Why empathetic organizers make good product managers

Product managers have so much more flexibility in scheduling meetings.

I’ve been scouring Medium to find as many female voices in product as I can, and read about their creative musings, while sharpening a skill or two in my toolkit.I stumbled across the Should We podcast through the Medium series 100 Days of Women in Tech. The episode was about “Should we do breakfast?” which is a conversation about a breakfast meeting ritual between friends or “advisors” , and it really struck a chord. At some point in the podcast, these awesome women talk about how being organized helps them as product managers. Long after the episode was over, I kept thinking of whether being organized as an innate attribute helps a product manager , and if so, how? I’d always dismissed my need to stay organized as nothing more than neurotic behavior. But this podcast episode made me pause to reflect on four things:

#1 Being organized gives you more control over your calendar, thereby reducing anxiety.

As a product manager, you are likely to be the source of a diverse set of meetings. Design reviews, user behavior research interviews, requirements deep-dives with product marketing, consultation to other products , analytics reviews and sprint planning and demos with engineering make their way into your calendar almost every week. Being able to categorize meetings into brainstorming or working sessions and scheduling them during my high energy periods as much as I can might helps me get more done collaboratively. The opposite is true of status meetings, meetings across timezones and meetings in which the only contribution is to represent my team in case some ideas or issues are discussed. While I might not be the source of these status meetings, the ability to control the rest of my day makes me less anxious about going to these.

#2 Scheduling is essential for a product manager to plan at least a quarter ahead of engineering and / or design.

If you are a platform product manager versus a consumer facing product manager, then your ability to forecast and plan a roadmap ahead of time is critical to the front end teams to consume the features of the platform and plan their feature launches. Setting up placeholder meetings a few weeks or months in advance gives stakeholders the ability to know what to expect and alert you to any scheduling conflicts ahead of time, also increasing their accountability to work those meetings into their busy schedule and honor those invites as “first come first serve”. It helps bring in new stakeholders way earlier in the ideation process. For instance , we have a new UX research team we didn’t have before. I am now inviting them to the brainstorming sessions for features that are likely to be launched six months from now, so that any field studies or lab tests with test users can be done in the interim to validate / disprove ideas.

#3 Being organized makes you more trustworthy to the stakeholders.

Product managers are accountable to a very diverse set of individuals within the company. If marketing knows that we are going to catch up every two weeks, they have a voice and a forum to bring their questions to, thereby reducing the drop-ins or emergency meetings that are forced into your schedule.

#4 Empathy is key, not just for understanding users, but also your co-workers.

Being an “empathetic organizer” means you need to account for and respect other people’s schedules , especially while setting up recurring meetings, if recurring meetings need to be successful. Being an empath translates into understanding your co-workers better, and knowing which types of meetings are likely to succeed through participation. Its really hard to do this across timezones , but it always helps to ask people in general what times are best to avoid.

Do you think being organized is almost a mandatory skill for a product manager? Do you ask questions related to how people stay organized while interviewing product managers? I would almost argue that its a key skill, but something that comes from within or with experience and is a highly attainable skill.