How to Remove Noise and Focus on What Matters as a Product Manager

In the current age, it’s so easy to think that you’re doing worthwhile work, when instead you’re working on distractions.

As a Product Manager, if you’re not careful, these distractions will lead your decision making astray.

Things constantly buzzing. Source — Dylan Roscover, Flickr

Firstly, let’s look at a few distractions that you can face as a Product Manager.

1. The Wrong KPIs.

If you’re measuring the wrong things, this is one of the biggest distractions that you can encounter. You can think that you’re on the right track, but you may very well be on the wrong train.

2. The Vocal Minority (potentially)

As noted, this is a potential distraction. It’s easy to get distracted by the customers who are the loudest, and are constantly asking for changes or features that no one else is asking for. It is, however, very easy to think that the vocal minority can be amplifying what the rest of your customers are thinking. This is a possibility, but you have to dig in and find out if that is the case.

There may even be cases where the vocal minority are not your main customer base, and what they ask for can drive away your current customers. An example of this would be Marvel listening to a vocal minority that were pushing for changes in areas such as diversity. However, the vocal minority were not coming out in droves to buy these comics, and it alienated the customer-base.

3. Focusing too much on the Solution and ignoring the problem.

As I have written about in the past, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the solution, and fall in love with it, and not the problem. While your solution is important, it can be very easy to get so caught up in the solution and fail to realize that the problem you’re looking to solve does not really matter for you. As a result, you end up building a solution that does not address the problems of the user.

4. Things constantly buzzing and pulling your attention away

He talks in maths,
He buzzes like a fridge,
He’s like a detuned radio
Karma Police, Radiohead

How’s your inbox looking? What about all those unread notifications in Slack? How about notification in Trello, or JIRA, or whatever tools your team uses? Somebody needs you right now at this very minute. It cannot wait. Your phone vibrates again as you receive another email, or someone mentioned you in a tweet.

*Vibrate* *Vibrate* Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Source: Comic Vine

There are ways to combat the following distractions that I have discussed above. Let’s review them.

1. With KPIs, you need to step back every once in awhile and review them, and see if they’re still worthwhile.

Ideally, they will be right the first time and you stick with them, but you are far better to constantly review if you are getting value out of them. Don’t be afraid to address the elephant in the room if not.

Here are some articles on how you can take a look in regards to KPIs.

2. With the Vocal Minority, you need to dig in and see what people are actually doing with your product.

This was actually one of my first posts I did on the blog (here’s a link). Now, I still don’t feel there’s a true great way in dealing with the vocal minority, but there’s a few things you can really look at here.

3. Love the problem more than the solution.

This was a more recent post I did. To quickly summarize, take a step back, admit that you’re not in love with the problem, and sit down with your team and agree on the problem. Go talk to your customers and see if they agree with what you have addressed as the problem. Now you can go and build a solution that works.

4. Things buzzing like fridges? Unplug them.

This is what initially sparked the inspiration of this post. I’ll say some things here that a lot of people will disagree with, or feel that they couldn’t get away with. Give it a shot.

This goes for more than just product managers. Everyone can benefit from this.

Turn off notifications from your phone, unless it’s a phone call, text, or messenger based app. Those are the only three notifications I get on my phone. Everything else you can turn off notifications, or even delete. Unless you were on call, delete Slack off your phone, and keep it to your computer. With Slack, turn off notifications unless you are tagged.

TURN OFF YOUR EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS! Just please, PLEASE try it.

I think of email like laundry. You don’t do your laundry every single time something gets dirty, you do so in bulk. Try that with email. Don’t be constantly checking it, or getting interrupted by every little thing. Do your email in batches.

What about all the sources of information that are coming from your customers?

It’s easy to get super overwhelmed here. Whether from phone calls, to emails, to support tickets, it’s easy to get distracted when you’re trying to listen, read, and engage with your customers.

Yes, these tools are great, but at the end of the day, talking face to face, listening, and observing your customer is king. If your tools are helping you do so, great. You’d be surprised how far you can get with something as simple as pen and paper.

Conclusion.

It’s super easy to be distracted as a product manager, or focus on work that seems like you’re getting somewhere, but at the end of the day, is a giant distraction. There are many other possible distractions that I have listed above. If you can acknowledge that they are distractions, than you can move forward and address the problem.

Now, in a way, this post has been a distraction. Get back to work!

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Originally published at www.pmpaul.com on May 26, 2017.