How to Balance Competing Priorities as a Product Manager

In the whole process of developing a product and managing its expansion, it’s easy for a Product Manager to lose track of what has to be prioritized. There can be many things on the plate which seem to be a priority, but actually, are not, and the Product Manager falls into the trap of doing seemingly important things when the actual priorities are left behind.

Lovell, Director of Product at Salesforce, explains this dilemma and ways in which a Product Manager can overcome it, and hence pave the path for them to be a great Product Manager.

Alexander lovell director of product at salesforce

Alexander Lovell is a Director of Product Management at Salesforce. Before joining Salesforce, he had his own startup where he built high-security team communication tools for small businesses. In Salesforce, he oversees the first and sixth most used components on the company’s platform, serving 3+ million DAU.

How to Be a Great Product Manager

There are many things which come in the way of a product’s lifecycle which may seem important but actually, are not. If prioritization is not done right, a Product Manager may end up being stuck in a loop, which may result in a product’s failure as well. For example, product bugs. Every time that a bug is reported, the immediate response to it is that has to be fixed first, no matter which task or matter is at hand. But, this shouldn’t always be the case. A Product Manager’s crucial responsibility is balancing competing priorities.

Graphic priortizing as a product leader

As a Product Manager, one has to understand the fine line between what is urgent and what is important. What is important may not be urgent, and vice versa. 

Graphic urgent vs important

Lovell emphasizes that a Product Manager has to be conscious about the things demanding attention and gauge every possibility around. He urges to shift one’s mindset from the unconscious “have to’s” (where the person somewhat goes into autopilot and prioritizes based on what seems to be the most urgent) to conscious decisions.

First, a PM should resist distractions, diving deep into every issue at hand and see its implications, and only then make a conscious decision of what should be prioritized, and if necessary, make the right tradeoffs. 

Tools for Making Big Decisions

Lovell mentions three tools that he uses to make big decisions for a product such as if the company should enter a new market or not and if it should buy another company to bolster its product.

Graphic Decide smarter big decisions

He suggests to internalize a few good tools, and not every tool available in the market, and take their help in making big decisions better. The next step Lovell says should be about the Minimal Viable Product. A PM should tactically analyze which aspects of the product are essential in order to make it an MVP. He further explains that one’s success depends 99% on their tactical decisions and only 1% on strategic ones.

No matter how much you want to optimize your time or resources for the output, it’s highly recommended not to do so. Lovell advises sticking to the formula mentioned in most of the cases so that the PMs have the time, as well as the resources, to help give the desired output.

Graphic Output = resources x time

In most of the cases, when the customer wants to increase the output, it’s rare that the resources or the time would also increase. Hence, in order to achieve the new output, the PM has to subtract or modify something else, which usually is the roadmap. It’s all about the cycle: measure, refine, revise.

Four Tools to Use Everyday for Product Success

  1. Strategic context: Tie your projects to broader strategic initiatives. 
  2. Stakeholder success: Think through the effects on each type of stakeholder.
  3. Cost vs Benefit: Focus on the project with the highest return on investment. 
  4. 2 x 2: Visualize your thoughts with a simple 2 x 2, agreeing first on the dimensions.

Lovell concludes by saying that there’s no substitute for anticipating asks/objections and preparing a convincing argument. Empathize with the customer and never think that they don’t have an idea about what product they want. No faking: work to genuinely understand competing perspectives. Bring data with you: relying on data protects your relationships and your integrity. Build relationships: working with friends is easier, more productive, and more satisfying.

Find even more great talks like Lovell’s on our YouTube channel.

The Product Book How to Become a Great Product Manager

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