Between Meetings
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Between Meetings

7 Hacks to Boost Product Managers’ Productivity

Photo by Matt Hudson on Unsplash

High expectations.

Tons of responsibilities.

Pressure from everywhere.

If you are a Product Manager, you can connect to the previous point. You know what I am saying. And somehow, you figure out how to deal with all of that. The question is, do Product Managers use their time the best way they can? I don’t think so, and something intrigues me.

Only a few Product Managers thrive, while many reach so little.

The situation for each Product Manager varies massively depending on your company, market, team, etc. The variables are endless, but one thing is the same for everyone: time. Every person shares the same 24 hours a day. The point is, how can you optimize the results you can get from your activities?

After ten years on the road, I learned some tricks that helped boost my productivity. And I would like to share them with you. Let me walk you through my seven hacks to boost productivity for Product Managers.

#1 — Prioritization

Only a few things can drain your energy more than prioritization. How many companies spend months discussing the yearly plan for their products? Well, that’s a massive waste of time. The problem we face as Product Managers is that companies long for predictability and certainty. Unfortunately, that’s not how digital product management works.

The hack with prioritization is striving for simple methods. The best weapon against complexity is simplicity.

Scoring methods (RICE, ICE) may give you a false illusion of confidence and rightness, but it will ultimately take a lot of energy. My favorite method is using a simple matrix and prioritizing by quadrants. It makes my life way easier.

Prioritization Matrix — David Pereira
Priorirization Matrix — David Pereira

My tip, have a bias towards actions instead of analysis paralysis.

#2 — Help Stakeholders Say ‘No’ to Themselves

One thing is sure for Product Managers: stakeholders will bug you, and they want everything done by yesterday. Whether you like it or not, you’ve got to deal with this situation. You have several ways of managing stakeholders; some will consume plenty of your time and some less.

“It’s not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less.” — Nathan W. Morris

I believe focus is key to creating value. That’s why I do my best to remove any distractions I face. My favorite approach used to be saying “no” to anything that didn’t contribute to the teams’ goals. Although this approach works, it’s time-consuming to find the right words to say “no” and keep the relationship with stakeholders sustainable. I found a better way:

Help stakeholders say “no” to themselves.

Finding the right questions will help you. When stakeholders present new requests, I ask questions like:

  • Could you share the evidence that this is the right thing to do right now?
  • Would you help me understand how this request helps us get closer to our goal?
  • Could you help me understand what would happen if we don’t do it?

Such questions will help stakeholders reflect in-depth. From my experience, most stakeholders lack evidence and conclude that their request isn’t as powerful or important as they initially thought.

#3 — Write Broken Stories

One flawed understanding irritates me: Product Managers are responsible for the why and what, while software engineers are responsible for the how. This is wrong. When this misunderstanding is present, software engineers will demand Product Managers to provide detailed implementation requirements.

Product Managers ≠ Requirement Engineer

Your job as a Product Manager isn’t to provide requirements to fulfill. You’re not a backlog manager or story writer. Your job is to uncover meaningful problems to solve. I spend a maximum of 4h a week managing my Product Backlog. The reason is simple; I want developers to feel committed to the solution and outcome instead of execution.

I write broken User Stories because developers will have no choice but to ask questions about the problem. My goal is to ensure the team understands the problem we want to solve, and together we find a solution.

Don’t waste your time writing requirements. Ensure the team understands the problem and empowers them to solve it.

#4 — Remove Approval Processes

Do you approve all features implemented by the team? If so, it’s a sign of mistrust, and it will take you a significant amount of time.

I used to have a column in Jira called “PM Approval,” which ensured the team didn’t feel accountable for anything. I had to sign off everything before we could say it was done. I used to do that to ensure quality, but the effects were horrible. Team members strived to match acceptance criteria and not think about anything beyond what was written on the ticket. And ultimately, I became the bottleneck.

My current approach is different. I offer my help as a sparring partner. We set a goal for the Sprint, and I let the team figure out how to achieve it. We agree on the expected outcome and exchange about it. When something doesn’t match the expectation, I provide feedback and let the team learn.

Without an approval process for tickets, I have more time to do what matters most. Curiously, the team’s output and outcome increased significantly.

#5 — Inspire Instead of Manage

Let’s be honest; Product Manager is one of the most misleading job titles. You need to be a great leader instead of a manager to succeed in this role. And here comes the trick, a terrific leader is not the one coming up with all the great ideas but the one creating an environment where great ideas can happen.

Inspiration is about helping people achieve what they didn’t know they could do. Product Managers have several opportunities to do it; here are some:

  • Learn how to set meaningful goals, e.g., Product Goals, Sprint Goals
  • Lead by context instead of control
  • Start with the end in mind
  • Ask more questions instead of giving more answers
  • Listen more than you speak

When you focus on leading, you point out where to land and empower the team to figure that out. Micromanaging isn’t part of your activities, and you will have time to do what you should do: discover problems that are worth solving.

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

Albert Einstein

#6 — Own Your Time

Every day Product Managers are bombarded with meeting requests. That has always been the case, but since the beginning of the pandemic, meeting requests sky rocked. I struggled to have a lunch break or even a bio break. It’s sad but true. However, I missed the point. I let the meetings drive my days, and I fell victim to my circumstances.

To thrive as a Product Manager, you must own your time. Some good practices I see are:

  • Set blockers for yourself, e.g., lunch, learning, discovery, measuring results, preparing backlog, etc.
  • Leave time between meetings. Instead of half an hour or hourly meetings, consider 25min or 50 min. This will give you time to breathe.
  • Define fixed times to reply to your e-mails instead of acting spontaneously. Leave your e-mail closed and only open it during the defined slots. Nobody will die if you don’t react to an e-mail in a couple of hours.
  • Reject meetings unrelated to your goals, or you don’t see value in your participation.
  • Turn off notifications. Don’t let your applications drive your action; you should decide what’s more relevant and not your communication channels.

“Focus on being productive instead of busy.” — Tim Ferriss

#7 — Sharpen Your Toolbox

When you get the right tools, you can maximize your productivity. A great tool will empower you to get more done with less time. However, you need to be careful; tools should not dictate how you work but help get your job done. Let me share a list of tools that can help you boost your productivity:

  • Miro: a digital whiteboard that allows you to collaborate with many people simultaneously. Miro is powerful because it fosters collaboration, and you benefit from reusability and thousands of templates ready to use.
  • XMind: a simple way of organizing thoughts and sharing with people. I prefer having mindmaps instead of meeting notes. It’s more intuitive and inviting. It speeds up how I remember essential aspects of exchanges and helps me get the big picture easier.
  • Between: a powerful tool to boost your meeting efficiency. It tackles the unproductivity caused by remote meetings. It’s vital in our new reality of hybrid work.
  • GoRetro is a fantastic tool to have your Sprint Retrospectives collaboratively and straightforwardly. It’s intuitive and data-driven.
  • ProductPlan: makes it easy for product teams to build and collaborate on product roadmaps. A visual, interactive roadmap is more effective for communicating product strategy and helps align your team around your product vision.

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