How to Escape the Product Manager Hustle Culture
Crazy-busy. Hustle culture. These loaded terms have risen to become a badge of workplace honor. They describe a state of professional fervor that’s not...
The dental profession has a saying: “You’re only billing if you’re drilling and filling.”
A dentist’s practice is a complex operation requiring a large number of administrative tasks every day: scheduling appointments, processing insurance forms, filing patient records, speaking with insurance companies, paying bills, etc.
This is why dentists generally have staff in the office, so the dentists themselves can focus all their time and energy doing what they do best—and what most strategically benefit their practice—seeing and treating patients.
As a product manager, you are in a similar situation. You are a specialist, the professional in your company responsible for making sure that your products have clear strategic objectives, that they make it successfully through development, and that they go on to enjoy success in your market.
But because very few things rhyme with the product, and we, therefore, can’t come up with something as catchy as the dentists have, let me make the point this way.
“As a PM you have to figure out what to spend your time on—what things will benefit your company’s bottom line.”
Part of your job as a product manager should be to figure out the things you spend your time on that actually help you strategically benefit your products and your company’s bottom line—and then take everything else you’re currently doing and either delegate it, or just kill it altogether.
Here are six things you might be spending your time on, but shouldn’t be.
Often, in boxing or the other martial arts, you’ll hear a coach shout at a fighter, “Stop admiring your work!”
What this means is that the fighter has just landed an effective strike, and it did some damage to his opponent, but now the fighter is taking too long to do whatever he should be doing next. Maybe he should get back into his stance, or re-establish his guard, or take a few steps back, or fire off another strike while the opponent is still recovering.
Whatever that fighter’s next move is, though, it can’t be just to stand there, even for an extra second—because then he’s vulnerable to a counterattack.
When you have success in the market or receive positive feedback from the tastemakers or thought leaders in your industry, that’s a great moment. But it should last only a moment. (Well, maybe a few.)
Take your moment(s) to enjoy this victory. Celebrate it with your team—and be sure to thank them for their effort and praise their great work, because this will also help with team-building. Then, take whatever learnings you can from the success…and get back to work.
Just as you can fall behind if you drag out the celebration of success for too long, you can also lose precious time, energy, and focus on strategically moving your product forward if you get caught up in sulking when your product falls short of expectations.
You will certainly find valuable learnings in each product failure, just as you will with any success. But when you do experience a disappointing product launch or other types of failure, your job is to learn what you can from the experience, share those learnings with your team, and start putting that knowledge to work as soon as possible to make your next product effort more successful.
Because a product manager’s role is so varied and covers so much territory across her organization, it’s easy for a well-meaning PM to find herself spending the majority of her time on the wrong tasks.
It happens all the time: A PM who wants to make sure everything is getting done properly and on time ends up taking on too much responsibility, spreading herself too thin, and spending so much of her time on the wrong tasks that she doesn’t have time for her core responsibility of strategically moving her product forward.
If you’re spending too much of your time on marketing-specific tasks, work with your marketing department to assign the right owner to those responsibilities. If you have access to a project manager, empower that person to handle whatever scheduling and task-tracking responsibilities you are mistakenly managing now yourself. If you’re wasting time managing other people’s schedules, try automating that workload with a timesheet app.
Like the dentist with office staff, you need to think of yourself as a specialist with a core agenda—making your product a success—and offload as many responsibilities as you can that don’t directly serve that core agenda.
A product manager’s gut instincts, hunches, and opinions are often valuable. Indeed, these beliefs and insights are often the direct result of that PM’s experience in her industry and the skills—the “sixth sense”—that she’s developed for identifying opportunities or threats, or for correctly predicting what will resonate with her customers.
But these opinions should serve as your starting point—not as the ultimate basis for strategic decisions about your product.
Your opinions, while valuable, should be only the beginning of your strategic planning. You and your team should then move on to gathering evidence, user feedback, market data, or other research-backed answers to the questions your opinions have raised.
When you spend too much time operating on opinion, what you’ll often find is that you will have to defend your ideas, debate them with skeptical, evidence-minded colleagues, and possibly even apologize for them if they prove inaccurate.
“Product management tip: Start with opinion, but then move quickly to evidence.”
Start with an opinion, but then move quickly to evidence.
As the ideas fly around the room, you jot them down on the whiteboard, or maybe in a document or empty email message on a laptop. When the meeting is over, guess what has to happen? You have to transfer all of those ideas to some other format for longer-term storage.
Now imagine that the same thing happens with every one of your team’s meetings: You gather up a bunch of ideas, you jot them down in the meeting, and then you have to go re-jot them somewhere else.
Instead, use a single idea-capturing tool to create a single place to house, review and add to your list of ideas. Ideally, this will be a cloud-based solution, so you can access it anywhere, even if you hold a product meeting at Starbucks for a change of scenery.
This could be a OneNote notebook. It could be a Google Doc. Or it could be ProductPlan’s Table Layout feature.
The benefit of recording your ideas in the same tool you use to create your roadmaps is that you save yourself yet another step. When you’ve determined that an idea merits space on your product roadmap, you can simply move it from Table Layout directly to the roadmap itself, along with any other relevant details (strategic objective, the team assigned to it).
And speaking of product roadmaps, don’t waste hours manually recreating your roadmap as three distinct versions—one for your stakeholders, another for the development team, and yet another for your sales and marketing departments—as so many product managers do.
You can’t really blame PMs for doing this. When they meet with their executive team, they have to present a roadmap that highlights big-picture stuff, like revenue projections and what the product will do for their market position. Those execs usually don’t want to spend much time reviewing the details. When they meet with their engineers to get development underway, on the other hand, these same PMs have to present a roadmap that will allow the assembled group to focus on very different things.
Problem is, when you use the wrong tool to build your roadmap—typically a static document application such as a spreadsheet or presentation tool—you end up having to rebuild the same document or at least move a lot of the details around, every time you need to present it to a different group.
Instead, use purpose-built product roadmap software. Such a tool will allow you to input the information for any of the various audiences you’ll be sharing the roadmap with, and then—with just a few clicks—show the right roadmap view to the right audience.
If you’re maintaining more than one file version of your roadmap, you’re wasting valuable time.
What are the biggest daily time-wasters for you as a Product Manager? Any other tips for being more efficient?