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Okay, some of you may read this and go – is this a misplaced blog post for a ship guy. While shipping is in my heart and that is true, I have spent the past 3 plus years in the technology part of the shipping industry working at one of the oldest SaaS companies in this space as a product manager. 

For those that don’t know a product manager is, a definition of a Product Manager found on Product Manager HQ website is: someone who ‘…connects business strategy, design knowledge, and customer needs in order to develop a product that is relevant, feasible, and valuable.’ 

How then does a product manager measure how productive they are? I bring this up now as we are year end and everyone talks about what to do next year, what goals are, as well as looking back on what was done last year. That lead me to think – how do I measure how productive I am?  Is it doing everything my boss wants me to do? It solving all of the outstanding issues the product has? 

Like any other normal person – I googled ‘measuring productivity for product managers.’ To my surprise there was not much there that really helped with this. While you can find references to productivity tools, ranging from Aha! to employing strategies like ‘inbox zero’.  What was lacking was a clear way to measure productivity. 

Could KPI’s help, yes, but to an extent. I think that KPI’s like any other metric can be massaged to tell the story you want to hear and could lend towards checking the box for the sake of just doing that. You could be prone to making poor decisions (or feel that you are being productive) as you fall into something called the McNamara fallacy. In short that is relying on quantitative analysis too much and not looking at the big picture. 

I thought about it more and I think productivity can be viewed by the following thought:  

I am productive if my product is aligned with long term corporate strategy while giving my team the ability to address the day-to-day tactical problems that arise. 

So what does that mean? Let’s use this as an example: We want to expand the vertical offering of the product in order to penetrate into more users within the current clients company, but also have to deal with technical debt the product may have. If we do the first thing, we could increase revenue, if we ignore the second, current clients may leave.  Like anything else its about balance on the today, while moving forward with the tomorrow. If you can do that, you are being productive.  Would a KPI measure that? Maybe? Could you satisfy checking the box on a KPI and miss the previous example, it could very well happen.  Then you get into the discussions of ‘Do we have the right KPI?’  If you don’t, then how long will it take to adjust that?  

Am I oversimplifying, I probably am.? But what I find is that sometimes the simplest solutions are the ones you pay the most attention to.  In this case assuring holistically that you are able to handle both the strategic goals of the company along with the tactical issues that arise, and continue to push forward, you are being productive. 

What are your thoughts?


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