In January, I shared some tips on how to set goals for meaningful impact. In this post, I want to go in depth on the best ways to achieve results that count - a win-win for you and the team/org. At Facebook, there is a lot of focus on impact and rightfully so because the results you can achieve are more important than the effort you put in. You can spend hours on some activity, but if the output doesn’t have desired results, your effort is wasted.
For example, you take days to come up with a perfect process that will help your team be more productive. You think of all the pitfalls and make sure you have the right solution. You pitch it to the team and they show some enthusiasm. You start to implement your process but your theory quickly breaks down and you are unable to get full buy-in to implement this process. You don’t get full adoption of the process and very little changes for the team. Did your effort have any positive or meaningful results besides lessons learned?
High impact does not need nights and weekends. You can still produce the right results with the same amount of effort if you focus your time on the right things.
Treat your own time with the utmost respect. Be intentional on where you focus your energy and effort.
Here are 5 ways you can achieve meaningful impact to get the most return on your time investment:
1. Focus on strategic execution and spend less time on tactical execution
We often hear the words strategy or being strategic without really understanding what it means. We know being strategic is a positive thing and being tactical can have a negative connotation. So let’s take a moment to go back to the basics and define these terms
Strategic: relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them OR carefully designed or planned to serve a particular purpose or advantage.
Tactical: Relating to small-scale actions serving a larger purpose OR made or carried out with only a limited or immediate end in view
Both strategic and tactical approaches are useful depending on the end goal. However, I want to differentiate strategic thinking or setting a strategy from strategic execution. We often associate setting of strategy/vision with c-level executives or product management. However, every TPM should think about strategies to elevate their work. You should also set aside a couple of hours every week for strategic thinking.
Getting back to strategic execution; setting an overall strategy is required at the outset before you jump into any kind of program execution. Once a project is underway, any TPM will deal with a number of things that fall into both strategic and tactical execution. Depending on the situation, some days will have more tactical things to get done and others will be a good balance. My suggestion here is for you to put more thought into these two types of execution. Make sure that your days don’t pass by in a flurry of tactical activities such that you lose sight of the long term goal.
Here’s some ways how I distinguish between them:
As you can see both strategic and tactical activities are time consuming. There is a time and place for putting more time into the tactics but to ensure meaningful impact, try to spend the majority of your bandwidth on high impact strategic execution activities.
If you want to learn more about being strategic beyond execution, I highly recommend the book by Dorie Clark called The Long Game which provides a lot of practical tips on how to be a long-term thinker in a short-term world.
2. Focus on few things and do them well
Juggling competing priorities and ability to context switch is at the core of what makes a good TPM. However, true multitasking is a myth. While TPMs manage multiple programs at a time, there is a point of diminishing returns. It is important to identify that point for yourself as every individual is different.
The perception that companies reward people who say Yes or spend long hours at work pushes us to take on more and more work. Being busy makes us feel important and valued. However, spreading yourself thin is a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later, you will see the negative effects like missing deadlines, low quality reports, poor communication etc. Learn to say No so you can focus on a few things and dedicate appropriate time to ensure you get high quality results.
By taking on fewer things, you will have the time and space for deep thinking that will lead to better outcomes not just for you but also for your project, team and organization.
However, don’t just start saying No to everyone who comes to you. It is still important to understand the request and assess tradeoffs. If you don’t have time that week or month, evaluate if this is something you can do next month once you wrap up one of your current priorities or can you push back something else on your plate to take on this new request or even find a quick workaround. You can also view such requests as an opportunity to identify future work for yourself or the team. I often say “Drop the right balls” and if you need help to understand which are the right ones, re-read the first point above :)
3. Take more end to end (e2e) ownership of programs/projects
Programs come in all sizes - some are small and might be across 2-4 teams and others may include up to 20 teams and 100+ team members. Extra large programs can often have multiple TPMs, each focused on a specialty area. However, a TPM’s role is not just about execution and tracking development. TPMs should be involved in the entire software/product development lifecycle. Understanding market research and requirements gives an understanding of the Why. Taking ownership of testing and release ensures that project launch is not just timely but also high quality.
End to end program ownership also gives you the ability to see the big picture and connect the dots. If every TPM is siloed only to their teams, things will often fall through the cracks. You are also more likely to hold yourself accountable when you feel the full ownership of the program which will do wonders to boost your confidence. You will not only gain valuable experience, but also build more relationships, improve your communication and stakeholder management skills and be recognized as the go-to person.
When you have multiple programs, it may not be possible to be the e2e owner on all of them. A good rule of thumb is to dedicate 60-70% of your bandwidth to medium to large programs that require you to be involved beyond just execution and reporting.
4. Have a communication strategy as opposed to reporting status
What’s the difference you might think? Reporting status updates is actually a subset of a communication strategy. If you just focus on status updates, you will be leaving out critical ways to manage your stakeholders. Communication is in fact the most important part of the TPM role. You can spend hours in tracking your projects to the last detail, but if your communication is weak and people don’t know what’s going on, it will hinder your progress and may even jeopardize the project goals. When you develop an execution plan at the onset of a project, be methodical about the communication mechanisms and ask yourself the following questions:
How will you utilize meetings vs offline communication?
What is the desired outcome of each type of meeting?
Who is your audience and what kind of information is relevant for each?
How often do you need to meet or communicate and at what granularity?
How much effort can I or should I spend on these activities?
Don’t report just for the sake of reporting. Be mindful of your own time as well as time required from other people. If you are driving a program, you should be on the same page with your core team members in terms of the status and risks. You should not have to ask them to dedicate additional time to contribute to your report.
5. Scale yourself and learn how to balance breadth vs depth
All of the above tips require dedicated thoughtfulness. They can also feel contradictory - how can I drive end to end while I focus on a few things. In other words, how can I achieve the breadth vs depth balance? The answer is in your ability to scale yourself - how to do more without doing more.
Learning to be intentional and leveraging other people or systems will provide you with ways to multiply your impact while keeping effort required linear.
Can you automate certain reports, create dashboards so that data is available to your stakeholders whenever they want. This could prevent last minute scrambling and late nights to produce a report for an important meeting.
Can you help an engineering team setup a lightweight system/process so they can manage their own sprint? This could free up your time to track dependencies with teams in a different organization.
I am sure you have heard this saying “If you give a (hu)man a fish, you feed them for a day. If you teach a (hu)man to fish, you feed them for a lifetime”
Create repeatable processes that will effectively put you out of low-value jobs so you can focus on higher value work!
I would love to hear from you all. What has or has not worked for you. Please comment below with feedback for this post and share your stories with the TPMify community!
Are you stuck in your role and trying to get to the next level? Are you tired doing the same things over and over. TPMify can help with your career goals so you can achieve excellence and be the most sought after TPM. Contact email@example.com to learn about our personalized coaching services.