Bring it On!

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On aggressive time management.

Almost a year ago I published a post about managing your time. You can find this post here.

Over the past year I had the chance to mentor several product managers. They have all their fair share of different challenges, but the challenge that was common to all of them was time management.

Some suffered from this ‘modestly’, while for others it was a much more fundamental problem. But anyway – they all complained about it, and they all asked for guidance.

 

When drilling down to their specific challenges they face with time management I came to the conclusion that the advice I provided in my original post is not enough.

Yes, you should definitely apply it if you haven’t done so already, and it might solve your time management problem, but in some cases – it will just improve stuff rather than eliminate the problem altogether.

Since this problem is so common and so severe among product managers – I want to help you to eliminate this problem once and for all.

 

Hence, for the context of this post I will assume you read my original post and are already familiar with the advice there, and in this post I’ll focus on more radical advice.

Let’s go.

 

How do I know if I suffer from a time management problem?

Well, the post I linked above have a dedicated section to address this question, but I wanted to add something new (in addition to the checklist provided in that post):

If you can’t lift your head ‘above the water’, and you don’t have time to devote to the future of your product – then you definitely suffer from a time management problem.

I will also add that it’s important to understand that in that case – no matter how hard you work – you are not doing your job. Devoting time to the future of your product (its roadmap and strategy) is a crucial part of your job.

 

The root causes for having a time management problem

Over the course of mentoring and my personal career I’ve identified the following reasons for this problem:

  1. Lack of tools
  2. Bad processes
  3. Bad culture
  4. Over responsibility

Lack of tools

This reason is about the fact that you are simply unaware of the small hacks that you can apply to free your calendar and have much more time on your hands.

This is mainly what my original post covers. Read this post and expand your toolbox with new and efficient methods. Again, by applying those methods you might not solve your time management problem, but at least significantly improve it.

Bad processes

Here we’re talking about the scenarios where the company/squad/business unit doesn’t apply efficient processes when it comes to product development.

The first process I want to discuss is more of a framework for processes as it frames and aligns many sub-processes encapsulated within. I’m talking about the Product Spheres of Responsibilities and the hierarchy between them. If you’re not familiar with it, you should definitely read this post.

I keep coming back to this, and I probably can’t emphasize it enough – a company which has properly applied the pyramid of the ‘Product Spheres’ as described in the post is working in a healthier and more productive environment

In short – this post discusses the north star, product strategy, product roadmap, quarterly planning and hands on tasks, what’s the relation between all of them and why it’s important to define those properly.

If you are unsure why applying this pyramid properly can help you with time management – then let me give you some concrete examples:

If you have a proper north star defined then your organization already has a main prioritization key when it comes to product development.  It means that the CSM, the sales, the support and of course the dev team are all aligned on what it means to move the needle and how to prioritize tasks. It means that all the internal stakeholders can already foresee which type of bugs/feature requests and other tasks you’re going to reject and each to promote. They won’t even bother nudging you about a bug which doesn’t affect the north star. Much less noise across the board.

Another example – if you have a proper quarterly plan in place, then all the internal stakeholders know what is expected to be delivered this quarter and they also understand that there is no point in trying to ‘shove’ things into the sprints, unless they are truly urgent. It creates quiet and harmony across the board.

And last – if you want to manage your time effectively you need to focus on the work items that move the needle. How can you tell what moves the needle if you don’t have a north star and product strategy in place?

Thus, to recap – applying the pyramid will save you tons of time since it creates an alignment and proper set of expectations across the board which results in less interruptions and more efficient meetings.

 

Now, putting the pyramid aside – there are other processes that need to be looked into if you want to further optimize. One of the most important ones is the product delivery process, which is the most hands-on process that you’ll be dealing with on a daily basis. If you’re not working with Scrum yet then I recommend switching to it (you can read here why). You definitely don’t need to apply the methodology as it’s written in the books. Adjust it to your group. But I highly recommend that you adopt the concept of sprints and have a proper sprint planning in place. Anyway – read the linked post if you want to know how to apply Scrum effectively.

If your product delivery process is efficient – then your time is saved too. If the sprint planning takes 15-30 minutes instead of a couple of hours (or a couple of days… like I’ve seen in some places) – that’s a lot of time free on your calendar. Not so?

 

Bad culture

Now, this one is less under your control and therefore harder to change.

With ‘bad culture’ I refer to cultures where preserving time and working efficiently is not a principle. And when I’m talking about ‘culture’ I’m not talking about the ‘official’ stated culture, but rather the actual culture and what makes the DNA of the company.

When preserving time is not part of the DNA of the company, then:

  1. There are a lot of meetings
  2. There are many participants in each meeting
  3. The meetings are often scheduled for at least one hour
  4. Meetings are rarely ended before their time, and because of that:
  5. People are often late to meetings
  6. Interruptions on Slack are common even by your non team members
  7. Working after hours is very common

 

Thankfully, many companies are already realizing that having an inflation of meetings is not a great practice. Hence, if you’re trying to reduce the amount of meetings, it’s very likely to be understandable by your environment.

However, it’s not black and white. Most companies want to work more effectively, but simply don’t know how to do that. If the company you work for is such a company – then my best recommendation is to lead by example!

Avoid doing any of the ill practices I mentioned above. Instead – when you are the organizer – shorten the amount of meetings you’re setting up, shorten the length of these meetings and only invite the necessary people.

If you don’t want to be bothered by Slack so much – then don’t bother the others as well. If it can wait – use email instead. And if you decide to send a message via Slack – only send it when you complete typing the whole message and not line-by-line  (forcing the other side to wait patiently until you complete typing…gosh… I hate when they do this).

If you see that the others are still not getting it – then it’s time to be more explicit. If, for example, someone sets up a meeting with many people, and you believe it’s totally unnecessary – then call it out. Do it in a polite and respectful manner and in most cases the other side will agree.

Also – what about volunteering to do a lecture in your company about how to preserve time? If you prepare properly – then such an initiative has zero downsides.

You can also gather people who suffer from this culture like you and meet with the management. Explain what you observe and bring to the table concrete examples of changes that can be applied.

From my personal experience – if you prepared your case properly – the management tends to listen.

Don’t underestimate your ability to make a change to an existing culture!

 

Over responsibility

When I talk about over responsibility I’m referring to the cases when you are working on a lot of stuff that is out of your scope of responsibilities and you shouldn’t really do.

For example – I often see product managers who are working directly with each and every developer and get their personal commitments for the sprint. They are doing this instead of dealing solely with the R&D team leader and letting the team leader gather this feedback from their subordinates.

Another example – I see product managers attending and actively participating in R&D design meetings, and getting quite involved with the implementation. The right thing to do, of course, is to leave the engineering stuff to the engineers and focus only on the ‘why’ and the ‘what’.

Last example – I met product managers who are working on marketing materials for their features and pushing these features to customers, making sure they are known to them and being used. This is, of course, not the product manager’s role, but rather product marketing.

 

From my experience, over-responsibility is one of the main time-wasting behaviors

 

Product managers who are suffering from over-responsibility are doing it for various reasons. I covered the main reasons for this here

Whether you have a conscious reason for being over-responsible or you simply don’t know how to set boundaries – you need to understand that over-responsibility comes with a price:

You’re going to have less time to devote to your official role.

 

Now – sometimes it’s fine (for example – I’m doing more than my official role, but I’m confident in my ability to manage time properly). But more often, from what I see, over-responsibility won’t leave you enough time to raise your head above the water and do your real job. So think about it.

 

Last – sometimes, it’s your managers who are expecting you to do this extra work, because there is no other person who can do it. If you strongly believe that doing this extra work will jeopardize your official role, then you must communicate this to your managers, and ask them to hire someone who will do that instead of you. You need to communicate very well that without such a person – there is a significant chance you won’t meet your goals.

Your managers may listen and may choose to act about it, but since it involves burning the budget faster – then may consciously or unconsciously promote this in a very slow pace. Your goal, in such cases, is to make sure that the budget is secured and then to assist the HR with the hiring. It’s in your best interest, after all.

If your managers are just dismissing you, however – then it’s time to set some boundaries. But we’ll talk about it some other time.

 

Me and time management

Throughout my career I’ve been holding more than one job in most of the companies I worked for. At this time of writing I’m holding two roles – one is a ‘full stack’ product role and the second is leading an engineering team.

I’m managing several people, doing hands-on stuff and still have the time to breathe, eat lunch calmly and to promote the future of my product.

I’m not working crazy hours and I believe I’m doing a decent job.

I already told you my secrets, but in case you didn’t listen carefully – let me summarize it for you:

I made sure to apply the ‘sphere of responsibilities’ framework (pyramid) as soon as I could, I invested in processes when I came on board, and mainly the product delivery process. I am applying all the hacks mentioned in the original post and I’m not doing stuff I shouldn’t do.

Do the same and most likely you’ll get rid of your time management problem.

 

That wraps up the post for today.

If you found this post/series useful – let me know in the comments. If you think others can benefit from it – feel free to share it with them.

 

Thank you, and until next time 🙂

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