.

The Problem –

Product Management has many tools in its bag that can move the needle. Create a version (or a new product) to attack a new segment. Cater to changing needs in the market (hello, that’s what we have a roadmap for!) A major revision that adds features that improve the USP. Partner with marketing on promotions that drive increased leads and opportunities. And so on.

What do all those things have in common?

Oh, yeah, they take time to implement, and even more time to affect the revenue. We have plenty of knobs we can turn, but they don’t provide an instantaneous response, there is a significant delay, up to several quarters, in seeing a tangible response to actions taken today.

Unfortunately, apart from promotions, and aggressive discounting, there isn’t much in the product manager’s toolkit that can provide instant relief to revenue shortfalls. And truthfully, promotions and discounting are things that can be managed elsewhere with greater effect.

With this in mind, at many companies, senior leadership looks to product management to help drive short term gains in revenue to combat a soft quarter. It is as if we can wave a magic wand, and poof orders magically appear.

So, we roll up our sleeves, do what we can, and then catch hell when it doesn’t really move the needle. Furthermore, and this is one of the hazards of a sales led organization, that it is all hands-on deck to handle the opportunities in the pipeline, and all future work is sidelined.

Ostensibly, these fire drills are temporary – but as I have learned – they often become the standard operating procedure, further burdening the product management team with tactical activities, that quite frankly, don’t benefit the product team one iota.

How to avoid this?

Unfortunately, as an individual, you really have no recourse. Sometimes, these are existential crises, and by all means, you should be all over fixing a true crisis. However, a pending miss, and small revenue shortfall shouldn’t trigger the existential crisis flag, no matter how much finance wants it to be. (an example of a true existential crisis: A privacy breach, or a yield destroying manufacturing defect. Something at that level).

To avert “the sky is falling” mania, you need support from your management. They need to explain the concept of opportunity cost, and the new product or release you are driving will be delayed. Often Sales will back down if their pet new features aren’t being worked on due to an all-hands-on deck scenario.

But, if finance is badgering you why on a forecast of $2.5M, you are looking to be $80K light, you need to tell them to just chill.