How to Be a Good Product Manager & Crush Your Workload (Free Tips, Tricks, & Examples!)
Blog: The Process Street Blog
This is a guest post by Donald Fomby. Donald is a freelance content writer who works for ClassyEssay. He has spent more than seven years in the copywriting and blogging industries, writing articles, guides, and checklists for small eCommerce businesses. Donald uses his curiosity about online business to write about topics valuable to small business owners.
The product manager’s role is a juggling act.
To fulfill the needs of expectant customers, the product manager needs to work with the sales, marketing, and engineering teams — alongside the rest of the product team — to facilitate necessary changes and improve the product(s) in question.
But that juggling act has gotten even harder as of late.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many product research and management processes that were done collaboratively and in-person have now pivoted online. Needless to say, this change had made it more difficult for product managers to succeed in their role and complete projects in the way they’re used to.
This transition may have caused workloads to build up, task lists to overflow, sprints to stagger, and thus, impacting the rest of the product team.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The truth of the matter is that you can successfully manage any product research or development project remotely with optimal organization.
It’s the key to bettering collaboration with your remote team, and ensuring you and the rest of your product management team are keeping on the right track. If you strategically organize your work, you will also be able to instill and maintain successful collaboration with the people you’re working with, despite the many miles that keep you apart.
Seeing as 86% of executives say that a lack of collaboration is the most common reason for failure in their companies, it’s something that you need to get to grips with, particularly as a product manager.
By reading through this Process Street guest post, you’ll do exactly that. To boot, I’ll also provide some extra tools to help you thrive as a product manager! Just make your way through these sections:
- The 4 must-follow tips & tricks to excel as a product manager
- Product management tools to thrive in 2020 and beyond
Let’s get started.
The 4 must-follow tips & tricks to excel as a product manager
Stellar organization is what leads to true team collaboration — particularly when those teams in question have pivoted to working remotely either wholly or partly.
That’s why, to help with organization and collaboration — thus making you a better product manager in the process — I’ll be covering 4 separate things in this section:
- The 50/50 formula;
- Using checklists for workflow management;
- Celebrating wins, no matter how small;
- Reducing micromanaging and practicing autonomous team working.
Let’s get straight into them so you can learn how to be a good product manager.
How to be a good product manager tip #1: Use the 50/50 formula
No two days are the same in the life of a product manager. The schedule is often quite chaotic, as you need to respond to team members, deal with urgent fires that need to be put out, and complete countless other tasks that are constantly being added to your to-do list.
As a result, a product manager can lose the long-term vision of the product-related project and get bogged down with existing problems. At this point, things might get out of hand very easily, especially if you have to manage a complex project and a large team.
To prevent that from happening, I advise using the 50/50 formula.
To put it simply, it means planning half of your working day for dealing with problems and current tasks. The other half is for doing strategic, long-term planning. As someone who manages complex product projects, it’s critical for you to have the time for both sets of activities.
Planning is especially important because it keeps you focused on what’s really important for product success. In this sense, “planning” doesn’t always mean sitting in front of the computer, thinking about what to do next week.
- Speaking with the product team about their progress;
- Interacting with customers to learn about their evolving needs;
- Participating in brainstorming sessions;
- Having product team sprint retrospectives;
- Having team-wide product review sessions;
- Analyzing all data and information collected.
The more you plan, the better your understanding of “the big picture” will be. In turn, it will help you realize when it’s time for you to step in and when to focus on more important things.
Pro tip: write your duties in a customizable daily schedule template to keep the 50/50 formula working for you.
The checklist template below contains customizable fields for every task you need to complete. When you’re done with filling out the fields, you’ll have a detailed plan of working for every day.
How to be a good product manager tip #2: Use checklists for workflow management
According to a study by AtTask, 36% of workers feel they don’t have the tools to help them actually focus on and complete their work. To stay productive and avoid distractions, they need help with managing their time; especially when working remotely.
Using automatic checklists to manage workflows is one of the best things you can do as a product manager.
But I’m not talking about conventional checklists here.
Unlike a traditional pen-and-paper one, an automated checklist is an electronic, customizable, and expandable collection of tasks and subtasks.
A product manager in particular can add sections and customize their workflows to better organize recurring processes and tasks of their team.
Additionally, an automated checklist like the ones created in Process Street has:
- Reporting features allowing an employee to submit their progress to the product manager;
- Notifications to let the product manager know when a task is complete;
- Task comments so employees can easily share notes with others;
- Shared access so multiple employees or teams can collaborate on important projects.
By using these features, you, as a product manager, can have a better understanding of how the rest of the product team is really performing.
Specifically, you can use an automated checklist to:
- Help team members plan their time more effectively;
- Eliminate bottlenecks in business processes by defining specific tasks to complete;
- Organize schedules to properly manage teams;
- Promote collaboration in both office-based and remote teams because the checklist is hosted on the cloud, making it inherently sharable.
Checklists can be created to manage just about any recurring process!
Pro tip: Use an automated checklist for more effective employee onboarding, too.
Help your HR managers onboard new hires and make them feel more satisfied and integrated by making sure that every important onboarding task is done.
The Employee Onboarding Checklist below covers 25 critical tasks from the preparation to the end of the first month in the office.
A recruitment manager can add files, notes, tasks, links, and change every item in the checklist to customize it.
How to be a good product manager tip #3: Celebrate wins, no matter how small
While this section isn’t technically to do with organization, it is an important part of keeping the rest of your team happy, motivated, productive, and making sure collaboration flows.
One great way to motivate your team is to find and celebrate small wins. After all, there’s nothing more motivating than being told that you’re doing a good job or you’ve done a good job.
For instance, perhaps a team member completed a particular task way ahead of time. That’s a small win that deserves to be celebrated. Similarly, maybe another person figured out a particular product issue and came up with a solution. That, too, deserves celebration.
Basically, you can celebrate any positive thing that happens in the team. It doesn’t have to be big as a feature release or hitting sprint goals, but something that could still motivate, entertain, and engage the team.
If you’re wondering how, exactly, you should celebrate, here are some ideas to get you started:
- Buying pizza (or anything that the team likes to eat for lunch);
- Buying a subscription to an online course or something that your employees might be professionally interested in;
- Buying an Amazon gift card to use on whatever they’d like.
Keep in mind that a simple “thank you” goes a long way, too!
How to be a good product manager tip #4: Reduce micromanaging and practice autonomous team working
Now, if your product team manages its workflows and schedules with an automated checklist, the next logical step for you is to step away and give them some autonomy.
Because micromanaging the team can build up frustration and make them less motivated to do their job. In fact, 71% of employees found that being micromanaged interfered with their job performance and 85% of them said that it negatively impacted their morale. So, rather than micromanaging the employees and controlling their every move, think about showing some trust and start practicing autonomous team working.
This doesn’t mean relinquishing complete control, of course, but rather reducing the interaction between the smaller teams in the larger product team. Too many interactions – unnecessary meetings or exhausting brainstorming sessions – introduce friction, which affects overall performance and speed.
Maximizing the autonomy of product teams reduces friction and allows team members independence. Many employees aren’t satisfied with the level of independence they have at work, which consequently impacts their daily performance. These are the findings of Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey: Only 38% of employees are either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their autonomy to make decisions.
Why is the autonomy to make decisions important to job satisfaction, you ask?
It helps to meet the need of people to be self-directed, which is more effective in engaging people than compliance. That’s why introducing some autonomous work principles might be a good idea for better outcomes of product projects.
How do you give autonomy to your product team?
To quickly sum up, the advantages of giving your product team autonomy are:
- Greater engagement;
- Team members feel more valued;
- Every team member feels accountable and thus, gives their best;
- Team members feel more motivated to successfully complete tasks;
- Encourages team members to think and act independently.
Now, here are some steps you can make as the product manager to encourage autonomy.
First, align your company’s organizational culture with employee autonomy. This will have you working with other company leaders because the entire organization must be on board. And as a team leader, you will pay a crucial role in the transition because you know your product team best.
Here’s what you will have to figure out:
- Define where the team is with respect to their roles
- How much they trust you and the company
- How each team member can contribute to the change.
Start by having a team-wide meeting and ask everyone how they imagine their future at the company. If you think that one-on-ones or online surveys are a better option, feel free to go with them.
Then, carefully analyze the feedback provided by your team. It might help to make the transition to the autonomous working more personalized. For example, if the team wishes to be more involved in making critical decisions about products, consider granting that wish.
The next and most important step is to write a plan for the new work environment. In this plan, you need to describe where the employees get more autonomy and how they will participate in co-creating solutions and making decisions. Also, provide a very clear and detailed description of the new decision-making process.
An example of product management with autonomous teams: The Spotify model of promoting autonomy
Spotify is one of the most well-known companies that successfully introduced autonomous working on a grand scale. The company is generating over $7 billion in revenue and manages around 4,400 employees.
Spotify’s leaders have mastered the balance between the accountability and autonomy of their employees.
Here’s how they made it work:
- The workforce is divided into agile teams known as squads;
- The squads have the authority to decide which products to develop, how to develop, and whom to collaborate with to make that product work;
- Each squad is accountable for the aspects of the products they’ve built;
- The squads are categorized into chapters that resemble their expertise (product development, UX, and so on) to make collaboration easier;
- The most interesting feature of an autonomous team, or squad, is that it chooses a leader by themselves. The leader is a formal manager who is mainly focused on mentoring and coaching.
The squad structure ensures that each team owns their work and has full visibility into the performance of the products they create. So, instead of seeking an evaluation from the top management, the squads get it in the form of customer reviews, support requests, and other feedback.
Thanks to its effectiveness, the Spotify model of promoting autonomy has been extensively researched in scholarly studies of business processes.
Product management tools to thrive in 2020 and beyond
Working in product management as a product manager has you spinning multiple plates not only when it comes to the product itself, but also when it comes to your product team.
It’s tough, sure. And especially when going from working at an office to working completely or partly remotely.
But by reading the above tips and tricks, you’ve learned how to be a good product manager, crush your workload, and get your team working together collaboratively thanks to organization.
Before I close out, though, I wanted to mention a handful of tools to help you thrive further.
Here’s my selection of tools you’ll want to use as part of your software stack. After all, it’s the tools in your toolbox that’ll help you do a better job overall!
Product manager tool for user tracking: Amplitude
Product manager tool for roadmapping: ProductPlan
Product manager tool for customer feedback: SurveyGizmo
Product manager tool for issue tracking: Jira
Product manager tool for design and wireframing: Figma
Product manager tool for managing workflows: Process Street
And here’s a webinar on the advanced automations that can be built with Process Street and Zapier.
Product manager tool for team messaging: Chanty
Product manager tool for team or customer calls: Zoom
There you have it.
With the advice I’ve provided in the previous section and my above software stack recommendations for product managers, you’re all set.
The only thing left to do is, well, conquer the rest of 2020 and all the years that are to come!
Are you working as a product manager? If so, are there any additional tips and tricks you’d like to suggest? Write them down for the Process Street community to see in the comment section below.