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Product Management

What tasks are the biggest waste of a product manager’s time?

Time is a finite resource. And, for product managers (PMs), time well spent can mean the difference between a successful product launch and an unsuccessful launch. This is because product managers have special expertise in understanding customer and business needs. When their focus is taken away from that, both the product and the business as a whole suffer. 

So, if protecting a product manager’s time is so critical, how can we keep our PMs from spending too much time on unnecessary tasks that distract from the important stuff? 

First, we’ve got to pinpoint what those time-wasters are. To help with this, we asked Daniel, a product manager at Telecom, and Vicky, a product manager at TELUS, what they felt were the biggest time-wasters for PMs. 

What areas are critical for product managers to spend their time on? 

Before we discuss what can waste a product manager’s time, let’s discuss why it’s so critical to save a product manager’s time. Because it really is. 

First, product managers are the team members closest to the customers, the product, and the competitive landscape. As such, PMs should spend most of their time “talking with customers and your team to gain insights, reviewing KPIs to identify issues/opportunities/action items, analyzing market trends and competitor activities,” says Daniel. 

Product managers are critical strategists and both long and short-term planners on teams. Because of this, Vicky suggests that PMs should spend the majority of their time “strategic planning, triaging and analyzing customer feedback, and having well-documented processes to increase efficiency.”

Additionally, PMs would find success by spending more time “building rapport with other areas of the business whose support you need, networking within the company to understand what other teams are doing and how you can work together,” says Daniel.

What are the biggest wastes of time from a PM standpoint?

Excess Meetings 

Meetings can be a great way to get aligned with priorities. Still, not all meetings are created equal: “In my work week, meetings can take up over half my schedule. I am frequently invited to meetings where I am a secondary stakeholder and only need to provide input if asked,” says Vicky.  Understanding which meetings to attend, which to deprioritize, and creating a plan to protect your focus time is a critical skill for product managers. 

Vicky shared two great tips for protecting your focus time: “First, I strongly recommend blocking time in your calendar to complete urgent deliverables and catch up on post-meeting activities. This ensures that product managers have adequate time blocked off to focus truly,” she says. 

Her second tip? “I recommend sending detailed calendar invites, adding agenda topics, and firing off a quick bullet list of meeting minutes. This ensures that all invitees know the context of each meeting and can make a decision whether to attend,” she says. Holding yourself and your team accountable for recording meeting notes also ensures those who can’t attend still have knowledge of the outcomes of the meeting. 

Administrative tasks

When product managers are expected to spend too much time doing administrative tasks, their organizations might not be getting the maximum amount of value out of their expertise: “Having to divert time to non-product management related tasks (e.g., project management, operations, etc.) when the company does not have enough employees to cover those activities means you have less time to devote to Product Management activities where you can leverage your expertise to provide the most value,” Daniel tells us. This is why roles like project managers can be so useful in ensuring that PMs aren’t spending too much time on admin tasks. 

Lack of processes

Poor process management can create inefficiencies and waste time within cross-functioning teams, necessitating more time spent on otherwise unnecessary communications. That’s why Vicky recommends “having a structured and well-documented process for ongoing, collaborative tasks. This also reduces the amount of ad-hoc requests during the day for repeat activities, reduces mental fatigue from constant decision making, and allows for better focus.” 

Are there areas where PMs feel pressured to spend time that aren’t valuable?

Standups (and other daily calls)

For Vicky, when stakeholders expect daily check-ins, it can be too frequent to be impactful: “Sometimes I find daily calls to be ineffective, especially when there are little changes day-to-day. I find that twice or three times a week calls are much more effective as it ensures that the full block of time is being utilized. This, of course, depends on if it’s a daily stand-up within your own development team or if it’s a cross-functional status update call,” she says.

How can we ensure meeting frequency suits all parties involved? “Based on the capacity of work, I highly recommend adjusting meeting frequencies to help clear up everyone’s calendar,” she suggests.

Customizing information to meet stakeholder needs

When PMs have a deck (or some other documentation) put together, sometimes all the information there isn’t relevant to a particular stakeholder. Because of this, Daniel tells us that there is pressure “to make PowerPoint decks that have the same information but are presented differently and in different formats, only to meet the needs of specific stakeholders.” 

The takeaway? If you’re a stakeholder working with PMs, consider the time-cost of having your PMs create customed documentation for you before making those requests. 

Final thoughts 

Saving product managers–and the whole team–time is a team effort. Look out for you and your team members by doing things like prepping better meeting agendas and notes, not overutilizing meetings, formalizing better processes, and not requiring customized documentation. 

When we build processes and create cultures focused on allowing people to spend more time leveraging their expertise and less time on unnecessary tasks, businesses become more productive, and people are happier at work. 


Want to see how to save your software team more time? Book a demo of Zenhub.

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