Recently, my blog post has outlined the enormous number of skills needed to successfully fulfill the product manager role. This post hones in on how certain of these skills – specifically time management, political astuteness, the ability to collaborate cross-functionally and results orientation – that are vital to managing competing priorities. I will also provide you with two useful product management tools that will make this daunting task easier.
The Product Manager Is Pulled in Many Directions
As a product manager it is vital that you interface with people in different positions throughout your company. As a result, you will regularly find yourself at the epicenter of different departments’ competing priorities.
Demands on your time are many and diverse. Some will directly move your objectives forward while others will help only marginally, or not at all. You’ll likely face demands as varied as a customer service representative asking you to answer a call-in client’s specific questions to the CEO wanting you to provide further insights into your department’s quarterly report.
These requests come to you for a specific reason: the product manager position is responsible for being the main repository of knowledge about your product and market. Expect to have regular, two-way interactions with marketing, sales, finance, customer service, operations, engineering/manufacturing, research & development and legal.
For example, you may go to sales for information on customer needs and your competition, which they have picked up in the field. They, in turn, will come to you for information about how your product is being modified to address the market’s direction.
Never forget that each functional area in your organization is a valuable partner that you want as an ally. On the other hand, it is easy to see how these interactions, not properly managed, can eat up your time.
Product Management Tools – Two Key Questions Product Managers Should Ask
The next time a department comes to you with a request, ask yourself two important questions:
- Does this request help us reach the company’s product objectives more quickly?
- Will fulfilling this request help me be more efficient in the future by eliminating redundant requests on this topic from others?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to both of these questions, put the request near the top of your To Do list.
The 80/20 Rule applies to competing priorities. Eighty percent of a product manager’s time should be focused on tasks that promote the achievement of the company’s key objectives. That being said, it is important not to completely ignore requests that don’t fall in the 80 percent. Others in your company depend on you for information and you want to keep your support lines open. With that in mind, even though their requests aren’t top priority, they should be handled in a timely manner.
Second Valuable Tool for Product Managers: The Influence Map
A second important product management tool to help product managers manage competing priorities is the Influence Map. This product management tool is easy to create. Start with a blank piece of paper and draw three concentric circles in it. The smallest should be in the center and the other two should increase in size. Using a pencil, write YOUR PRODUCT in the center circle, CRITICAL TO SUCCESS in the next largest circle and IMPORTANT TO SUCCESS in the outer circle.
Now take a few minutes to think about the people you feel are most vital to your success and write the initials of these people in the CRITICAL TO SUCCESS circle. You could include your CEO, your boss, perhaps a sales support specialist – literally anyone.
Now, put the initials of those you feel are also important at some lesser level to your product’s success in the outer circle.
Ask a couple of your most trusted colleagues to separately look at your chart. Do they feel like someone should be added or removed from a circle?
Once complete, use this tool as another filter to help you evaluate the urgency of requests from other departments.
Using these simple product management tools, the questions and the Influence Map, you will be better prepared to advantageously prioritize competing requests that arise each day.
Next week check back for my post coaching you on how to build consensus among your colleagues.