How I’m Using Product Management to Hack Motherhood

I just had a baby. Well, 10 months ago but I will probably use that line up until she’s four. People go easy on you when they think that you’re a sleep deprived, hormonal train wreck. They give you credit for the smallest victories.

“You took a shower today! Way to go, mom.”

“Is that a sandwich? Look at you remembering to eat lunch!”

And the crazy thing is, you need the positive reinforcement. When I first started back at work, I kept deodorant in my desk drawer. I cannot tell you how many times I got into the office and thought, “Did I, or didn’t I?” But it was OK because, I just had a baby.

Things are different now. I can’t be the smelly girl in the office.

Balancing motherhood, a career, fitness and time with family and friends is a challenge. But I’m making it work by drawing on past experiences as a product manager. No, I’m not writing user stories to prioritize my life. Could you imagine?

“As a working mom, I would like to apply deodorant in the morning so that my colleagues will accept my meeting invites.”

That would take way too much time. And you can always bribe people with candy and beer.

Instead, I follow a very simple mantra: solve the problems that you have today.

I first came across this concept in the book, Getting Real by 37Signals. They state, “People often spend too much time up front trying to solve problems they don’t even have yet.”

This could not be more true.

Good product management is all about careful iteration, especially if you work in a startup environment, which is where I cut my teeth. There are hundreds of things you could do, but there’s never enough time or resources. You learn to become extremely focused and precise. You solve the problems that you have today.

I’ll give you an example.

A few years ago, I was working on a content delivery app. We thought about giving users the ability to “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” content so that their feed would dynamically update over time. We had grand plans for a content algorithm but no users and no real sense for how they would interact with the app.

We released the first version with dummy buttons. Users could “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” a piece of content but nothing actually happened on the back end. We just captured this activity as an event. If this feature was a hit, we figured we’d have a few months before people realized that their content wasn’t evolving to their preferences. That would be enough time to release a simple algorithm. As it turned out, the majority of users didn’t interact with the buttons. Not having an algorithm was actually not a problem.

I’m applying the same methodology to motherhood.

For example, should I wash baby bottles when I get home tonight or do the laundry? Nobody’s out of underwear, so that’s an easy one.

The upstairs playroom is unfinished. Fortunately, gumming the TV remote and licking the bulldog can just as easily take place in the living room. No need to setup a dedicated space just yet.

One day I’ll get around to buying my kid a pair of shoes, but she’s not walking yet and the Babymop is working just fine. (I am obviously kidding).

The point is, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the things that could be done.

In product management and in motherhood, I’ve found it’s best to focus on the known problems and de-prioritize the rest. Change is constant. Roadmaps are good in theory but hardly ever hold up. You’ve got to learn and iterate. And for God’s sake, don’t forget the deodorant.