Product Management Marty Cagan

Working From Home

Certainly there are disadvantages to being physically separated from your colleagues, and those are well known, but in this article, I’d like to focus on the potential advantages of working from home (WFH), and encourage you to make the most of this situation.

Most product managers complain to me that their biggest struggle is to find quality time to work on many of the most important yet most time-consuming aspects of their job.  Well, now you might have that time.

There is a big caveat to the suggestions below.  Many people that have found themselves in a WFH situation, have also found themselves needing to serve as full or part-time childcare, or home-school teacher, or other family obligations, and these people can struggle to get even a solid hour of work in during the day.  So these suggestions are obviously not intended for these people.

If you are a product manager, and you are finding yourself with some significant time on your hands, I’ve got ten suggestions for you.  Maybe you’ll only have time for one or maybe you’ll be able to do all ten.  But I can say that when you do return to your team, you can be a much more valuable contributor:

  1. Pick the most important key decision that your team is facing, and do some real thinking and write up a written narrative. Then iterate on this narrative with your designer, tech lead, and your manager until it is solid.  This is one of the most impactful things you can do to develop as a product manager and product leader. 
  2. Do an analysis of your product strategy, or if you don’t have one, propose one.  I have just recently published a series of articles on the importance of a strong and thoughtful product strategy, and I also pointed out how most teams don’t actually have a product strategy.  I strongly suggest writing this strategy up in a written narrative form as well.
  3. Do a deep dive on your data.  You are looking to build understanding, and to identify insights.  You may need to ask questions of your data analyst, but that can work fine as you and your data analyst are working from home.  Focus on three perspectives on the data: how your customers are interacting with your product; how that interaction is changing over time; and the financial data about your product.  Make sure you have a clear and deep understanding of the various KPIs that describe your product’s health.
  4. Improve your qualitative understanding of how your users and customers engage with and react to your product.  Reach out to your user research team. Ask for them to share as much of the learnings as they can with you. Ask them questions about their findings and opinions.  You’re not just looking for their assessment of your product, you’re also looking for what they think are missed opportunities.
  5. Investigate potential enabling technologies.  Machine learning alone should keep you busy, but there’s still much to be learned regarding mobile, especially as it’s used in much of Asia, big data, or augmented reality.  Discuss your findings with your tech lead. The question you are trying to answer is: is there new technology that would allow us to solve long-standing problems for our customers in ways that are just now possible?
  6. Do a deep dive on your industry and the competitive landscape.  Study Stratechery’s Aggregation Theory and Disruption Theory and consider how these apply to your product and your industry.  Write up your findings and thoughts in a written narrative. Do an analysis of the potential disruptors in your industry.  What are the things that you think each competitor does well and what do you think they are each missing? 
  7. Use the opportunity to take a fresh and in-depth look at your customers.  Arrange a series of 15-30 video calls – they may be working from home as well – and talk with them about their experiences.  You’re not looking to hear how much they love you; you’re looking for the things that you’re not doing for them. Write up your thoughts in a written narrative.
  8. Pick one of your most important stakeholders – finance, legal, privacy, sales or marketing are all good examples – and do a deep dive to learn as much as you can about their area.  Write up an FAQ of what you think the most difficult questions and concerns would be from that stakeholder’s perspective, and then craft thoughtful, evidence-based written responses. Discuss your FAQ with that stakeholder.  Your goal is to raise your knowledge level in this area so substantially that this key stakeholder begins to consider you as a true colleague in addressing their very real challenges.
  9. Do a self-assessment of your skills and then craft your own improvement plan.  If your manager is willing to do this with you even better, but I have seen many people make real strides in their own abilities by a) being honest with themselves about their weaknesses; and b) taking seriously the effort to improve.
  10. Take the time to read some inspiring and relevant books.  There are many really good ones out there, and you can always ask me for more.  Here’s a few good ones:

So as you can see there’s a great deal that can be done with any time that is freed up while working from home.  I hope you can make the most of this situation, and above all, wishing that you and yours stay safe and healthy.