Increasing Product Management Productivity

As Product Managers we’re often pulled in so many different directions and it can be difficult to decipher the “Important” from the “Urgent”.

Which should we do first? Respond to the CEO’s office about a customer complaint or spend time figuring out if our Roadmap will deliver the intended value to our customers?

The Problem

Product Managers are:

  • Time poor
  • Under resourced
  • Provide lots of tactical support
  • Trying to convert Strategy into Execution

This problem isn’t new. Any search for ways of being more productive will result in hundreds of tips and life hacks about how to stop wasting time on distractions and how to get better at email.

I’ll skip the usual productivity tips, like switch off your email, be firm, say no, go for a walk, set goals, write a to-do list, and more. They all have their place but once you have cleared away the noise, Product Managers are faced with an even scarier problem.

What do you do now?

Converting Product Strategy to Product

“Developing a strategy and implementing it are often viewed as two distinct activities – first you come up with the perfect plan and then you worry about how to make it happen. This approach, common though it is, creates a disconnect between what the company is trying to accomplish and what employees do on a day-to-day basis.”
– Simple Rules, D.Sull and K. Eisenhardt

Product Management is a business function that links Organisational Strategy to Operational Execution. Unless some aspect of the day-to-day work done by a Product Manager is inching closer to meeting the strategic goals then the day has been wasted. This is the hard problem that most Product Managers face when it comes to productivity.

However, in day-to-day Product Management, there aren’t established processes and practices to guide us in our everyday efforts. When we don’t have a project to anchor our work efforts and activities to, the “Urgent” becomes the “Important” very easily, and when the “Important” becomes “Urgent” it is too late to be effective.

Productivity Through Cadence

So here’s my secret… In order to be productive on a day-to-day basis, we need a work cadence and a work flow.

Cadence is the rhythm of work and flow as the output of work. When operating with cadence, the question of “What do I do next?” is answered by the workflow process, a process that incrementally creates value towards a strategic goal.

This idea of Cadence can be observed in Agile development methods, where fixed time boxes (e.g. sprints) provide a team the timing structure to keep a product/project moving closer to completion, and constant planning cycles break larger tasks into smaller ones. Yet when the product is launched, this cadence comes to a crashing end as the product moves into day-to-day lifecycle management. We have to ruthlessly create the cadence and flow when we are managing and growing our products, not only when we’re designing and delivering new products.

Developing Product Management Cadence

You can create your own structure and schedule for working but we’ve developed a cycle of linked activities, where a little bit is done at a time and then actioned in the next activity. You need to dedicate time to these activities each day.

1. Learn

Spend this time to learn about your customers, your market, the products financial and lifecycle performance. Document what you learn and use it to help develop and refine longer term Planning.

Different ‘Learning’ activities can be performed at different times of the month depending on the depth of information required.

2. Plan

Review and synthesize our learnings, reflect and plan for the future of our product. This may take the form of a Product Vision and a Roadmap which is regularly reviewed, updated and communicated to stakeholders. The Plan will provide direction on what to do next and outline the activities required to stimulate Innovation.

3. Innovate

A static product in this market place is a dead product. Schedule time to bring your insights and plans to bear. For example you may want to create and validate a problem hypothesis or product canvas and begin conceiving innovative solutions for valuable customer problems.

These activities will represent the seeds of new product or marketing ideas. Once these ideas bear fruit and we have identified a feature or product worth pursuing, then the existing Product Delivery process can kick in ensuring that the project has a cadence of its own.

4. Lead

We need to actively lead our product to success either in big or small organisations. This may translate to scheduling regular meetups with internal and external stakeholders to share the product’s long term vision or provide an update on the growth metrics.

Getting Started

It’s usually difficult to change mindset and adopt a new practice. To get you started, consider spending a minimum of 2 hours per day on these activities or about 20% of your week and book them into your calendar at the same time each day.