If I was a character from Friends†, I would be Chandler Bing – the guy who nobody knows what he does at work. It’s easy if you’re a doctor, a plumber or a lawyer. But what the heck does a Product Manager do?
My own situation is not helped by the fact that I work remotely. This means I get to sit by myself in my home office talking to people from strange locations in a foreign language, and then I get paid. Very fishy. I have tried explaining this to people over the age of 70 multiple times, and I have always failed. All I get is a puzzled look and some snarky remark. Come on, I know you’re really playing poker. You can tell me.
There is plenty of very smart discussion about what “Product Management”, and therefore a Product Manager, is. I will not go down that rabbit hole. I will say that if it’s true that we’re CEOs of anything, somebody forgot to adjust my rate.
What might be useful is to share very specific examples of what I do. How do I spend my day? What are the actual tasks I perform? That is not seen so often, and occasionally people ask me about it.
A typical day around here starts at 7 AM, still in bed, when I wake up and start clearing “human” emails. These are things someone actually wrote to me that require reading or action. Then at around 7:30ish, the baby wakes up. I stop what I’m doing, change Theo’s diapers, play with him a little bit and get breakfast ready. After breakfast, usually by around 8:30, I hand Theo off to someone and head to my home office.
Why am I boring you with these details? Because it took me a while to be OK with this routine. It bothered me that I had to stop to take care of the baby for a while when I wanted to just keep plowing through my stuff. I kept trying to figure out ways to not have to stop. Then it hit me – isn’t that one of the great benefits of remote work? And why did you have kids anyway, to hand them off at the first opportunity? So now I handle this differently. I am very much “in the moment” when I’m with the kids, and I actually cherish those moments. I’ve also started waking up a little earlier so I can compensate, but that’s easy to do.
Alright, so now I’m back to work and to doing “Product Management” things. When I get back to my home office, I start working on the JIRA tickets for my team. Read comments, provide feedback, ask questions and unblock people so that work can keep flowing. Since we’re a distributed team, there’s always a nice queue of tickets to handle by my morning, and people waiting to get their work flowing. It’s a nice way to warm up the brain for the rest of the morning.
Then comes the really beautiful moment of remote work. Since I am a few hours ahead of my company’s offices and of most of the Product and Design teams, I have the rest of the morning pretty much to myself. I put this to use by getting into “deep work” – longer tasks that require concentration or creative effort. Writing specs, working on mockups, planning projects.
Then it’s off to lunch. Lunchtime is both an opportunity to be with my family and also a pretty hectic moment where help is needed to get everyone fed and ready for whatever they do in the afternoon (usually school).
Then in the afternoon, things get busier as more people are around by this time of day. I’m now usually chatting to people on our internal chat platform, attending our teams’ daily stand-up meetings or other meetings. And because of the time zone differences, this will sometimes go on until 7 or even 8 PM.
What are those meetings about, you might ask? A considerable part of Product Management, at least in a larger team, is to ensure that what people are doing is aligned to your product’s vision and business goals. Keep all the parts moving in the same direction. So you end up getting involved in a ton of different projects, large and small, and you have to ensure that your particular part of the product is heading where it’s supposed to go.
The attentive reader will now be thinking “but wait, the guy starts at 7 AM and works until 8 PM, that’s crazy!”. What I haven’t mentioned is one of the other perks of remote work. It is not uncommon for me to take short breaks during the day. This can be a 15-minute break to get some coffee with my wife, or half an hour to go out and pay some bills. So it makes the entire day much lighter, as I can regularly refresh my head. Often I will still think about whatever I was doing at work during the break, but that’s actually great as the change of scenery often sparks new ideas.
So overall, I’d guess half of my time is spent on individual, focused work while the other half is spent talking to other people. I am pretty sure this would not be like this if I worked in an office. Or maybe it would, it’s been a while since I’ve done that regularly…
† A sitcom that originally aired between 1994 and 2004. Really, you never watched Friends?