The 10 Dysfunctions of Product Management and How to Overcome Them


What are the 10 Dysfunctions of Product Management?

In short, these are the 10 common problems that most product teams face, originally identified by Ben Foster and Rajesh Nerlikar in their best-seller Build What Matters.

Our article explores each of these dysfunctions and shows you how you can leverage Userpilot to overcome them.

Let’s get right to it!


  1. The Hamster Wheel: teams often chase one feature after another without linking them to user needs, resembling a hamster wheel. Solution: create an outcome-based roadmap by identifying customer needs and wants.
  2. The Counting House: an obsession with internal metrics, like customer retention, can make teams lose sight of delivering customer value. Solution: use in-app surveys to collect qualitative customer feedback, focusing on customer satisfaction and UX improvement.
  3. The Ivory Tower: teams that stop consulting customers build products that don’t meet market needs. Solution: interview customers regularly.
  4. The Science Lab: overemphasis on minor optimizations to existing solutions can result in missing out on innovative ideas. Solution: create a balanced product development roadmap focusing on optimization and innovation.
  5. The Feature Factory: prioritizing feature delivery over problem-solving leads to an endless cycle of unimpactful features. Solution: reflect on the underlying problems behind feature requests and focus on innovative solutions.
  6. The Business School: excessive reliance on data can lead to analysis paralysis. Solution: visualize data and run quick experiments to facilitate decision-making.
  7. The Roller Coaster: rapid, frequent changes in direction can lead to wasted resources and a lack of product focus. Solution: align product initiatives with the vision and strategy and validate ideas.
  8. The Bridge to Nowhere: over-engineering for hypothetical future needs creates complex and costly products. Solution: focus on current needs using customer feedback and user behavior tracking for guidance.
  9. The Negotiating Table: trying to please all stakeholders leads to conflicting priorities and neglecting customer needs. Solution: prioritize requests that deliver customer value using feedback and product data.
  10. The Throne Room: centralized decision-making by a single leader slows down processes and undermines team competence. Solution: promote a data-driven decision culture through data democratization initiatives.

Want to learn how Userpilot can help you overcome the 10 dysfunctions of product management? Book the demo!

Dysfunction #1: The Hamster Wheel – a focus on output over outcomes

The first dysfunction, The Hamster Wheel, is about excessive focus on outputs and not outcomes.

What’s the difference?

Outputs are the specific product features, while outcomes are customer problems that need to be solved. There’s nothing wrong with shipping features if they solve genuine problems and add value to the product.

However, many product teams fall into the trap of chasing one feature after another without reflecting on how they link to customer needs. As there are countless features you could build, this never stops. Hence, the name ‘hamster wheel.’

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

Userpilot offers analytics and feedback features that can help you identify customer pain points inside the product and unsatisfied needs. This will help you create an outcome-based roadmap.

Once you identify the problems to solve and develop the solutions, you can then use Userpilot to track the key customer success metrics to see if they’ve made the desired impact.

Such an approach takes away the pressure to hit shipment deadlines and fosters a customer-centric approach where delivering valuable products matters above all.

Funnel analysis in Userpilot.

Dysfunction #2: The Counting House – an obsession with internal metrics

It’s easy to get carried away with metrics, just like it is with shipping more and more features. That’s because they’re easy to track and can be used to objectively measure progress.

However, if you’re too focused on internal metrics, like monthly active users, you risk becoming the Counting House. Such metrics are a lagging indicator and prioritizing them makes teams lose sight of their ultimate goal, which is delivering value to customers.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

To overcome the Counting House dysfunction, look for ways to add more value to the product.

Userpilot’s in-app surveys can help with that.

They are easy to create and customize as there’s a template library and visual editor, and you can use them to collect qualitative customer feedback at scale.

That’s how you can track customer satisfaction with the product and identify ways to improve the customer experience.

Satisfaction survey in Userpilot
Satisfaction survey in Userpilot.

Dysfunction #3: The Ivory Tower – a lack of customer research

The Ivory Tower dysfunction refers to a situation when the product team makes decisions without talking to customers.

This happens when they get too detached from the user base and assume they know the product so well that they don’t need customer research anymore.

As a result, they end up building a product that nobody needs or wants.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

To overcome the Ivory Tower dysfunction, make a habit of speaking to your customers regularly. This will help you keep track of their changing needs and ensure that your product strategy reflects it.

With Userpilot, you can easily recruit interview participants.

First, use the segmentation functionality to identify the right users. For example, these could be customers holding a particular role or working in a specific niche.

Next, target them with a modal inviting them to take part in the test. Make sure to offer them an incentive, like a voucher.

Recruiting for interviews with Userpilot
Recruiting for interviews with Userpilot.

Dysfunction #4: The Science Lab – optimization to the exclusion of all else

Science lab product teams focus too much on the optimization of metrics.

Unfortunately, many product teams tend to focus on improving metrics that don’t contribute to product growth. Even if they focus on the right metrics, marginal optimizations will only bring marginal gains. That’s not enough to deliver truly innovative and disruptive solutions.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

Userpilot allows product managers to track all metrics from its dashboards so that you have a clear view of your product performance. You can also run the retention analysis report to measure how product changes affect it over time. In this way, you can easily track the impact of optimizations.

Once you notice, that the impact starts getting less significant, you can divert your attention to other aspects of the product development, like expanding product functionality to increase customer value.

Overcoming dysfunctions of product management: Retention analysis in Userpilot
Retention analysis in Userpilot.

Dysfunction #5: The Feature Factory – an assembly line of features

Just like in the hamster wheel, feature factories prioritize delivering features over solving customer problems and adding value.

The main reason why it happens is the belief that you need to keep adding features to stay competitive and retain customers. Companies are afraid that if they don’t have feature parity with competitors or don’t satisfy every feature request, the product will fail.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

There’s nothing wrong with collecting feature requests.

What matters is how you act on them. Instead of accommodating every single one, take time to reflect on why customers are requesting the features.

If it turns out your product doesn’t solve a relevant user problem, don’t rush to build the feature just yet. Take time to look for more innovative solutions that will differentiate you from competitors. Otherwise, you will always be playing a catch-up game.

Once you build the solution, collect user feedback and use product analytics to assess their success. Iterate on the feedback before moving on to build the next one.

Feature request form in Userpilot.

Dysfunction #6: The Business School – the overuse of science and data

The Business School dysfunction is characterized by excessive reliance on data.

Data is essential to make informed product decisions in SaaS.

However, it’s not practical to make all decisions based on data.

First, some things are obvious. For example, you don’t have to analyze terabytes of data to decide if you need a CTA button.

Secondly, there are tons of data to track, and trying to analyze and make sense of it all may result in an inability to make any decision. As a product manager, you must be able to use your experience and intuition, not just data.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

Userpilot can help product managers overcome analysis paralysis in a couple of ways.

The most obvious one is through visualizations.

The platform allows you to visualize key metrics in graphs and charts. This includes trend graphs, funnel charts, retention tables, and feature usage heatmaps.

Thanks to them, it’s very easy to spot trends and patterns without having to pore over the raw data for hours.

Overcoming dysfunctions of product management: Heatmap analysis in Userpilot
Heatmap analysis in Userpilot.

Dysfunction #7: The Roller Coaster – fast-paced twists and turns

Life’s a roller coaster but product management shouldn’t be.

When you make too many sudden course changes, consistent product development isn’t possible. That’s because there isn’t enough time to test and refine ideas.

Such whiplash pivots usually result from the lack of patience of the key stakeholders who want to see immediate results.

However, the outcome is just the opposite: a lot of wasted resources and not much to show for it.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

To overcome the dysfunction, go back to the product vision and strategy, and work your way down, ensuring alignment between high-level goals and specific product initiatives.

Before you commit to a feature, take time to validate the idea. For example, use Userpilot to run fake door tests.

Once you start developing features, launch it sooner rather than later to collect real-life data. Track their adoption and collect feedback on how well it satisfies user needs.

If the initial response is not as you’d hoped for, don’t pull the plug too soon. Iterate on the data to improve it.

Overcoming dysfunctions of product management: Userpilot analytics dashboards
Userpilot analytics dashboards.

Dysfunction #8: The Bridge to Nowhere – over-engineering for future unknowns

We talk about building the bridge to nowhere when the team over-engineers the product to accommodate potential future needs.

The catch is that those future needs may never materialize. This means you end up building a product that’s complex and expensive to maintain for no good reason.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

Instead of guessing what your product might need in the future, use data to decide what it needs now and make it your focus.

With Userpilot, you can collect customer feedback and track user behavior inside the product to determine how well it satisfies user needs and what functionality is missing.

Moreover, conduct tests and experiments to validate ideas and assumptions to ensure you’re developing solutions to real user problems, not hypothetical ones.

Overcoming dysfunctions of product management: In-app survey in Userpilot
In-app survey in Userpilot.

Dysfunction #9: The Negotiating Table – trying to keep everyone happy

The negotiating table malfunction stems from the false idea that product managers should keep everybody happy.

Such thinking is dangerous because you can never deliver everything that everyone wants.

If you let this fallacy reign over the development process, you will end up constantly negotiating with stakeholders to accommodate their often conflicting requests and not looking after the customers’ needs.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

The solution to this dysfunction is collecting customer feedback to determine what they need. Such data will help you not only to prioritize your efforts but also secure the buy-in from the key decision-makers.

With Userpilot, you can tag qualitative responses to NPS surveys to easily identify patterns to inform product decisions.

NPS response tagging in Userpilot.

Dysfunction #10: The Throne Room – whipsaw decision-making from the person in charge

The final dysfunction takes place when all decisions are made by the senior person in charge, like the CEO in the throne room.

This is a common occurrence in the startup space when the founders simply can’t let go.

This is suboptimal because it slows down the decision-making process. The sole leader isn’t capable of dealing with the increasing demands to make competent decisions, especially as the product is getting more complex.

It also undermines the people hired to make the decisions, like the product manager.

Overcoming this dysfunction with Userpilot

Data is again the biggest ally when it comes to combating this dysfunction.

By promoting a culture where decisions are based on empirical evidence and people feel comfortable enough to question assumptions openly.

As a no-code platform with an intuitive UI and a flat learning curve, Userpilot can help you democratize data in your organization. By providing teams at all levels with access to data-driven insights, you will give them tools to push back against questionable decisions from the top.

Overcoming dysfunctions of product management: Event tracking in Userpilot
Trend reports in Userpilot.


The 10 dysfunctions of product management negatively harm organizations by diverting focus from customer value and strategic goals to short-term outputs and internal metrics. The consequence is products that don’t meet market needs or drive sustainable growth.

If you want to learn more about how Userpilot can help you overcome the dysfunctions, get the demo!

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