One perspective on life is that anything we try to accomplish – both personally and professionally – can be treated as a product management problem. Our goal(s) can be looked upon as a product, while moving the needle on that is clearly management.
If you look at masters of execution – product managers, you’ll notice how they constantly keep making meaningful progress in the right direction; how they communicate efficiently and get things done.
<rant>Now, I’m not sure if you’re as frustrated as I am with listening how abusive the phrase getting things done became. It’s probably one of most overhyped phrases, especially in “getting shit done” form. I reckon it is so over hyped, it could easily overthrow “being a team player” in job descriptions. All of a sudden everyone needs to “get shit done”, and anyone you look at at Linkedin knows how to “get shit done”.</rant>
If you think about human behavior and psychology, it’s understandable why execution is so difficult to vast majority of people. Humans tend to be enthusiastic, optimistic, distracted and overwhelmed, sometimes very superficial.
If you wish that your endeavors – whether that’s communicating with a carpenter to make a living room bookshelf, or building the next-big-project – turn out the way you want them to be, here are the three key things product managers can teach you.
1 – Frame problem. Thoughtfully.
Rarely anyone bothers to properly frame the problem. Now, if you think of it, is perfectly understandable why – for anyone with a tiniest bit of creativity, it’s much more intellectually tempting to jump to solution right away. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who posses this dark skill, it takes a lot of discipline to teach yourself not to jump the gun and grab a hammer right away.
Pumped up with endorphins and dopamine with something new and exciting, it is incredibly easy to forget what is the actual problem you’re trying to solve, and why.
Give yourself some quality time with the problem. Start with why. Getting to the root cause of any problem takes time and energy, but is very much worth it. 5 Whys used in 6sigma is a great technique to get to the root cause of any problem, and I try to use it whenever I can.
2 – Break problem. In smaller chunks.
Ok, I know… You think I just reinvented the wheel. But here’s the twist to what we all know. The key is to break a problem exactly to a level where sub-tasks have few or no dependencies on anything else.
Dealing with a lot of moving parts is rarely a good recipe to make things happen the way you wanted. You assume that sub-tasks which depend one on another will be done in the way you thought they will, and that’s a clear recipe for disaster. Whatever happens at the same time – shouldn’t have any dependency at all.
3 – Prioritize. Properly.
Setting priorities is hard, and that’s the most important thing that one can learn to do well. Prioritizing things is rarely a problem per-se , it usually comes as a consequence of another problem. Unclear strategy. There’s always tons of things you want to get done, all of them meaningful and important. Get a bigger paycheck. Expand family and have another kid. Work less and spend more time doing other things that excite you. Those are all important things, good things.
Prioritization isn’t the problem because we’re unable to distinguish less important from more important, or awesome from sucking. The problem is putting aside good things for the sake of accomplishing other important, good things.
The only way to prioritize well is to be clear on what your strategy is. Then you will find it rather easy to follow through, and put aside good things that stand in the way of executing your strategy.
We all like doing new and exciting stuff – hell, it’s so intellectually rewarding. What takes a lot of discipline is putting aside exciting stuff for the benefit of (sometimes) boring and important one.
And that’s how you get shit done.