PM Mental Models - Part 2
How to supercharge your prioritization and product execution skills
A Mental model is an explanation of someone's thought process about how something works in the real world. Our PM Mental Models Part 1 received a lot of love from this community, and we have been receiving requests for more of these. So, we are back with Part 2! We have picked 5 more mental models we have used as Product Managers to identify and prioritize opportunities, manage our day better, and ship customer value faster.
🧨🧹Eisenhower Matrix - the Urgent/ Important Conundrum
Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, had to make tough decisions continuously about which of the many tasks he should focus on each day. And so he created the Eisenhower matrix to decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out less urgent and important tasks which he should either delegate or not do at all. He said: What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.
As a PM, you always have a long list of to-dos and meetings 🗓. Before you realize it, the day has ended, and you were not able to spend time on the things that actually mattered. Often PMs say “weekends and late nights are the only time I can focus on important tasks”. However, it is not a sustainable way to live your life😴. What really helped us navigate this tricky situation is adopting a simple habit: Every morning we start the workday by categorizing tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix, aka, the Urgent/ Important grid.
🧨Urgent & Important: These include customer escalations, urgent leadership reviews, or a production issue, that need to be managed immediately. The best way to deal with these is to prioritize it over other meetings and engagements and get it out of the way ASAP.
🎯Not Urgent but Important: These are the tasks important to your customers and the product, require high focus, and lead to high ROI if done properly. However, given these tasks don't usually come with an immediate deadline, it is easy to lose track of them. Typical tasks in this category are writing the strategy doc, roadmap planning, competitor analysis. The best way to get these done in a timely and effective manner is to block your calendar to focus and complete the task.
👩👩👧👦Urgent & Not Important: These are the “busy work” items, like writing status reports, following up on every customer ticket, or attending to input requests from partner teams. These are usually the biggest time sinks for PMs. The thumb rule is to not spend more than 20% of your day on these tasks. A few ways to reduce busywork are to delegate (can someone else do it?), automate (can the status report be auto-generated?), and document (can I create docs answering the most common FAQs from partner teams?). When the above doesn't help, time-box the activity, and be OK with not being perfect. Dedicate only the time that gets the “bare minimum” done.
🧹Not Urgent & Not Important: Finally the tasks that need to be eliminated from your calendars- these include attending meetings and events where you don’t add enough value, e.g weekly sync when there aren’t enough items to discuss every week or over-refinement of slides or docs. Drop these tasks without feeling guilty about them.
✅💡Cunningham’s Law - The Human tendency to correct
Ward Cunningham, the creator of the first wiki, said: The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question. It’s to post the wrong answer❌.
This can be applied to Product Managers especially while writing documents. PM outcomes are often in the form of documents - Product requirements, Vision & Strategy, Roadmap documents, etc. Each of these often needs crucial stakeholder input before finalizing and sometimes, you have to send several “follow-up emails” to get the stakeholder to respond. As Cunningham’s Law suggests, some input is better than no input, and the key here is to get the first draft out quickly even if it's not perfect. As soon you share the first version of your document broadly, the human tendency to correct will kick in, and you get your stakeholders’ to respond back with the “feedback”. 🚀
⛔️❗️Premortems - Prevention is better than cure
Post-mortems or retrospectives are common in the product world where the team gathers after a launch or a critical milestone to learn from “What went well” and “What could be better”. These learnings help to tighten the execution engine the next time around ⏫
Premortems leverage the common wisdom that “Prevention is better than cure” and are done at the start of a project vs at the end (post-mortem), to anticipate the roadblocks and risks a project might encounter and proactively mitigate them. A typical premortem begins with getting core product team members together for a thought exercise where the project is complete and has failed. The team members are then asked to write down every reason that they can think of for this failure. The product manager (and other relevant stakeholders) then build a plan to navigate these challenges, leading to better product execution.
👩🏫🦁Authority Bias - The boss isn’t always right
Wikipedia defines Authority bias as the tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure (unrelated to its content) and be more influenced by that opinion. This tendency is seen even when there is no penalty for opposing authority. PMs deal with a lot of ambiguity and unchartered territory, be it during product definition or while making key strategic decisions throughout the product life cycle. During executive reviews, stakeholder meetings, etc, you need to be aware of and avoid authority bias. 😎Be fearless in challenging commonly held opinions by leveraging your deep understanding of customers and users. 📊Use data to substantiate your claims if helpful. This healthy discussion and debate lead to better product proposals and high-quality decision-making refining your PMing skills.
⚓️🍒 Anchoring - The fallacy of Cherry picking
Anchoring Bias (theorized by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman) is a cognitive bias where an individual depends too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (considered to be the "anchor") to make subsequent judgments during decision making. This applies to Product Managers while doing user research where the tendency is to latch onto the insights gathered from the first 1-2 research participants and search for the same pattern in the remaining participants. A better way is to instead actively listen to each research participant, draw up individual insights and do a pattern matching exercise after the research has concluded.
We hope these mental models can help you prioritize product work and execute effectively. Leave a 😀 or 😐 in the comments below to let us know what you think about this article. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates every week 📆 on more product learnings. Share it with your friends so that they can join us on this journey 🚀. We would love any feedback here.
Note: This post has been published on www.productschool.com communities.