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It seems like a PM role is stretched in multiple directions - business goals, engineering, customer satisfaction etc. How do you determine what's more important to focus on?

Brandon Green
Brandon Green
Buffer Staff Product ManagerAugust 17

A PM's job is to take in a lot of inputs (including the 3 listed in this question) and articulate a compelling strategy and roadmap around achieving the best outcomes for your business. Within those are assumptions, risks, opportunities, etc. that are worth digging into and questioning, and from there you can usually start to get a sense of where to focus. To a certain extent, you'll need to at least focus a little on all of these inputs, just to get a sense of whether they're worth digging deeper on. I think the answer around "where to focus" will differ highly based on the context you find yourself in, but I think you can start by asking yourself what the biggest immediate problem or opportunity is, based on what you know. 

Oftentimes the inputs themselves will help provide that direction. For instance: in my current role, I have a wide scope with a lot of users to consider, stakeholders to partner with, and problems to be solved. Some of the problems that appear impactful on the surface I realized were not very actionable as is for a number of reasons, so I chose to shift focus to an area that was immediately actionable, had resourcing focused on it, and I had prior experience to help guide me on potential solutions. I was able to then demonstrate some short-term impact and hire a PM to drive value in that space, allowing me to shift over to another problem area. I also realized that one of the business goals related to that space had some assumptions built into it that we began to question as a result of the work we did, allowing us to shift the priority of that business goal a bit.

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Ashwin Arun Poothatta
Ashwin Arun Poothatta
Green Dot Corporation Principal Product ManagerApril 5

As problem solvers, it is easy for PMs to fall into the trap of taking on every request and getting stretched thin. However, this is not sustainable nor efficient in getting things done. To assess the value of a task, PMs can ask themselves or stakeholders the following questions.

  • Why is this important for the customer, product, or company?
  • What is the expected outcome and timeline?
  • How will it help teams achieve their goals?

If a task is deemed worth pursuing, it's important to align with stakeholders on your contribution and set a timebox for it. This exercise can be applied to individual tasks as well. There may be times when it's difficult to say no, such as to senior management requests. In such cases, PMs can ask their managers for support in pushing back or understanding the value of the task.

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Ashka Vakil
Ashka Vakil
strongDM Sr. Director, Product ManagementMarch 21

Product managers juggle multiple priorities and have to work with stakeholders whose needs vary. The most successful product managers understand customer's needs and market dynamics and use data to make informed decisions while keeping all stakeholders aligned and informed. They are adaptable and prioritize based on the current context while keeping the long-term vision in mind.

Here are a few guidelines that can help you determine what's most important:

  1. Understanding Big Picture: What are the company goals? Is it user growth, revenue increase, or something else? What is the market landscape like - competitors, industry trends, and opportunities? Where should the product be going in the future aka vision

  2. Understanding the Context: What is the current reality? What would give the biggest leverage while securing the future? For example, if there are critical customer issues or a sudden market shift, addressing those might temporarily take priority over pre-planned roadmap items.

  3. Making Data Your Friend: Use product analytics to understand usage and user behavior. This data can give you insights into how your product is being used, and what is creating friction, and can be insightful on what to focus on. Besides analytical data available by tracking product usage, leverage customer feedback tools like surveys, user interviews, and Net Promoter Score (NPS) to understand customer needs and pain points. Use the derived insight to prioritize focus areas. Use data-driven frameworks like RICE (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort) to evaluate potential roadmap items. This helps you objectively compare features and initiatives based on factors like potential impact, development effort, and level of confidence in their success.

  4. Build Strong Collaboration Muscle: Product managers cannot work in silos and need to effectively collaborate and build trust across the organization. That requires open, clear, and frequent communication and collaboration with stakeholders. Keeping everyone informed about the roadmap, its rationale, and any changes made is critical. Understand your stakeholder's concerns and priorities, and find ways to align them with the product vision so they feel part of the process and solution.

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