As product managers, we do many things – create the strategy, build roadmaps, and execute. This is possible only if you understand the business, user, and technology and know how to influence others.
To keep up with all of this, as great product managers, we should do these eight things every week:
1. Create dedicated deep-work time
2. Talk to users
3. Remember the larger picture
4. Manage dependencies
5. Set goals and measure progress
6. Update stakeholders regularly
7. Identify and mitigate risks
8. Celebrate wins
1/ Create dedicated deep-work time
We spend a lot of time attending meetings, writing emails, communicating, and participating in unplanned discussions. But there are always strategic (and long-term) goals that we are responsible for.
Due to scarcity of time, staying on top of everything becomes tough.
One of the best ways to stay on top of the essential tasks as a product manager – is to schedule multiple create “deep work” time blocks
Deep work, as Cal Newport defines it,
is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows us to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.
Deep work helps us think strategically and make significant progress on complex tasks.
At the same time, taking time for deep work is difficult.
Planning for it in advance is the best way to make it happen.
I have three one-hour blocks on my calendar for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. During these blocks, I do not accept any other meetings and focus on the most critical tasks of the week.
2/ Talk to users
Users who are (or should be) using our product will have much to say (good or bad) about it. What they say will inevitably make us more informed about their needs.
We must not lose sight of our users or their needs. That is why ensuring we often talk to (or observe) users is critical.
We should set regular touch points with users and learning
1. How do they use the product?
2. What do they like and dislike?
3. Most importantly, does the product meets their needs?
The cadence for these touchpoints depends on the nature of the product. For a B2C high-touch product, weekly is a good cadence. For a B2B SaaS, monthly touch points will also work.
3/Remember the larger picture
No matter how hectic the day or week gets, we should never forget the “why” and the larger picture. (If you think this is easier said than done, you’re right)
Thinking of the larger picture helps us stay true to the goals of the company and the user, increasing our chances of success.
One of the easier ways to do this: every time we think of a new feature or are about to make critical product decisions, we should ask ourselves, “why are we doing this?”
Repeatedly asking why is a tactic we don’t often use despite its power.
4/ Manage dependencies
Recognizing, anticipating, and managing dependencies between tasks, people, processes, and systems is excessively critical. Without this knowledge, the chances of us delivering high-quality and on-time features are very low.
I recommend a simple 3-step process:
1. Identify people and teams that can block critical releases
2. Understand what they need for us to get their support
3. Help them get what they want or help them objectively understand why they will not get what they want
To get the maximum benefits, we should do the above often and well ahead of time.
5/ Set goals and measure progress
Knowing the end state before starting work (on anything) is essential. That is why it is critical to set objectives and SMART goals.
Once we have goals, we need to measure progress regularly. Progress helps us know if:
- We’re doing the right things to meet our goals
- We’re NOT doing the low/any impact things
- We’re doing them fast enough
- We’ll be able to reach our goals in the desired time
I review data dashboards at least once a week at my current job.
On a personal level, I review data daily for the JAPM blog and my Twitter posts.
Eventually, how often you set and review your goals and measure progress depends on the maturity of the product and the kind of initiatives you launch – some initiatives take longer to show impact, whereas some have enough variation every day.
However, I can confidently recommend that measuring progress weekly is a good cadence for most products and initiatives.
6/ Update stakeholders regularly
Much of our success depends on what we do and others’ perceptions of what we do.
In other words, our stakeholders almost always strongly influence our success. Hence it is critical to update them regularly on:
1. Our roadmap, goals, and plans
2. When/how/what support do we need from them
3. The progress of ongoing tasks
I update my stakeholders very often:1-3 times a week. But the right frequency depends on the product and project at hand. Some need more frequent updates, while some need very few.
I recommend having explicit discussions with your manager and stakeholders to determine the best frequency and level of detail for these updates.
7/Identify and mitigate risks
No task or product release has zero risks. Yet, not all product managers do much about it.
We must proactively identify potential risks that can either derail an initiative or prevent us from meeting our goals.
Identifying risks is not easy. Here are a few things to get started:
1. Use past failed projects to understand risks and reasons for failure.
2. Talk to other (more senior) people to get their expertise and experience on risks or points of failure.
3. Brainstorm with multiple stakeholder groups (engineers, sales, CS, etc.) to think of potential risks or do a pre-mortem.
Once we have a list of risks, we must think of all the ways to avoid them and then build enough checks and balances in release cycles to ensure we handle them.
Every time we start working on a new initiative, I spend time identifying risks with the team. For ongoing initiatives, I regularly review the risks and update them based on new knowledge.
This one is pretty straightforward. Yet, a lot of us don’t do it often.
Diving deep into failures is essential. But, it is equally important to celebrate all wins (even the smaller ones) and understand what worked and how we can double down on the same.
I have a specific section in my weekly meetings for sharing wins across the team. We go around the room and share wins from the previous week, why it is a win, and what we did right to make it happen.