If you’re a product manager who’s reading this post- close your eyes and imagine all the things that you do to make a product. Go all-in, show all your cards. This is your moment of glory.
So, what do you see?
Whiteboards overflowing with sticky notes? Google sheets filled with an insane amount of data and planning? Untraceable conversations with stakeholders which only you can recover from your memory? Teetering piles of user stories- some successfully into release, others in backlog, while the rest lie in peace just waiting to be picked in version (n) release?
Isn’t your desk, just like your mind, always a mess.
If someone asked me to give one word to how product management feels like, I would say- chaos. But on the other hand, I also believe that good things become great amidst the chaos. One only needs to be a master at execution.
But it’s not as easy as it sounds, right?
I had the same thoughts before I stumbled upon the series from Marie Kondo. She was all over Netflix and it’s difficult to avoid her. Especially after listening to raving reviews of her book The Lifechanging Art of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
Her idea is simple- she is a believer that we all should practice minimalism and she insists to keep only those possessions that “spark joy.”
After watching a few episodes of her show, I had a moment of epiphany. What if the same idea of ‘Keep only that which Sparks Joy’ could be extrapolated to Product Management? With a small change that we replace ‘Sparks Joy’ with ‘Drives Better Results’.
So the mantra for clearing up product management clutter, removing the noise from the voice becomes — ‘Keep only that which Drives better results!’ (replacement theory best captured in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
I wrote down things which I feel, as product managers, we can start practicing from Marie Kondo’s method of tidying up. I’m sure it would fit your product needs no matter what its scope and scale.
Define success and how you’ll measure it
Success is an elusive genius. Everyone runs after it, but it embraces only a few. The reason is that most people define just the ‘what’ part of it, not the ‘how’.
Therefore, it’s important that first you define what success looks like to you- does it mean increasing the sales of your product? Does it mean getting more users to your website? Does it mean more signups on the registration page?
Then quantify what does ‘more’ signify. 10 or 1000? Don’t let it be an imaginary numeral.
Another problem that product managers face is getting seduced by the glitter in the market and worrying that the (known/unknown) competition will steal their thunder. Conversations like- these features are the “next big thing” in the market, we must add it. Or, we must redesign our website because everyone is doing it- often come up during roadmap meetings.
Here Marie Kondo’s advice fits perfectly- “it’s important to restrict yourself from being pulled in a million directions. Remember to keep things that spark joy”.
Translated in product-verse as ‘It’s important to restrict yourself from building a million features. Remember to build only that which drives better results.’
Map everything to the goal/vision and see how it ties back to your definition of success when making decisions. Some questions that you can ask to derive success parameters based on vision can be -
- Does the success parameter align with the product vision and the value I wish to create?
- Is my vision value based or number based? This is crucial because you must know if your success will have a tangible outcome or an intangible outcome?
- Does my vision impact lives? If yes, how many lives?
You can even take a step back and ask some questions to quantify your goals -
- What are the expectations of my users?
- Why is the user trying to achieve that goal?
- What user personas I am making this for?
Prioritize features that align with the success factors
Every product starts with a vision and goals. But goals and vision give you the map of the journey. Not where to start from. Success factors give you the route to follow in that map so that you can reach each destination in a manner that is most efficient for your needs.
So, go wild and write down every feature that you think is required to make your product a success. And after you have listed down every feature, rank them on below things-
- Does this feature help me accomplish my goal?
- How much effort will it take?
- Is this feature a must-have feature for my target users?
- Will this require one-time effort or will it need considerable maintenance?
The idea is- you guessed it- to help you visualize if the feature is worth the investment or not. I’m not saying that you must throw feature entirely out of the picture. Keep it for subsequent releases. But prioritize ruthlessly based on ‘What should I keep so that it drives better result’.
Spend time refining your Backlog items
While watching the first episode of Marie Kondo’s show, when I saw the entire closet getting emptied out in the open, the Backlog was the first thing that came to my mind!
It made me think about how our lives — professional and personal — are shaped by what we decide to put in the closet, what we choose to use more frequently and what keeps lying hidden in the depths taking up space but never being used.
The KonMari method of closet cleaning can be directly applied to backlog grooming like this -
- Take out every user story in one sheet
- Look at the priorities set by you earlier and see if something needs re-prioritization
- Decide if some user story needs to be scrapped
- Identify potential blockers that are stopping you from completing a particular story.
- Prioritize “To-be shipped” user stories for the current sprint
Declutter your team ceremonies
We hear over and over how the team organization is important for the product’s success. But we get so caught up in execution that we overlook if our time is being managed, effectively or not. Our calendars are filled with blocks of unproductive meetings and we’re pulled in a million directions either through online or offline disturbances.
But there is a solution- Marie Kondo believes that-
The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.
Translated to product-verse, our days are swarmed with tasks, meetings, and deadlines. Do we ever stop and think if these tasks and meetings are meant for us or not? Do they really help us bring closer to our goals? Am I just busy or am I productive?
So, next time when you are swimming in the sea of meetings, answer these questions for yourself-
- Does this work help me accomplish my tasks that are aligned with the product’s success or is it someone else’s priority?
- Am I part of discussions where I’m not the expert and merely an audience? Can it be delegated to someone more knowledgeable than me?
- Am I busy doing work through chat which can be done faster through email/face-to-face communication?
- Is checking emails every 15 minutes really helping me be more productive?
Before watching this series and writing this blog post, I was the kind of person who would have laughed off at the “spark joy” theory — it was the typical ‘head in fairyland’/ ‘to simple to be true’ approach that brought out the cynic in me.
But sometimes, when all ‘known’ methods fail and you are pushed in desperation to try something new, you find that the solution, usually, is very simple.
Marie’s theory is simple, layered and meaningful. You only have to find the parts that fit your needs.
I found mine, hope you find yours too.