As you’ve probably guessed from the relative silence on the blog recently, I’ve been having a hell of a month. In the past 30 days…
- My boss resigned, necessitating a redistribution of work and transfer of responsibilities
- My air conditioning broke (not fun when Phoenix was still over 100 degrees in October)
- Repairs to said air conditioning caused a water leak, requiring my ceiling to be ripped out and necessitating the full mold remediation drill (plastic, blower fans, etc.)
- I found, contracted and moved into a new condo to get away from above said fiasco
- My mother had back surgery and a rougher-than-expected recovery
Fun stuff. It’s no secret that we product marketers are stressed out. Throw life on top of rigid timelines for product launches and quarterly objectives and…well… it sucks. I’m not going to sugar coat it.
I’m sick of reading fluffy motivational articles on how to make the best of situations or manage your time. They’re out of tune and unhelpful. Instead, I’m going to write the blog post 1) acknowledging that sometimes the sky IS falling and 2) details the framework you can use to triage and execute despite the world crumbling around you.
Step 1: Analyze what needs to be done and inventory your personnel, assets, resources and time available
For everything on your list, understand your company’s overall mission, your boss’s intent and the desired end state goal. If there are things on your list that will not help you, your department or your company reach its quarterly or annual goals, kill it. Why? Two reasons. 1) You don’t have time for it and 2) it’s a distraction that will impede you from accomplishing what matters. Realize and accept that you can’t do it all, and be ruthless in saying “no” to things.
It takes a long time to become self aware enough to know where your limits are. Equally difficult is having the courage to communicate these limits to your boss. If you’re the type of person who is uncomfortable saying “no” to your boss, treat them like a child. Show them your list and say “you can pick three out of the five projects on this list.”
Step 2: Decentralize the planning process and determine courses of action
Since the purview and responsibility of we product marketers extends into many functions of the business, it’s common for us to be over-controlling. Resist this urge. At this point, you don’t have time to find all the answers yourself. It’s time to trust your team and empower them to help you problem solve.
By involving your team, you avoid overwhelm and eliminate the chance of you becoming your own bottleneck. More brains on the problem (within reason) results in faster velocity to a plan, and faster velocity thereafter. Trust your team and they will trust you.
Step 3: Plan for contingencies and mitigate risks that can be controlled
What if YOUR air conditioning suddenly creates a lake in your ceiling? What if your product team misses a deadline? What if the creative isn’t ready for your launch? Obviously you can’t plan for everything, but be smart here. If you executed Step #2 correctly and decentralized planning, your team will have already identified most of the risks, ideated contingencies and will implement them for you if needed.
The good news is that if your world is already crumbling, you’re hyper-aware and already in a defensive mindset. You can’t afford to have anything else go wrong, so as my tailor says, “measure twice and cut once.”
Step 4: Delegate execution to those involved in the planning process
Similar to accepting that you don’t have all the answers, accept that you can’t do everything right now. It’s time for the trust fall- delegate execution to your team and trust they will fulfill. If you did everything correctly to empower them, there’s nothing to worry about.
What separates the great product marketers from the good ones is whether or not the system can run without them for a brief period of time. Our job is to plan the rail network and lay the tracks so the trains go to the right places at the right time. If the tracks are laid correctly, the train driver can run to the bathroom and the train is fine.
Take a moment and reflect on how you’ve architected your process, whether you’ve involved the right people and if the system can run without you. If it hasn’t, you aren’t being a good conductor.
Step 5: Continually check and question the plan against emerging information and progress
Is the plan still working? Is it still fulfilling your overall goals or those of your department or company? Has anything occurred that necessitates a pivot? “Managing progress” does not mean “interfering with your team.” If you find yourself rolling up your sleeves and diving in, you are sabotaging yourself and wasting precious time.
Trust your team and provide guidance. Embrace your entrepreneurial, scrappy spirit. At this point, “done” is better than “perfect.” You should be aiming for velocity. Don’t be sloppy but realize that we want peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, not triple-decker club sandwiches. Both fulfill hunger but you can make five PB&Js for every one club sandwich. And let’s face it, nobody ever eats the olives on the toothpicks.
Step 6: Debrief and decompress
Like I said, if you decentralized and delegated effectively, the system should have completed itself. After it’s all over and you’ve tripped through the rubble of your crazy month, take a step back and see how you did. What worked? What didn’t? Where (or whom) did you not empower effectively? Did you achieve desired outcomes or make it closer to your goals? Did you overcome your fear of relinquishing control of planning or execution? Did you trust your team?
Lastly, give yourself a break. Product marketers are at a higher risk of burnout due to the cross-functional nature of our roles. Performing at work starts with taking care of your body and mind. Make sure you’re exercising, spending time with those you love and have a vacation on the books. Always reward yourself for a job well done and have something to look forward.