If your PM team has only one or two people responsible for covering multiple products with complex features, how would you recommend dividing the workload in the short-term so as best to support long-term growth and expansion of the team?
This is a scenario that teams often find themselves in, especially in fast moving parts of a business. The question I would ask when looking across the existing products is "Where do I gain the most leverage from innovation?"
There are certain products that simply need to work, and that have a built in runway so as to not detract from the companies success. If there is an opportunity to simplify an unnecessarily complex product, such as leaning on a 3rd party or making a capital investment to enable self-service, that time should be carved out early on to avoid growing the burden of support.
Other products, however, can drive the business or particular segment of the business forward. Those areas should be prioritized and receive attention, while you plan to address the products with a longer runway further down the road. In the short term, it is critical to understand the value that those products bring, and the leadership investment should follow accordingly.
Prioritization is key. I don’t believe in dividing ‘all’ available work across my team. I believe in ensuring my team focuses on the top business priorities and are having the most impact. I typically encourage my team to do a few things but do those really well and not ‘peanut butter’ themselves across many different areas. A Technical PM on my team might be taking on multiple product areas (typically not more than 2), but they set clear expectations in terms of what their roles will be and how they’ll spend their time across those. A few things to pay attention to -
- Understand what areas absolutely need a PM/Technical PM and prioritize those. This could be for various reasons - 1) Getting to product market fit; 2) Expanding to new markets or a new customer segment; 3) Defining requirements for an ambiguous product feature; or 4) Driving alignment across key stakeholders on goals
- Sometimes you know you’ll have to staff a PM soon in a product area (or a product feature). It might be worthwhile to have an existing PM spend a small % of their time understanding and scoping the landscape which might inform what type of PM you want to hire and when.
- If a PM is not able to focus 100% of their time in a product area, identify responsibilities that could be delegated to other functional leads (Engineering, Design, Data Science etc). The last thing you want to do is burn out your most valuable PM because they are so good at it.
I like this question although more specifics would help as the answer varies. It certainly is a tough skill to master though but worthwhile because this will always be the case. Even at the big companies that I've worked at in Microsoft and Google, who seemingly have all the money and resources in the world, we are always faced with this problem
Here's how I'd think about it. Folks can forgive some changes to ownership over the short term but are much less forgiving of not getting critical tasks done. In other words, what is urgent and impactful but maybe doesn't support long term growth and expansion. Just get folks working on the critical projects and fix ownerships later.
But while doing the above be transparent with the team on how ownership will evolve. There are times where it makes sense for person A to own the project based on how I've set my team up in their swimlanes, but for whatever reason (bandwidth, particular expertise, legacy reasons) person B is working on the project. That's ok, but talk to person A and person B in your 1-1 and explain your thinking and give reassurance.
If your PM team only has one or two people responsible for covering multiple products with complex features, I would recommend building a prioritized list of deliverables that are necessary to achieve your objectives. Make sure the list is as small as possible and is the one that would move the needle the most. Once you have a list of the most important items to focus on, divvy it up among the team of 1-2 product managers and define exactly what needs to get done. This ruthless prioritization and focus on must-haves will help ensure that the most critical work is completed, even with a small team.
Additionally, you can seek to offload some tasks to other team members in the adjacent team so that it can free up PM bandwidth. For example, if there is an opportunity, EMs could create Jira epics and stories based on PRDs created by the product manager. Product marketing can help out with discovery and customer success can help a bit more with customer validation. In short, don't be afraid to find opportunities to creatively off-load in short term some PM tasks onto other teams. In addition, look for opportunities to introduce tools and processes to help manage and organize the work. For example, prefer asynchronous communications over synchronous meetings whenever possible to drive productivity and efficiency.
To support the long-term growth and expansion of the team, I would recommend identifying areas where additional support will be needed, such as specific products or features, and hiring additional PMs to support those areas. This will help to distribute the workload more evenly and allow the team to better support the growth and expansion of the products.
Overall, the key is to prioritize the most important work, automate manual tasks where possible, get help from other departments in short term to take on more responsibilities where possible for a short period of time, plan for additional head growth and hire incrementally.
This can be a challenging situation as there are many places the 1-2 PMs could add value. I would recommend taking two filters to the workload.
First, categorize the priority of the existing multiple products across the three horizons:
Horizon 1: Strong current drivers of value that need to be actively maintained, but are not expected to drive future growth
Horizon 2: High-potential products that are expected to grow in impact over time through more investment
Horizon 3: Emerging products that could one day drive significant value, but currently have a limited contribution
Then, based on the skills and interests of the current PMs assign their capacity against these tiers. An initial allocation of all the PM capacity might look something like:
70% Horizon 1
20% Horizon 2
10% Horizon 3
As the PMs are able to spend time on the Horizon 2 and Horizon 3 areas, they will mature and show progress and build a more compelling case. The capacity could then shift to something like 50/30/20 through the addition of more PMs.