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.
- Ensure new feature requirements are super clear and cover all use cases before scheduling them for your team.
- Keep distractions about potential new initiatives to a minimum until both priority and requirements are firmed up. Don’t ask for their input until you’ve had a chance to think it through.
2. Address Uncertainty
- Work closely with stakeholders to own the conversation about new features and make sure you understand the business need.
- Be transparent with stakeholders about the roadmap and get feedback from higher-ups if you need help prioritizing. This will protect your team from questions about what they are working on and why.
- What to say if someone on your team asks about something new? “We’re still working out the details. I’ll schedule a meeting to get your input soon.”
3. Control Communication
- Minimize feature requests from stakeholders / upper management made directly to designers and developers by making sure they know that the requests should come to you. Anticipate their needs.
- Develop good relationships with your internal and external stakeholders so that they feel heard when they have new feature ideas and client/user feedback. Leverage their expertise whenever possible.
- Develop good relationships with your team members so that they loop you in whenever they are passed requests directly. They should appreciate you taking the burden off of them to deal with the request.
4. Head Off Wayward Requests
- Schedule regular, recurring meetings with stakeholders so that they know there will always be time for their input. Creating a time and place to be heard will help curb their urge to pass feature requests directly to your team members.
- Step in if you hear a wayward request brewing. In-person or on Slack, politely say that you’re in charge of scheduling all requests and want to make sure you understand the need. Interrupting their conversation (and your own work) isn’t ideal, but it can be a necessary part of training your colleagues.
What else? I’d love to hear from other PMs about how you keep your teams focused at fast-moving startups and organizations with lots of distractions.