Time for product management

August 10, 2007

In my first product management job, I lived in DC and had developers in LA. Everyone feared it would be a disaster. But to everyone's surprise (including mine), it was successful! Here's how:

I agreed to spend one week every month in the LA lab, plus one week on sales calls, and one week at corporate if needed. That left one week a month for product management. I think that's fair: 25% of my schedule for my job.

On the development week, I flew to LA, and spent the entire week with developers. We had many discussions on the best way to address a requirement. They showed me all the projects they were working on. I answered any questions the developers had on market and channel conditions. I ignored the phone and email as much as possible. The entire week was devoted to working with development.

During various stages of the product planning cycle, we need to work with corporate folks including finance, the senior executives, contracting, and especially Marketing Communications. So for that one week a month, I devoted myself to issues at corporate.

No product management job seems complete without the incessant demands from the sales channel, particularly for 'special calls' requiring the product manager. I'm convinced this usually results from a nonexistent account strategy; we just throw company resources at the account, hoping to accidentally succeed. But okay, the sales channel needs me. So I dedicated one week each month to working with the sales channel.

In our fast-paced world, you probably cannot devote a complete week to each. Instead, dedicate ONE DAY EACH WEEK. One day for development issues, one day for marketing communications, and one day for sales.

That leaves two more days in the week. What do we do? For three days we've helped others with their jobs, and made commitments to do some additional work as well. One day can be used for office work to meet those commitments. That leaves ONE DAY FOR PRODUCT MANAGEMENT!

Set aside every THURSDAY as 'Product Management Day.'

What is the primary role of product management? To be the messenger for the market. Thursday ('Product Management Day') is when we go on these appointments. We need to visit at least three people a month:  one customer, one recent evaluator and one potential (who should be shopping but isn't). What problems do they have that we could solve IF ONLY WE KNEW ABOUT THEM?'

If you're a messenger for the market, when were you last in the market? (Sales calls don't count). Are you letting the demands of the corporate office dominate your professional schedule? What is your expertise? It isn't the product. It isn't communication. It isn't the channel. That leaves EXPERT ON THE MARKET.

Take one day each week to do product management, and leave the other four days free for helping others. Block your calendar, turn off the phone, disable email notification, and get out of the office. Take advantage of your one day each week to do your job.

Categories: Roles & Activities Leadership

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