A very common challenge faced by Product Managers of all experience levels is understanding and implementing some form of repeatable process around prioritization. Some people take a very light approach, making decisions based on their own experience, data, and beliefs about the direction of the product. Others take a much more rigorous approach, applying scorecards and “objective” measures across a plethora of different possible metrics. I’m here to tell you, there’s nothing wrong with either of those approaches, but it’s also become clear to me in my years as a Product Manager that there’s no “silver bullet” to ensure that your prioritization decisions will be right more often than they’re wrong, and placing too much value in systems and scores often just results in a false sense of security that the “process” was right, when digging in you’ll find that those “objective scores” are nothing more than a system to be gamed. There are, however, three things that I think every prioritization system needs to take into account. So, without further ado, let’s discuss value, difficulty, and instinct…
Running Too Lean Can be More Harmful than Helpful
Most companies out there put a huge push on efficiency and running “lean” — doing the most possible with the least amount of overhead. And in most cases, that’s a very noble goal — after all, overhead in the form of people and positions is generally the highest cost that companies face. Reducing the number of people needed to achieve the same goals allows the revenue side of the equation to exceed the costs — which is almost every company’s end goal, to achieve a sustainable business model that makes money for the owners of the business. The problem with this is that it’s often taken too far — the drive to be “lean” winds up causing more headaches and issues than it creates an environment conducive to success. This issue isn’t only of concern to Product Managers, it affects every part of the business, from sales to marketing to support to development. And because of that, we’re often in a unique position to see they dysfunctions that trying to drive too lean causes throughout the company. It’s up to us to be aware of the risks and raise them as we start to see red flags, before they damage the ability of the organization as a whole to compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
When Push Comes to Shove – Picking Your Battles
In many organizations, conflict is part and parcel of the culture — some conflict can be constructive, some destructive, but most of it can just be downright annoying. And, because we often sit right in the middle of all of the random agendas, battles of ego, and emotional storms that can rage throughout the company, Product Managers often wind up dealing with the outcome of these conflicts if we’re not pulled deeply into them by one or more of our stakeholders. And while it can often be tempting to take on all comers, to defend your territory and your teams to the bitter end, the sad truth is that all too often, these conflicts simply aren’t set up in a way for us to “win” — and seeking that extra mark in our “W” column can often be counterproductive rather than helpful in the long run. All of the best Product Managers know that sometimes when there’s a fight that you’re not going to win, it’s far more important to lose gracefully than it is to die on a hill for something that ultimately didn’t really matter much.
Balancing Agility and Strategy
One of the common struggles that Product Managers are faced with is figuring out how to be “agile” while still managing to a vision or strategy that’s been established by the Executives or Board. The important thing to remember is that strategy and agility are not in conflict with one another — if a strategy is properly formed, it’s a long-term view of where you’re going, and not specific enough to tie your hands when approaching the execution side of things. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t tensions to be found in such a situation. Here are some thoughts on managing agility while executing against long-term plans…
Measure What Matters
Many people are aware of the famous quote from Peter Drucker, “What gets measured, gets managed.” But what people don’t often consider is that what’s being measured and managed might actually not matter at all at the end of the day. When we measure things that don’t actually drive us to improve, we’re just acting like a cargo cult — going through the motions and expecting something magical to happen that never will. Instead of just picking some popular or standard metric, we should instead make sure that we understand what direction our measurements are going to give us, and what change they’re going to drive in our behavior or in our products. Only by being thoughtful and deliberate in our choices will we find the right metrics to use and rely on in our choices.
Here are a few things to watch out for and to take into account when considering what metrics we want to put into place…
What Can a PM Learn From Gaming?
While Product Management might be my career of choice, my primary hobby of choice has to be gaming. I’ve been playing games in one form or another for as long as I can remember — tabletop games, video games, role-playing games…you name it, I’ve played some permutation of it in my life. As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, I’ve begun to see the benefits that come to people who play such games on a regular basis. The best games, after all, are based in some fundamental way on reality — and the lessons that we learn from gaming can easily translate into skills, knowledge, and talents that you can use in your everyday life as a Product Manager…
Note: The links below go to Steam where the game is available online or Amazon for the board games mentioned; The Clever PM makes no commission on any purchases through these links.
Leading Through Influence: Limiting Choices
I was working with a future mentee last week and we noticed a recurring theme to some of our discussions — that a large part of good Product Management results from limiting the number of choices that our teams and our executives have to choose from, so that they make decisions that reflect the actual priorities that should be driving our next moves. In most organizations, there is an almost unlimited number of ideas, concepts, directions, and motivations from which to choose — and trying to manage all of them at once is certain to drive any Product Manager insane in very short order. Rather, in order to ensure that we’re doing the right things at the right times, we need to be constantly limiting the possible permutations upon which we drive decisions so that we can be sure that we’re moving in the right direction while being open to new ideas and concepts!