Thursday, July 5, 2012

Product Management: allocate your time

I remember feeling that having 8 hr day was plenty of time to write useful piece of code.  When I could concentrate on coding without interruption, I often was surprised how much I was able to get done in a day. When I was writing code full time, I had to master how to write and test incrementally.  Writing small easy to understand code was the skill that I practiced every day.

It's been just about 2 years that I've been wearing product manager hat.  What would be the number one skill that I need to practice and get better at?

For me, it's time management.  Knowing what to do, when to do it and when to stop, and executing it according to the plan is what's critical to product manager's success.

Time is limited resource.  I have to know where to invest this limited resource to get a return that my team needs.  It's much like retirement portfolio management.  I have to allocate my time where my time will be most valuable, and make those priorities.  I must invest my time to get the maximum return for everyone in the company.

This time allocation would be really easy if we had known the value of time spent on each task.  But many times the value is not clear and not immediately answerable.  Anything strategic would fit this category.  Because it's not a tactical task, the return on your investment is unknown.  True value can only be calculated in future date. Hence I am making a bet that something will happen and I'm going with those assumptions to create a business to solve a problem.  There are lot of unknowns.

In this uncertain environment, it's just too easy to be all tactical and reactive.  When customer is pounding my door and wants something from us, delivering it to them can be the most sensible thing.  Yet there must be a balance in my time investment.  If everything is short-term oriented, there won't be any cycle to prepare for market changes.  Just take a look at how people are talking about RIM and Nokia's survival these days.  It was just a few years ago when both companies were indisputable leaders in the market.

Not all non-tactical time investment is for new product development or research.  It's important to spend time to educate marketing team on upcoming product features.  It's also important to train support and sales engineers so that they can fix problems and sell the solution better.

Without time management, it's impossible to know whether I am investing in all the areas.  It would be akin to not knowing all available mutual funds to continue investment analogy.

So I think about my time allocation quite a bit.  I try to maintain balance on how I spend time on important things: 1) Create a right product at the right time, 2) promote a culture of ownership, 3) connect the right resources internally to make sure business can scale, and 4) execute tactical missions.

I think everything that I do fall in one of these four categories.  I try not to be one-sided and invest all my time on one area.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this informative post. im sure many readers will love this one. Keep on posting like this and more power!