Surviving the Lock-Down as a Product Manager
As the world continues to see the effects of Covid-19, thankfully a lot of our jobs continue, and those who can have shifted to work from home. Some of us may even be working from home for the first time.
For a Product Manager like myself, who needs to work with multiple teams across different organizations, remote work presents unique challenges. From coordinating work streams for colleagues, to managing the expectations of clients and their end-users.
Here at Tivix, working remotely has been a part of our day-to-day since opening our first international office over 8 years ago. We’re a global team with offices spread across 6 cities and timezones in the US, Europe and Asia.
It’s not always easy, but over time we have accumulated insights and developed our own internal playbooks into how to best overcome some of the challenges presented by distributed product development.
In this post I’ll look at a few tips on surviving the lockdown and how to thrive when working as a product manager with distributed teams:
Communicate as you would in person
Often the biggest challenge in working remotely is building a relationship with your fellow colleagues. But with channels like Slack, it is now easier than ever to stay in touch and build rapport. Use these channels to not just discuss work-related issues, but to share a joke, or have a water cooler chat.
Another channel that we’ve been using for many years that has gained massive popularity recently (for better or worse!) is the video conferencing app Zoom. Video conferencing helps by not just allowing meetings to be held remotely, but by establishing better connections between people.
An important tip is to switch on the video while on a remote meeting, especially on 1-1 calls. Research indicates that communication is only 7% of what we say, the other 93% is decided by body language, expressions, and tone of voice. To establish the trust that is inherent in workplace communication, it is important not just to participate in meetings, but to do so with your video on if possible.
When I joined Tivix, all of my team members in the project were located in Poland. I was a new member working from the New York office. There were cultural differences and the time difference did not help either.
There were challenges in working with a particular colleague; it was always difficult to get his availability for further discussions. What really helped break the ice was when we had a 1-1 call and he showed me his 9-month-old son’s photo. Suddenly I could understand his perspective a bit more and helped form a connection that was not just about work.
One of the challenges of working from home is staying focused and dodging the hundreds of distractions that come from being at home. Whether it is managing kids, cooking and cleaning or even watching TV during work hours.
People are creatures of habit and are used to having a set schedule. So when we get up and prepare for work, we mentally ‘switch’ to work mode. But as we increasingly stay at home, it’s easy for us to lose the differentiation between a day off and working from home, so we can more easily fall prey to pesky distractions.
One of the key qualities of a good PM is to be able to prioritize and stay organized. Maintaining a schedule and prioritizing ruthlessly can provide more structure and help maintain focus.
Tools are also important. Project management tools like Clubhouse help with the prioritization of stories and tasks, and provide a simple-to-follow visualization of work progress.
Todoist is another tool that has helped me stay focused personally. By jotting down all the tasks that are pending the previous day, I’m able to discuss and collaborate with teams much more efficiently and ensure any important tasks are not missed out.
Collaborate as a team
The role of a product manager is quite unique. The biggest responsibility of a product manager is to be able to derive purpose and value, and then communicate it to the entire team so that the entire team understands the why and the what, and is able to contribute meaningfully.
So, when everybody is forced to work remotely, it becomes imperative that the team is clear on the agenda and deliverables, and is not losing clarity due to a lack of effective communication.
Having a single document for reference can help get distributed teams on the same page. Gitbook is a simple documentation tool that allows asynchronous collaboration before being published.
With dedicated sections for Product, Design, and Tech, it can become a living document that allows multiple teams to collaborate and have a common understanding.
Conduct workshops remotely
It’s important to ensure that key information from a workshop is shared among all team members and everyone involved understands it fully. Moreover, it’s useful to be able to revisit these documents as and when required.
I attended my first ever workshop at Tivix remotely using Miro, an online tool for whiteboard visualization. And this was before the world had even heard of the coronavirus!
Miro allows us to move all the notetaking and flowcharts created during a workshop to a shared online space. It enables us to not only participate in workshops remotely but to contribute and even ask questions in real-time. It’s a great collaborative tool that recreates the feeling of drafting out ideas in-person.
Make use of the extra time
Effective Product Managers are always learning. Being stuck at home has removed the commute time from our day. But it is now up to us to manage this extra time effectively.
While we are spending less time in face to face discussions, it is a good time to hone up on skills that we may be lacking or wanted to revisit but have not found the time.
Now that we are presented with the time, there is a great opportunity to go back to the books, pick up basic coding skills, learn the basics of design, learn marketing skills, learn more about the industry and so on.
How can you choose what to focus on? Consider the following:
- Figure out something that you’re struggling with
- Figure out something new you’ve been planning to learn
- Figure out how to improve on your weaknesses
There are many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) available to brush up on your skills – Udemy, Coursera and so on.
The lockdown hasn’t made life easier for the average PM. But it presents unique opportunities. PMs are busy folk – running between meetings, checking in on development and budget burn, all while keeping multiple stakeholders happy. With the lockdown, suddenly some of us have more time on our hands. It’s up to us to use it wisely.
If you can adapt your processes, make use of collaborative tools and brush up on relevant skills, you should be well on your way to emerging as a stronger PM. So while this lockdown is challenging for everyone, there may be a silver lining to it.