Thursday, February 14, 2013

Product Management: Do important things first

When my day is driven by meetings with people in 30 minute increments, it is difficult to see where my focus is.  That makes sense.  When I'm reacting to those meeting requests, I am not focusing on things that will make a difference to the product.  If you believe in managing your resource like I do, the most important resource is time.

When I was working as a developer, I did not have this problem at all.  I would get a project to work on, I set my schedule to tackle one problem on my proposed timeline.  My manager would then take that schedule, negotiate it with me, and he would project manage to make sure that I was on track or behind.  All I needed to do was to think about how to solve the problem at hand.  One big problem and smaller problems that would lead to a grand solution.  When I sat down to do some coding, sales guys didn't ping me to ask about the product roadmap.  Business development didn't pull me in to the partnership deal that he was working on.  Life was simple.

Now things are different.  As a product manager, I need to manage my own time.  I need to manage my own priority, and make sure I allocate enough time to get the core things done while handling a dozen quick questions and interruptions throughout the day.  I routinely get pulled into critical sales calls, asked to present product roadmap to prospects and customers, schedule an internal meeting to launch a new initiative to improve our process, etc.  (Just counting the short 30 minutes to 1 hr meetings, I had 13 of them today.)

When your day is filled with mostly interrupts and what people are requesting, it is very hard to focus on a couple of things that will make a 5x-to-10x improvements to the product and the business.  But at the end of the day they are the ones that ultimately make the product and the business successful in the long run.  Hence it is product manager's job to allocate time to think about strategic focus.

In order to make that happen, PM has to block off the time to get that work done.  It has to be solid block of time where you can be productive without getting dragged into interrupt-driven mode.

That's where time management skill comes in.  Product manager has to set the boundary of when he can be available for discussions and ad-hoc meetings.  If you don't set it for yourself, no one else will set it for you.  It's a part of product manager's job description.

From many effective entrepreneurs, what I've found is that there are two tricks to do this:

  1. Set your schedule in advance and block off the quality time to get core tasks done.
  2. Handle interruptions as time fillers.

Another way of saying this is to do the important things first by blocking off the time.  If you don't block off the time and start saying 'no', it will never get done.  And you already know what kind of price that you'll end up paying by not getting the important things done first.

Managing time is the critical skill that PM needs to master.
Maybe it's time to pick up a manual?

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