Four tips that will make you a more efficient product manager
Product management attracts people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are business specialists, others are former designers or engineers. Some are charismatic communicators, others are process ninjas.
Finding a middle ground between these skills is difficult but essential. Here are four things that helped me to become a more efficient and effective product manager.
Push back and ask stakeholders to do the maths
Product managers have to say no all the time, but knowing when and how to say no is tricky. A good way to improve the quality of your stakeholder requests is to push back and ask for more data. Don’t demand in-depth analysis — that’s your job — but some questions are broad enough to be answered by stakeholders without too much effort. Encourage them to bring some key information that will help you make a faster decision. Things like:
- How many users might this affect?
- What are the basic use cases?
- What problems does this issue cause for customers or the business?
These simple questions will encourage the stakeholder to think the request through before firing off an email, saving both of you time in the long run. Your conversations will become more productive as stakeholders grow to understand how you decide priorities.
Senior managers will sometimes look at your roadmap and ask you to prioritise a shiny feature that they want delivered. Occasionally a stakeholder might even speak to an engineer and bring you a request that they know is small: “The engineer said it’s only a few hours work — can’t you just work in parallel on feature A and feature B?”
The best response is to explain that delivery is a zero sum game. If you switch resources to the stakeholder’s priority, feature B will be delayed. Concrete examples are the best way to show the consequences of tradeoffs.
Have smarter meetings
Meetings are like rabbits — they breed fast and soon overrun your territory. Whenever a calendar invite drops into your inbox, make sure to establish a few basic facts:
Does this need to happen now?
If a stakeholder wants to talk about a feature that you won’t work on for several months, don’t have a meeting for the sake of it. You will likely forget the decisions you made, or they will be unclear by the time you execute them. Worse, many decisions will become obsolete as circumstances change.
If your stakeholder insists, agree to a high level discovery meeting with a strict agenda and time limit. Explain your reasons politely and a good stakeholder will understand.
Who really needs to be present?
Only invite essential participants to a meeting. While it’s important to keep people in the loop, it’s far more efficient to have short meetings with a few participants than long ones with 10. That way everyone is heard and results/decisions are clear.
Requirements gathering meetings are a good example. Try grouping technical people into one meeting and operational people into another. It is then easier to have a global session to make sure everybody is on the same page. Try not to have catch-up meetings unless strictly necessary.
Is the agenda simple?
I used to waste time writing a long agenda for every meeting invite that I sent. As my meetings became more concise and efficient, I began to add a one-line description of the expected outcome to the title of the event. That was enough.
Have clear, achievable weekly and daily goals
To run smart meetings, you need to know your weekly and daily priorities. At the beginning of each week, make a list of your weekly goals. At the beginning of each day, make a list of what you want to achieve by close of business. Your daily goals should not be a copy and paste of your weekly goals. They should contain the specific tasks that allow you to meet the broader weekly goal.
Don’t spend too long on this task: add just enough detail to show you what is on your plate so that you won’t forget things.
Here is an example of my goals for this week:
Continue the recruitment for JTBD
Start preparing the scope for transaction flow work. Look at data and funnels
Look at the competitors analysis and put findings into a document
Write my article
And my to-do list for a given day of this week:
Do research for my article and write the skeleton
Look at the transaction funnels
Keep your list personal. If your team is about to release a project, don’t write “Release project A”. It’s too broad and covers the rest of the team’s work. Instead, write something like: “Make sure everything is ready for the release — handle internal and external communications.”
If your goals are personal and achievable, you own them and can tick them off without too many dependencies. Seeing your progress throughout the week will also boost your motivation and sense of achievement.
With a good list of priorities, it will be easier to figure out which meetings are necessary, who you need to talk to and what can be postponed to another week.
Communicate more efficiently
Product managers must communicate with a lot of stakeholders, often in different time zones.
At Azimo, we don’t use email very often. It’s usually reserved for official things, such as a decision or the outcome of a meeting that needs to be shared broadly and followed up. The more direct the communication is, the more efficient it will be. Chat is better than email, a call is better than chat.
But chat brings its own challenges. Most PMs will be subscribed to at least 20 chat channels, not including private messages. In general, messages are best responded to straight away. If you can’t, Slack reminders are a great way to catch up later.
It’s better to have a private message conversation with multiple participants than to rely on a public channel. People often mute public channels or your conversation gets lost in somebody else’s conversation. It’s much easier to get a reaction or decision from a private message.
Finally, do not make decisions on Slack. They are easily lost and there is no single source of truth among all the competing channels and conversations. Use a proper tool to document and share your decisions, such as Confluence or Google Drive.
Ultimately, voice or video calls are the easiest and fastest way to communicate when it matters. Few people like conference calls, but a short meeting is better than a chat conversation because:
- Answers are more accurate
- Decisions are clearer
- Fewer assumptions are made
- Messages aren’t ignored or forgotten
These tips helped me in my early career as a product manager. What lessons would you pass on to the next generation of product managers? Let me know in the comments below.