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Effective Product Manager - Execution
As a recap, in the Effective Product Manager series we’ve talked about:
What comes next? Execution.
In this post, you'll learn about:
What is Execution
Parts of Execution
How to Be Better at Execution
What is Execution
So as a product manager: you've crafted a vision, create to strategy, aligned your teams and stakeholders behind them, and created a product roadmap. What do you do next?
Your job is done. Just go to a beach, sip your cocktails, and just wait for your super capable teams to deliver your products guided by your best in class vision, strategy, and roadmap.
So you wish.
Your job now, as a product manager, is to execute. Not only is your job not done, your job is probably just getting started. Why?
Because execution is arguably more difficult and complex than the steps before.
Because execution gets your product actually delivered while previous steps don't.
Because execution, not the ideas, differentiates who's successful and who's not.
Execution is to do whatever it takes to get the ball rolling.
Execution is both action-oriented and outcome-oriented.
Execution is to GET.SHIT.DONE.
Execution is often NOT shiny tasks.
Execution is often NOT just to do stuff but also unblocking/enabling others to do stuff.
Execution is often NOT a PM would say the best part of being a PM.
But hey, you just have to do it. You just have to do it very well. Let me get this straight: if you don't execute well, you're never a good PM. Period.
Parts of Execution
I'm sure there's still question mark. So let me break down several key parts that constitute the broad term "execution". Non-exhaustive.
#1. Drive Alignment
Not only do you align teams behind vision, strategy, and roadmap when you create them, you need to keep them aligned along the way. Because things do change, and the devils are in the details. Initial alignment can easily turn into misalignment.
#2. Project Management
From creating a project/execution plan for your next roadmap item, to rallying resources, to create timelines and track against them, to manage, communicate, and alleviate risks. Yes that's your job too. I know I know, some companies/teams have dedicated project managers or technical program managers to help with that. Yes, sometimes engineering lead shares this responsibility. My advise? don't completely lean on these other roles and think it's someone else's job. If you get help, great. If not, take it up like a good PM.
#3. Problem Solving
Product execution is never a straight line. You get 99 problems but boredom ain't one. Anticipate problems like: sudden shortage of resourcing because of attrition, metrics anomalies because something internal or external happened, engineering delivery delays because of under-estimation, a dependency has a priority shift so they ditch their original commitment, leadership announced a top down urgency which requires you to scramble to change your plan, all the way to, say, COVID hits all of us. PMs are Problem Managers, probably more accurately than product managers. Am I'm not kidding.
#4. Decision Making
Design variant A or B that your designer can't decide? Make a decision as a PM. Launch sooner without this feature or launch later with this feature? Make a decision as a PM. Prioritize project A vs project B without cleanly available data points? Make a decision as a PM. Sounds like a fun part in execution at last, right? Yes I'd agree. But please know that your job is NOT to just throw a decision and call it done, easy peasy. Your job is to structure your decision making with clear rationale, explain it crisply to your teams, address any question or pushback, and most importantly, be accountable for that decision. I.e. it's your responsibility if the decision ends up leading to failure.
Similar to decision making, you have to discover team's blocker as early as possible (not necessarily by constant nagging but potentially instill a culture of transparency), and unblock it. Team's waiting on a dependency? Connect them with the dependent team today and do what you can to push. Team gets stuck in an open question? Throw a quick meeting to talk through it and decide. Someone just left the team and the product launch is depending on it? Do what you can to help with backfill or step in yourself to do it if you can. You name it.
Technically it could be a part of project management, or it's a key element across all of the above. In fact, it was the very first episode I wrote for the Effective Product Manager series. I want to specifically call that out as a key part of execution, because it is a key part of execution. In particular, providing constant visibility of your execution - including statuses, progress, upcoming plans, issues and risks, etc., helps with making execution 10x smoother. It's even more apparent when it comes to large scale projects that involve a large number of stakeholders and cross functional teams.
Again the above are not exhaustive, because as mentioned earlier, execution is doing whatever it takes. These ones are, in my experience, top key parts that can make or break your product execution. Focus on these will go a long way.
How to Be Better at Execution
So how do you get better at execution as a PM? I organize a few bullets too:
Know Your Role
Embrace the fact that execution is a core part of your job, especially in the areas listed above, and know the role you play in it, is the very first step. If you don't know your role in execution, how can you be good at it? Also, stop the "is it someone else's job?" thought. Just do it, but know how to partner with other roles to optimize execution for the best outcome. It's a core part of your job, but it doesn't mean you go solo.
Focus on Goals
Always be eyeing on the goals you want to lead the teams to accomplish and work backward. What do you need to do the accomplish the goals and delivered the best outcomes for your product? How do you best keep stakeholders informed and aligned? What decisions do you have to make now? What problems are getting in the way of moving the project forward? What resources are we lacking to launch the MVP on time? Always be thinking: what should I do more now across all fronts to get us closer to the goals? It'll be much more apparent to you what "execution actions" you need to do at any point in the project lifecycle.
Develop the Drive
Often time I see great execution actually rooted from a person's "drive" - the sense of urgency, the bias toward action, the healthy impatience, the strong desire to accomplish, the relentlessness, or even just the hard works. It's not something to be "learned" necessarily, but something to be developed. Just like how I always advised aspiring PMs to first be sure to pursue PM, be sure this is really what you would love, and if so be wanting it bad enough. Similarly, if you want to be a successful PM bad enough, you need to (and usually you will) develop strong enough drive to help you perform great execution. You'd think something like "I must be seen as a terrible PM if I don't deliver this; I can't let it happen! I'd better do this this and that now to get it on track!". That's the drive.
You might be sick of hearing me talking about structure over and over. I'm sorry but you're just going to hear some more. What does it mean though in the context of getting better at execution? First of all, just know that there will be problems and risks all over the place at any point of the execution, and that you cannot possibly be putting your attention on everything all at once. Use your best structured judgement to prioritize your time and attention, just like how you prioritize product investments. Second, when it comes to digging into an issue, or driving toward a decision as a part of the execution, make sure to apply structure and logical thinking - break it down and isolate, asking the right probing questions from highest level to the bottom, etc. While it's a lot of judgement calls going into these and hard work does matter, being structured and logical will just make the process make easier, so you can then span your attention and impact on more things.
Just Do It
The best way to get better at something is to do more of it. Get the reps in, reflect and refine your approaches, and repeat. It's that simple (but not easy!).
As a product manager, you cannot let go of execution. It ultimately determines how successful you are. Just think about it: who would you consider a successful PM? One who talks about great products, or one who delivers great products?
Now off my blog and go get some shit done!
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