As product folks, we are asked to drive value and in order to do this we need to be somewhat ruthless about what we do, and consequently what we do not do. I always refer to this as 'ruthless prioritization' but it's not quite as antagonistic as it sounds.
Why does it feel ruthless?
I want to address why it often feels ruthless or downright "icky" for us to prioritize work this way:
- You are saying no, possibly a lot: you might feel like a killjoy as you constantly re-focus your peers on the less fun stuff that you might need to achieve. Or, this could lead to difficult conversations and/or escalations (depending on the type of company you work at).
- You are ignoring known customer or operational pain points: this one took me a while to overcome; you know your customer, you empathize with your customer and so when you see something wrong, you desperately want to fix it. In this case, you can't — and that's okay, you will run yourself ragged if you aim for perfection.
What does it mean to be ruthless?
While being ruthless is associated with not showing compassion, I'd argue that in this case, it's about taking the passion out of it for a second. It's just business and we are trying to do the best things to keep the company in business; this means:
- Set super clear goals upfront: know what your company needs from your product to be successful; this might mean having OKRs or whatever framework you need to make sure you have a measurable definition of success. You also want to make sure that one of those metrics ties back to how you keep your customers happy; happy (returning/referring) customers tie back to value (results).
- Clear the noise: this is easier when you have done the hard work of setting / socializing goals upfront but essentially, you need to be comfortable reminding folks of why we are here. Stakeholders may have many disparate ideas and, as a steward of the product, it helps them and you to focus on those ideas that will get them to the shared goals we all set upfront.
- Deliver: when you achieve those goals you set, everyone needs to know about that. This is how you establish your personal brand and build the trust you need to limit the noise.
Whether you work in a large or small organization, focus is crucial to getting stuff done and good stuff, at that. It's also really critical to managing your own time and feeling energized and empowered at work. If you can articulate the value of the work you are driving forward and why it's more important than XYZ initiative, you'll find yourself in a position with a much more resilient plan.