How Effective Product Managers Create Structure In Their Day
Product managers connect with almost every team over the course of a day—with the goal of streamlining how everyone works together. Developers need feature requirements. Marketers need a positioning statement. And customer support needs education on how that feature solves an existing problem for your audience. It’s no wonder 31.6% of product managers cite these organizational silos as the biggest blockers to effective collaboration.
Because collaboration is what being a product manager is all about. They need to rally various teams around core objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) and guide a lot of different people—with lots of different tasks—to a shared goal.
Effective product managers understand all these different needs, processes, and workflows and help the rest of the team execute on them as seamlessly as possible. To be an excellent PM, you need to communicate timelines, build processes, and put out fires without losing sight of company and project goals.
Your day is often a mash-up of many complex and disparate things, flitting between various high-level ideas and minute tasks in quick succession. The better you are at structuring your day around these responsibilities, the easier it will be to accomplish everything that needs to be done.
Start Your Day with Planning Tasks
There’s a lot of work that goes into developing new products. As a product manager, you are in charge of planning this work and ensuring it gets done on time. These planning-related tasks and their requisite follow-ups will likely take up most of your day.
We can break these tasks into buckets based on their overall importance and immediacy.
Daily plans are your most essential plans—daily stand-up meetings, scheduled interviews, and your research and documentation tasks. A great product manager will give themselves enough time to review these tasks and make adjustments to their schedule before any bottlenecks occur.
This could be with a robust project management platform like Asana or something as simple as a written to-do list of your high-priority tasks for the day.
Daily plans are likely going to be the plans you change most often. Priorities change, and issues often arise, so you should always have a plan B and C when situations require you to adjust your schedule on the fly.
Also called sprint planning, if you’ve adopted an agile product development process for your product management team, this planning takes a step back from the day-to-day and helps you visualize how different tasks accumulate over time. You’ll be able to address dependencies between team members, analyze overall progress toward your goals, and pivot based on capacity throughout your team.
Weekly planning example via Trello.
Weekly planning is also the point where you should check in with your team. We’ll talk more about this in the communications section of this article. Still, daily stand-up meetings are a great way to gain more insight into what’s happening throughout your team and organization.
Long-Term Strategic Planning
Strategic planning happens on a longer timescale—and your product development strategy will dictate much of the process. Long-term planning like this will likely be something you need to revisit on at least a monthly basis. Strategic planning helps you prioritize your roadmap, define success metrics, and analyze results.
Strategic product roadmap via Roadmunk.
Just make sure you’re not letting this long-term thinking get in the way of your day-to-day responsibilities. These plans require a lot of input from stakeholders throughout your organization, so it’s essential to keep them as set in stone as possible.
Structuring these planning tasks takes considerable insight into the product development life cycle at your company. Take some time each week to think about where you have the opportunity to refine the process for your team.
Move into Research and Documentation Tasks Next
Research is at the core of every product manager's day. Knowledge of the market, customers, and team guides everything you do. It informs your plans, helps you prioritize tasks, and makes communicating strategic goals and objectives much more manageable. A big part of that research is rigorous and extensive documentation—without it, you'll have a hard time keeping track of all that valuable information.
This research comes in many forms. You might start your day with a review of the market and competitor analysis to better understand how to position your product for potential customers—analyzing high-level themes about consumer expectations of value. These tasks can be accomplished when you have a break between meetings. But structuring research into blocks of deep work, where you have uninterrupted time to focus on a single task, makes pulling out relevant insights much easier.
Other types of research, however, have more specific time requirements. You’ll often spend your time working through the product discovery process—reaching out to current customers and asking what helps them accomplish their goals. This process requires interviews, which you'll need to schedule throughout the day. The way you plan for these different tasks will directly impact how much work you can accomplish on a given day.
Whenever possible, schedule a block of deep work time to give these research tasks the time they deserve. Try setting a deep work calendar invite for yourself to let your team know they can't schedule meetings at this time unless it's absolutely necessary. This gives you the time you need to dive into product analytics to look for potential product experience issues.
Many product managers also need to spend time investigating new technologies:
- Collaboration tools to make planning and execution as seamless as possible
- Communication platforms to streamline discussions about your work in real time
- Customer feedback services to make scheduling your discovery interviews simple
Experiment with how you structure these different research tasks throughout the day. Every product manager is a bit different, and while some might be more effective researchers in the morning, others will do their best work in the afternoon. Understanding when you’re most productive and scheduling your tasks accordingly is the best way to create a repeatable structure for your day.
Schedule Communication Tasks Throughout Your Day
With plans, research, and documentation in hand—your next step is to communicate information clearly to your team. Your ability to keep everyone on track will push projects forward and help you create more accurate timelines for your team. Open and honest communication rallies your team behind company objectives and project-by-project goals, making it easy to execute complex tasks quickly.
The primary method of communication will differ based on your team's individual goals, but it starts with meetings. We know no one wants meetings to eat up their entire day, but it's important to schedule your day around these conversations to keep the team on track. Use these meetings to break up your day and try to preserve as much deep work time as possible.
Keep recurring meetings on a set cadence. For example, your team works on bi-weekly sprints that start on a Monday. At the end of your second week, you would schedule:
- Backlog grooming on Wednesday afternoon at 2 pm
- Team retrospective on Friday at 3 pm
- Sprint planning on Monday at 11 am
This schedule gives you the time to follow up on any questions that arose during grooming, speak about areas of opportunity or bottlenecks in your current sprint, and head into Monday with a clear sense of your team's sprint commitments moving forward.
When you keep these meetings on a set schedule, it acts as a forcing function for everything else your team needs to accomplish on a day-to-day basis. They’ll be able to plan for uninterrupted development time and cut down on the need for additional communication unless pivots, bottlenecks, or fires occur.
And these meetings allow everyone to communicate their individual constraints and availability proactively instead of waiting for issues that can slow down their work.
Minimize Context Switching to Boost Productivity
With everything a product manager needs to accomplish every day, context switching is a big problem. It's important to understand how switching costs eat up your schedule and figure out ways to cut down on the potential for lost time. This isn't easy when your schedule is constantly in flux based on the requirements of your project and team. Just take a look at a breakdown of the time spent on different activities in the McKinsey Product Management Index.
Time spent on different product management tasks via McKinsey.
Becoming an effective product manager means understanding how to strategically build tasks to minimize context switching for yourself and your team. Let's say your developers don't usually start work until 10 am, so scheduling your stand-up meeting for 10:15 am would make more sense than 11 am—when you're more likely to pull them away from their work mid-task.
Cutting down on switching costs by creating a repeatable but flexible daily schedule helps you execute on key tasks throughout the product development process with ease. Over time, you’ll refine what works best for your team and can adjust meetings to ensure the least amount of disruption across the board.
Product Managers Are an Anchor for Their Team
Product managers make it easy for teams to collaborate effectively throughout your organization. They ground high-level strategic outcomes in clear and attainable KPIs—driving each team member to work together toward shared company goals. That shared sense of momentum and accomplishment keeps the team on track to deliver exceptional product experiences for your customers.
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