Product Management Mistake: Keeping Busy Is How Things Get Done

by drjim on October 8, 2012

Image Credit Product managers need to remember that speed kills

Product managers need to remember that speed kills

Why is it so hard to create new products both on time and under budget? Your management ignores the product development definition process and is always pushing you to get it done while at the same time they never seem to give you enough resources to make it happen. When they push, what do you do? If you are like most of us, you are probably reacting in the wrong way…

New Product Development Is Not Like Running A Factory

All too often other parts of the company can view the job of being a product manager as being like the person who is running a factory that produces products. The problem with this view is that product management is NOT like running a factory – your product manager resume says nothing about you having factory skills.

A factory deals with the process of making a physical object. The tasks that are involved are repetitive and it’s fairly easy to predict the activities that will be required to make the object. Additionally, the thing that is being made can really only be in one place at a time.

The world of product management looks much different. Many of the tasks that are involved in developing a product are unique. The requirements for our products are always changing. More often than not, the output of the product management process is information which has the ability to exist in multiple places at the same time.

The fact that these differences are not always appreciated leads many firms and their product managers to making mistakes.

The Big Utilization Mistake

At the company that you work at, there are a certain set of resources (generally people) that are involved in new product development. A big question is how well utilized are these resources? Unfortunately, many product managers try to keep these resources fully utilized all the time – think 98%.

The thinking goes something like this. It’s going to take longer to develop that next product if the people who are supposed to be working on it aren’t fully engaged. Therefore, if the product manager can keep them 100% utilized, then the next product will be created faster and more efficiently.

The problem with this kind of product manager thinking is that it simply does not work out in real life. Instead what happens is that a new product development effort will slow down, become less efficient, and the final quality will drop when the product development team is over utilized.

The Right Way To Solve The Utilization Problem

We’ve all seen what can happen if a product development team gets too busy. So what’s the solution? It turns out that there are four steps that a product manager can take to improve the new product development process without overloading the development team:

  • Change How Things Are Measured: Is it possible that you are measuring the wrong things? If you are keeping track of the utilization of team instead of its output, then you are playing the role of a program manager, not a product manager. Focus on having a team play well with other teams and don’t worry about individual member’s utilization.
  • Increase Capacity Where Needed: Take a look at your product development process. Where are the utilizations over 70%? If you can add additional resources here, then you’ll significantly reduce waiting times.
  • Keep The Number Of Active Projects To A Minimum: Although it might seem like a great idea to have as many projects being worked at the same time as possible, it turns out that it’s not. Limiting the number of new products that are being developed at any given time will allow your development team to have a sharper focus and clearer priorities.
  • Show What’s Being Worked On: Create a “dashboard” that will clearly show to everyone involved in the project just exactly what all of the different parts of the development team are doing. Make sure that this shows all of the active work and what state each part of the new product development project is in. By doing this you’ll allow work to be coordinated and allow it to keep moving on.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers who are under pressure from their management are often tempted to push their development teams to work harder, create more detailed plans, and to minimize waste. All too often we think that this is part of our product manager job description. The problem with all of this is that it may not be solving the problem.

All too often product managers believe that if they can just keep their development resources running at full utilization (no vacations!) then they’ll be able to deliver their product on time. For a number of reasons this never seems to work out.

Instead, product managers need to align objectives, selectively increase capacity, limit the number of projects, and make it easier to see the work that is being done.

Creating a new product will always be hard to do. Product managers need to take steps to ensure that they are not making it even harder!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What would be the best way to convince your management that objectives needed to be aligned?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Every product manager knows that analytics is all the rage in almost every company now. The CEO has been reading those magazine articles that say now that databases have grown large enough to hold virtually every piece of product data that the company collects and servers have become cheap enough to throw at any number crunching problem. However, what seems to have been forgotten in the current “analytics madness” is that when it comes to your product, if you don’t know what you are looking for, then you won’t know what to do with what you get…

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Way October 9, 2012 at 11:57 am

I think it’s almost impossible to overemphasize the importance of your third point, “Keep The Number Of Active Projects To A Minimum.”

When you’re focused on a single primary idea, it remains present in your mind at all times. Insights come to you while you’re in the shower, or while you’re drifting off to sleep. You find parallel lessons from other arenas because your mind keeps relating things to this main idea. It’s incredibly productive.

If you’re working on four things at once, you lose much of that creative leverage because you can’t keep them all top of mind simultaneously. And just as bad, you spend time and energy switching mental context.

I recommend treating focus as a limited resource, and spending that focus on things that are strategically important.

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Dr. Jim Anderson October 10, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Kevin: you make a great point — our minds can work wonders, but only if we keep the number of problems that we’re working on to a minimum. The real art here is to find ways to put off all of those other projects that come our way when we are already fully loaded. Not easy to do, but definitely something that we need to work at…!

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Product Management  December 7, 2012 at 7:01 am

Thank you very much for wonderful information about Product Management Mistake….

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