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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Product Manager: Are you being DDoS'd?

There are lots of reasons that product managers aren't as effective as they could be. However, in my experience, the number one culprit by a huge margin is "operational overload". I usually describe it (somewhat euphemistically) as "lack of strategic execution" to my consulting clients. The syndrome is all too familiar to most of us: we're being pulled in so many directions by so many stakeholders that we become highly reactive and, truth be told, ineffectual. Eventually, we're left with the feeling of running on the proverbial hamster wheel. At the end of a long day or week, we're exhausted but not at all convinced that we've made the difference we hope for. When you're in the middle of it, this situation can feel like a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack: so many requests for your "resources" that you can't serve anyone!

  • > 50% of your calendar is overbooked
  • > 60% of your time spent in meetings
  • > 60% of overall meeting content seems irrelevant to you
  • A high level of stress (this can be dangerous as some folks thrive on this feeling)
  • A sinking feeling that bad things are happening but you don't even have time to analyze what's happening
  • You are convinced you're letting others down professionally and feel helpless to change it
It's very easy to feel helpless in this situation and lose hope. You might be surprised however that consistently applying some simple approaches and techniques can make your more effective, lower your stress level and make you a much happier professional.


Understand your motivation and how success will be measured!
Write down your goals and objectives and invest in activities that will help you achieve them. If you're not prioritizing your time, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Actively manage expectations
As a PM, you have many stakeholders. Make sure you set clear expectations with those who are most important and adjust them as necessary. People can be very forgiving of missed deadlines if they know they're coming. Always apologizing after the fact will quickly erode your credibility.

Analyze your agenda for strategic activity
Go through the appointments in your calendar for a week and mark those that represent strategic work. You might be surprised how much of your time is occupied by operational issues.

Let go of lower priority stuff
One of the traits I've seen in professionals I've admired over the years is a willingness to simply abandon activities that won't help them achieve their goals. See if you can delegate some of these activities to others for whom they may be a growth opportunity. Carefully assess the consequences, but you might be surprised how little practical impact there is from simply not doing some of the low-priority tasks that are on your plate.

In summary, we as product managers seem especially vulnerable to the DDoS. In my experience, there's no one else who will step up to save you. If you don't get on top of your time, a career as a PM can be a very long, unrewarding road.

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