I am writing this post to keep myself in check; I struggle in this area. 

Let's both work on it.

In my role, and maybe in yours too, there are times when I am an individual contributor, working autonomously and others when I am leading an effort. This poses several challenges around time management and prioritization.

Knowing when to do what is a constant battle. 

Here is a situation I am faced with a lot. I have two large efforts going on with team members performing tasks related to a bigger deliverable or product. I have one custom project that I am solely responsible for.

Real life example of team projects.

  1. A development team working on bug fixes or enhancements for a mobile application.
  2. A designer working on wireframes for another application.

Real life example of my own project.

  1. A custom market analysis with some digital maps and demographic profiles.

All of these projects are happening in parallel. Correction... all of these projects are SUPPOSED to happen in parallel. 

It is easy when you start because everyone has their own tasks and goes off on their own. The development team is working on their items and designer is working on hers. I am doing my work on my own. Parallel. 

Then things get real. My development team needs me to review a new feature. This comes in the form of an email generated from my task management and workflow application JIRA (best thing ever). I task my developers with work and when they are done they assign those tasks back to me for my review. Mental note made - review enhancement.

As if they were conspiring against me, my designer sends me some early mock-ups. How dare she send me these at the same time as I need to review a new application feature. Oh yea, that is right! You asked her to send you early design mock-ups so you could provide feedback before she goes too far down any one path. This saves everyone time and money and prevents delays. What a great/ terrible idea! Now you have to actually provide feedback. 

I went from having one monkey to now having three monkeys. Let me tell you what my default setting is and how I would handle it, left unchecked. Immediate email reply:

Thanks 'team member'! I will take a look at this and get back to you!

Totally noncommittal and useless.

BUT, it makes me feel better because I responded. Genius!

Now I will go back to my project. This does two things; one good and one not so good. I move my project forward; good. I prevent my teams from moving forward on the bigger projects; not good.

This decision is made at the micro level. If you are in a leadership position, which I am, hopefully you are too, you can't think micro. You need to think MACRO. Is this the best decision I can make to put my team members in a situation to succeed? No. What about the organization? No. Their designs might be so far off that they need as much time as possible to rework them. And the new feature might not provide the user experience I want and the developers might have to rework them several times.

The amount of work needed to be done will be the same. The cost will NOT.

Let me explain... if there are 10 additional hours of design work that need to be done and your designer is charging you $100 an hour it is going to take $1,000 to get your deliverable; understood. However, if you delay your feedback you are pushing your time to market out. What is that cost? It might seem little right now. Maybe it is just a week or two weeks. But this decision making processing compounded every time you need to provide feedback will push your products out months and there is a cost to that.

From a product development stand point, yes, you want people to buy your stuff. However, the most important first thing you need is feedback. You need it now! You need to be able to iterate. This is where these micro-decisions make a huge impact. You will learn more in one month of actual user feedback than you ever will beta testing. You need to keep this in mind when you are making your decisions on how to spend your time.

Here is a visual representation of the two approaches.

Approach 1: Delayed Feedback to Team

Here you are delaying your feedback to your team until you are done with your tasks.

Approach 2: Immediate Feedback to Team

Here you are providing feedback before you complete your tasks.

The time that it takes to get everything done will be the same but the order is different. What this allows for is for the projects to move in parallel. If we were to continue this timeline on you would have another block of a second touch point or feedback loop with your team coming after you are done with your project because they were doing their work while you were doing yours. This is where you really see the value of prioritizing feedback to your team over autonomous tasks.

I know what you are thinking... but sometimes.... STOP! The bottom line is that you need to move things forward. You need to drive projects not delay them. I learned this the hard way. 

You have two choices. You either prioritize feedback to your team over other autonomous tasks or you remove yourself from the equation and give them complete autonomy. Both can work but as the product owner which are you more comfortable with?! 

I constantly review my decision making process and priorities now to make sure that I am doing what is necessary to drive projects forward. I know, left unchecked, I might slip back into thinking my own tasks are the most important because they are MINE.

This is not a leadership mentality. This will not put you, your team or your organization in position to succeed.

Are you taking this into consideration when you are prioritizing your work for the day or week? Is anyone waiting on you? If so, stop reading this and get back to them; drive things forward.

-Nate