It’s more than a year now that the world has moved into a remote work setup. And we all know things haven’t been easy. We couldn’t allow maids and cooks in the house. We couldn’t dine out. We started doing every household chore. And there were so many. And all these along with office work.
We were not just physically tired. Mental fatigue had set in. People were suffering from anxiety, depression. Staying indoors had made people jittery. To make things worse, some people had pay cuts and some lost their jobs.
Just as things were getting better, we got hit with the second wave of Covid-19. And things has become even worse compared to last year. Everyone I know has been directly affected by the new variant. There have been deaths in the family. People are under huge mental pressure.
And in such a context remote work has become extremely hard.
As a product manager things might become even harder for you as you need to interact with multiple stakeholders. With some you might need to deep dive on problems. With some you might need to discuss solutions at length. You might block their calendars, set up meetings, but you wouldn’t know their work pressure, their mental state, their priorities, and any other engagements. They may not show up, or may not be as involved.
In this article, I’ll share some rules and framework which I found most useful in this excruciating time. Maybe these will help you as well.
Start by breaking down your work into 3 different categories, namely Planning, Communicating and Delegating. Planning is important as it removes ambiguity and gives you clarity on what you wish to achieve. Communicating and Delegating helps you gather input, convince and manage various stakeholders. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
Whenever you start your project you need to gather information from multiple sources. It can be Customer service, Sales, Leadership, Operations, Legal, Tech, etc. If you were in office this might have been easy as you would have dropped by their table and asked whatever you needed. But in the remote setup this is not possible. They might be busy or not available. So if you are in the information gathering phase, you can plan what kind of information you need, from who you need it, whether it is qualitative or quantitative, and how it can be collected quickly and with minimum effort. Some people prefer survey form, some prefer Hangout groups, some prefer a group Zoom meeting and some phone calls. I work in a startup, Hangout groups work for me. But you need to figure out which works best for you.
When you have collected the information, defined the problem and sketched a solution, you need to discuss it with the Engineering and maybe the Marketing teams. If you were in the office, you would have invited them to a conference room, used the whiteboard, drew boxes and flow diagrams, answered questions, etc. But now that you are working remotely you need to improvise. I would suggest you start with some high level documentations like Vision, Product Roadmaps and BRDs. Copy them to your Google Drive and share with the Engineering and Marketing teams. Give them some time to go through them and then set up a Zoom meeting to discuss and QnA. Once everyone is aligned, ask the Engineering Manager to prepare an SRS document and then repeat the same. In my experience, this task driven approach works best.
Last step in the Planning phase is resource planning. This is similar to what you have been doing in office as well. You understand how much development effort will be required and how many developers you'll need to complete the project. But considering the covid situation and the health issues, you may need to factor in some contingencies. If required you can always do one-on-one meetings with the developers to understand their availability.
While in office, communication was easy. Most of the team members sat together. You just needed to raise your head and ask whatever you wanted to know. For a deeper discussion, you would have gone into a conference room. But now, things are different. People are working from miles apart, and at their own timings. So how do you manage communication?
Two things that work -
Well, these two techniques work for me. Do check what works for you according to your organization’s processes and policies.
Now that the planning and setting up of communication channels are over, you need to delegate. Not just the list of things to do, but also the ownership of the output as well.
You first start with the roadmap. Break it down into sprint wise projects/tasks. And finally create a tracker with the roles and responsibilities. It basically says who does what and when in the entire project delivery cycle. If you are using a project management tool like JIRA, then this is quite easy. The workflow is already there.
I hope this helps. Be safe.
Until Next Time.