Waiting in front of Mayer’s Tavern for a late July beach vacation dinner, counting the number of patrons with their masks on, I heard a familiar guitar strum, the refrain “faaaaaaade into you.” The sound of a muffled bar band* covering an old favorite reminded me how much I missed live music. It didn’t matter that Mazzy Star, Radiohead and Neil Young weren’t there in Cape May. I got to hear a more-than-decent band play my favorites over an open-air dinner, and it was a glorious surprise.

Mayer’s Tavern, Cape May, NJ
Mayer’s Tavern, Cape May, NJ
Mayer’s Tavern, Cape May, New Jersey

New York has been living without any live entertainment since March. Summerstage, canceled. Celebrate Brooklyn!, canceled. …

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Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Startup founders, who are often very happy to stay hands-on with their team’s software development, will eventually have to step out of those weeds to focus on bigger and better things. When managing the day-to-day development turns into a full time job, it’s time to add a new role: product manager.

Small teams, however, actually need a blended project-product manager, who will handle all of the Agile processes that determine the when as well as the what of what is being built.

When hiring a product manager for this role, it’s important to look for the skills and qualities of someone who will be able to keep a project on track and on time, in addition to running the product definition phase of new feature development. …

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Photo by Ricardo Resende on Unsplash

All managers have a responsibility to shield our teams from the distraction and stress of outside influences. Product managers, specifically, work hard to create tightly prioritized sprints for high priority releases that can easily be pulled off course by a seemingly innocent conversation.

Protect your team from the uncertainty that can come from wayward requests, feedback and rumors from other teams, and keep them focused on their current priorities. Nothing should be left up to interpretation, and your team will appreciate you managing their workflow and cross-team communication.

1. Give Them Certainty

  • Make sure there’s always clearly defined work lined up. If a team member gets word of a new feature idea and wants to know if they should be working on it, point them to the stories in their current sprint as their current priority. …

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Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

One of my greatest challenges as a product manager of a startup has always been making time to do the actual product management work. The day-to-day project management that falls on this role, quick feedback needed on delivered work and the never-ending need to address blockers were always more urgent than the longer term research needed to support new feature exploration, which is the core of the PM role. I believe this devalues product management, both as a concept and as a valued role in an organization.

So, how does a product manager make the time to be a good product manager? The key for me is to block out time to do the product work. Accomplish this by minimizing task switching, heading off interruptions, prioritizing your work and actually blocking off the time. …

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Image by Samuel Lee Miller

Getting more out of the team you have, and making them happier, too

You’d like to start shipping new features more quickly, and you’ve wondered if your team’s productivity could be boosted with some process improvements. You can always hire more people, but there might be a cheaper way to get a more done faster. Here are a few common process efficiency flags to watch for.

1. Priorities

Is the whole team laser-focused on MVP features, or have you noticed some people spending time on nice-to-haves before your most important items have been released?

The Fix

Make sure there is a clear product roadmap that is being followed by the PM or whoever is running development. You may need to clear up how important it is to have the core MVP version of your product complete by a certain date.

Leveraging Agile to Showcase Your Value

While not all Product Managers enjoy handling the project management of their team’s software development, I believe this structure has its benefits, especially at smaller organizations. A blended product/project manager can add a lot of value by leveraging Agile, freeing up the founder to do what they should be doing — selling the product, scaling the operations, and fundraising. Here’s a handy list to help a reluctant PM showcase their value.

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1. Efficiency

At small, fast-moving startups (with fluctuating priorities), it can be best to have the same person evaluate the change, collaborate with design and tech, propose a solution and schedule the new work accordingly. Remember, this is what Agile was designed for. You’re the expert on the product requirements, UX functionality, stakeholder needs, technical limitations, developer strengths, project timeline, sprint priorities and the longer term roadmap, and are therefore well positioned to make product, priority and project decisions. …

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As the founder, you’ve been doing fine directing your designers and engineers on your own so far. You’ve all been collaborating really well, and you like being able to give feedback every step of the way. Maybe that will continue to work well for a while.

But maybe it’s occurred to you that you won’t be able to be so involved as you grow. Maybe you’re raising money, and need to answer to your investors on how you’re going to scale as promised. Maybe you just worked a 14-hour day and aren’t sure how to stop doing that. Maybe you recently had a nightmare where you were bottlenecking your development team while you were at an important sales meeting. …

Recently, a Reddit post on Mental health as Product Managers inspired me to write about what I do to feel in control in a busy, fragmented role. After all, the variety is what I love about the job, but that variety can pull you in too many directions, spread you too thin, and keep you from making progress on your most important tasks. I’ve expanded on that post here.

Background on the problem: The role is designed to be the interface between business objectives and software development. There’s an emotional burden associated with attempting to please all of your “stakeholders” (it’s not possible), and a physical, time-limited challenge of acting as the day-to-day project manager for any software development projects that you’re in charge of. …

Apply Agile to your morning to make time for the most important stuff.

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credit: Trello Blog https://blog.trello.com/best-productive-morning-routines

As a software product manager, I’m a big fan of the power that Agile has given me to get important things done in a predictable, scheduled and flexible way. Sometimes I even think about the concept of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product, or the core solution to a problem) as it could apply to other parts of my life, so I decided to apply it to my morning routine.

First, I defined the problem: I’m often late getting out of the house because, as I get ready for work, I find and do a million other things, causing me to leave later than I’d like to and not make time for writing blog posts and doing coding lessons. These extra tasks were cutting ahead of the most necessary tasks I needed to complete, just like how feature creep can blow out any other project schedule. …

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credit: DOT, nyc.gov

Other than the unsurprising realization that I really don’t know much about city planning and traffic management, here are some interesting take-aways from the workshop on Brooklyn’s latest proposed bike lane.

  1. 4th Ave used to be 6 lanes. They had to present plans to the CB twice to get the 4 lane design approved.
  2. Bike lane position: In the latest proposed design (above, bottom), protected bike lanes will be next to the sidewalks, like 1st and 2nd Aves in Manhattan, and Jay Street in Brooklyn. Why no Christie style bike lane along the center? Too many intersections where cars make left turns, apparently (and they won’t be adding any left turn lights). …


Erin C Cummins

Product management consultant, helping founders get ideas built. Lover of efficiency, dogs, bikes, plants, cooking, nachos and feminism.

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