I met a product manager recently who spent two weeks tracking where they invested their time. Around 15% of their time was spent on what they (and their team, it turns out) considered “high value” activities: talking with users/customers, providing context to the team, analyzing data, interviewing job candidates, reviewing feedback, and syncing with important partners (e.g. customer success, sales, and support).

The rest of the time (85%) was spent “multi-tasking, preparing for status-checks and reporting on goals, a bunch of meetings with no clear agenda, answering questions about our backlog, and hurriedly pulling together a roadmap prior to quarterly planning.” “I’m always under the gun,” he remarked, “and I can’t even stop to take a breath and figure out what is going on!”

Say I was a customer of his company. Would I be happy knowing that there was so much non-value-add overhead? Probably not. Why do we let this happen?

  • “The work” is largely invisible
  • Looking around, and seeing everyone else similarly burdened
  • Concern that somehow we are not skilled at the busy work (“I must just be disorganized. I don’t want to bring it up”).
  • Concern it will bring further scrutiny
  • Poorly facilitated and poorly sequenced meetings
  • Mismatched schedules…I’m available, but my team is not

How do you counteract this? Establish your top three/four “high value” activities. Keep track of how much time you spend on those activities (for some representative period of time). Reflect and share. Starting this conversation is half the battle.