Gangsta Vision
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Gangsta Vision

Part 2: Activating Force Multipliers

This article is the second part of a four-part series on Creating a Roadmap for your Product Management Career in my publication Gangsta Vision here on Medium.

For a limited time, get your copy of Gangsta Vision for $0.99 from the Amazon Kindle Store.

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

In part 1, I shared the reasons behind how children manifest their creativity and wield divergent thinking to solve problems. Supported by research, I believe adults can also dig into these innate abilities they had as children to find their inspiration in the workplace.

All roads usually lead back to the same problem, the lack of time. In the second part of this series, I want to address that and use the power of Force Multipliers to take extra advantage of any time you can reclaim.

After a few months of mentoring engineering and product leaders, the mentor community manager Julien invited me to do a Plato Circle. First, I had to come up with a topic. I had asked Julien if there was any survey data on the community’s interests. He provided me with a list of about ten subjects.

At the top of the list was “time management.” I have struggled with trying to do more with less time throughout my product management career. As I transitioned as CEO and Chief Product Therapist of a small business, Nimi, having a foundation of exceptional time management and productivity has been paramount.

Therefore, at the very least, I was very excited to share the tactics I use daily to create the conditions for flow.

The busy bees of product management

Think of your typical day as a product manager. What do you spend most of your time doing?

When I think about those days, especially the pre-pandemic days when many of us commuted to work, the memories start flowing in. After a 6 am wake-up call, I would run to the Caltrain station and try to grab a spot on the already packed train. I always hoped to catch up on responding to a few emails. Unfortunately, it was standing room only, so I could only listen to music on the 20-minute commute on the sardine train.

Once I arrived at work, I would merely operate at the mercy of my Google calendar. It would tell me where to go, what to do, and even when I would eat.

How does this happen?

As an individual, when you hit a wall with a specific problem and determine that the only way forward is through collaboration with others, you schedule a meeting. The traditional belief is that meetings are the most effective use of time for a group of people. However, the reality is that it is primarily self-serving and benefits the organizer or the benefactor who directed the organizer to set up the meeting.

When you have many people scheduling meetings for this purpose, you have a packed calendar and very little focus time to do actual, tangible, outcome-creating work.

The days and weeks would go by. I certainly made progress on the product, but I felt like a bee buzzing around at the queen’s order. Who was the queen in this case? Was it the Chief Product Officer? Was it the CEO? Or perhaps the amorphous entity called the product team?

I didn’t know. All I did was drone around day by day until an event woke me up. I reference this event in my book Gangsta Vision, and I certainly don’t want to spoil it for you.

But in a nutshell, I lacked the foresight to have an authentic product strategy.

Taking back control of your calendar

I didn’t know exactly how to get to an authentic product strategy as I hadn’t formed the concept of Gangsta Vision yet.

But I had the precognition that the first step there should be around better time management.

When I started my next job, I knew that I had to take back control of my calendar. I believed that the first step to an authentic product strategy was to create uninterrupted time to allocate to divergent thinking.

A little bit of research afforded me the usual suspects to reclaim time from my calendar:

  • Create individual focus time on the calendar (duh)
  • Handing off meeting scheduling to an AI bot such as Calendly (this was interesting, so I started trying that).
  • Use an AI such as Clockwise.io to create focus time (another interesting one, so I tried that too).
  • Institute no team-wide meeting days or focus hours (duh again).

As impressive as tools like Clockwise.io or Calendly are, they can only optimize something that has room for it. As a result, the bots will appear empty-handed for most people who have an already packed calendar.

You might feel helpless, but don’t fret. There’s a solution for this. It is a calendar audit that will help you take back control of your calendar.

Follow this simple guideline as you audit every single meeting on your calendar:

  • Goal — is the agenda clear, and what is the expected outcome?
  • Length — can we accomplish 80% of the goal in 30 or 15 minutes?
  • Frequency — is there enough to discuss weekly? Should the meeting be bi-weekly or monthly?
  • Attendance — have you been invited as a courtesy? Should you have a point of view, or can it be successfully delegated?
  • Necessity — is it necessary for you to attend the meeting? Can you provide your point of view over email or slack after reviewing the meeting notes?
  • Recurrence — can the meeting expire after ten occurrences as needs change, and then we re-evaluate?

In essence, you need to transition from “showing up to meetings” to “driving meetings as a medium to achieve outcomes.”

Activating your Force Multipliers

Force multipliers are devices that reduce the amount of force necessary to move an object. Force multipliers help lift heavy objects or do other things that require large amounts of energy.

In our work setting, Force Multipliers are techniques that apply reclaimed time to high-outcome activities.

Predominantly Force Multipliers rely on delegation and collaboration, but you can also make behavioral changes to boost the team and your productivity.

One of the challenges of talking about Force Multipliers is that it is very situational. I’ll walk through an example to demonstrate.

Force Multiplier example: Delegating beyond your organization

If I’m the only product manager, or in a team where there aren’t just enough product managers, the seemingly reasonable conclusion is that we will do less.

Why slow down the product because of a capacity limitation in a specific function?

Is that the best solution?

Consider early-stage startups that operate for months or years before hiring the first product manager. How did they make it that far? Was it an act of god?

In my opinion, non-PMs can satisfactorily perform some portion of a product manager’s roles and responsibilities. Of course, they might not do it as perfectly as a skilled Gangsta Product Manager, but hey, “capacity constraints,” so it would be wise to think outside the box.

So consider delegating minor tasks such as spec writing, UAT, and design reviews to engineers on the team. If they’re idle or bored while waiting for your following spec, it might be in the best interest of empathy-building to delegate product tasks to engineering.

There are many similar examples. For instance:

  • Training the business development rep to perform demos, capture feedback, and populate a prospect questionnaire. By doing this, I significantly reduced my time investment on demos without losing the signal.
  • Creating standardized templates for the recruiter and interview panel to perform screening and technical interviews while retaining a high bar on quality.
  • Involving the design team to create tools and standards to make collateral creation self-service for marketing and sales.

Ultimately, I believe that product management’s role is to find opportunities for cross-pollination across functions for the product’s benefit.

Force Multiplier example: Controlled burns

During my Plato Circle, I learned about the specific problems a particular engineering manager was facing.

As a relatively large organization leader, she felt stuck in a rut. She was having difficulty with delegation, and as the team kept growing, she couldn’t spend so much time in the weeds. Was it that the team members expected her to be involved in every little decision or detail, or was she feeling the guilt of being involved?

Either way, she was more invested in the tactical output of her large team than she would like, and it put a strain on her ability to find the thinking time she needed to take her craft to the next level.

When addressing the topic of delegation with my mentees, I ask this question: “How does your team handle it when you are out of the office?”

Most of the time, the answer is, “Everything is fine. The team is great and can operate without me.”

When I probe, I find that this is not the case. Instead, the team is merely delaying decision-making until the leader is back.

Controlled burns are the solution. It is no different from the US Forest Service intentionally burning acres of forestland, a precarious job, hoping that it would give pine species the necessary conditions for their rejuvenation.

The key here is to simulate being out of the office while actually in the office. You cancel all your meetings and then observe. Of course, you’re always ready to jump in if a severe production incident requires your attention.

But you try to avoid it at all costs. Controlled burns are a reason to teach your team to make decisions confidently. And through this process, you will most likely, create the framework and procedures for them to do so.

Force Multipliers to scale decision making

The biggest “aha” moment for me about Force Multipliers was that it reveals organizations that have difficulty with making decisions.

Why do team members wait for their leaders to make critical business decisions?

As a result Force Multipliers can enable leaders to create frameworks to help their team with making decisions themselves. And there are many more Force Multipliers you can find in addition to the two I shared above that suits your situation.

I covered some additional Force Multipliers in these slides that I shared with my Plato Circle, as well as in my book Gangsta Vision.

Using these examples as a starting point, you may choose to assess your situation to determine the right Force Multiplier that works for you.

At this point of the series, you’ve created time, applied force multipliers to boost your productivity, and wondering when we will get to building a roadmap for your product career?

There are many tools I introduce in my book Gangsta Vision, such as the Story of your Value, the Career Map, Personal Skills SWOT, to name a few. In the third part of this four-part series, I’ll focus your attention to the Story of your Value which you can use as a fundamental building block to create a roadmap for your product career.

In my book Gangsta Vision: Recipes to break into product management leadership, I address how, through several tactics such as Force Multipliers, you can reclaim “thinking time,” which you can use to create a roadmap for your career. Through real stories, tools, and the Gangsta Vision philosophy, I will help you find a way to break through your barriers and into senior leadership. The book will be available for purchase in May 2022. To learn more, visit www.gangstavision.com.

About the author:

Dilip Ramachandran is an entrepreneur who builds teams and ships software products in marketing and financial technology. He has many years of experience working with successful enterprises like Walmart, Experian, Marqeta, and Bond. As a pioneer of the “Chief Product Therapist” concept, he has assisted organizations in realizing world-class developer platforms and finding their product-market fit. Dilip is CEO of Nimi, an organization that advises high-growth FinTech startups and matches them with experts in Sri Lanka.

His book Gangsta Vision was inspired by his own experience and the challenges he faced when trying to break into senior leadership.

Dilip is an electrical engineering graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. He and his partner Alla, daughter Ariadna, and furry son (papillon-sheltie rescue) Wiley reside in Oakland, California.

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