Steve Jobs is a figure that many product managers admire. In fact, he is considered one of the greatest product managers of our time.
Jobs was a visionary who was able to build stories around that vision, a leader who synthesized the best specialists on earth to build his vision, and a product manager who cared about the why and the what instead of focusing on the how.
What you might not know is that Jobs was infamous for causing delays in product launches, his high standards, demands, and perfectionism often being the root cause.
In other words, managing time was not his superpower.
Steve Jobs is not the only famous person to whom this applies. For instance, Salvador Dali was known for being extremely late to appointments and not completing projects on time. Winston Churchill was known for missing deadlines while working on speeches. Bill Clinton was known to struggle with time management and meeting deadlines. The list goes on and on.
There is a good chance you can relate to these famous individuals; time management is hard.
So what is it that makes time management so tricky? How can you overcome the hurdles, and improve your productivity? In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the 4 Ds of time management:
Table of contents
- Why time management is crucial for product managers
- What is the 4 Ds framework?
- How to categorize your tasks
- How to apply the 4 Ds to product management
- Coaching your team to develop time management skills
Why time management is crucial for product managers
As a product manager, you are responsible for discovering, developing, and launching new features and functionalities, which requires you to perform market research to understand market trends and customer needs.
Your tasks include conducting a competitive analysis to identify opportunities and threats and user research to identify customer needs. You need to develop and test prototypes to validate the solution before building it. Then, you need to work with your product team to actually build the solution and ensure timely delivery.
But your work doesn’t end there. Once the product is nearing market readiness, you work with marketing on the launch plan. Once launched, you monitor key metrics and take corrective action when needed to ensure success.
Rest assured that during all this activity, unexpected issues will arise. For instance, delays in delivery or unexpected customer feedback will require reallocation of your time. On top of this, stakeholders will ask for your attention to discuss new ideas for features, roadmap updates, customer issues, user experience and usability improvements, etc.
As you can see, effective time management is essential for product managers to meet stakeholder expectations, stay within budget, and keep moving the product toward its envisioned objectives.
Great time management skills help you to keep the product on track and ensure the final output is delivered on time, within budget, and to the customer’s satisfaction.
What are the 4 Ds of time management?
You may be feeling a little overwhelmed at this point. Where will you find the time to manage all the tasks you’re accountable for?
When it comes to time management, there is some good and some bad news. As former business owner and motivational speaker Michael Altshuler put it, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
Being the pilot, you can well benefit from some guidance. This is where the 4Ds framework comes into play.
The 4Ds is a framework for managing time more effectively and efficiently. The four Ds stand for:
Let’s have a look at what each of them means.
Delete, in the context of the 4Ds of time management, stands for identifying and eliminating those tasks that are unimportant or add no value.
Why is this concept so obvious, yet so hard? It’s difficult to let go because a lot of us feel highly responsible for the activities in our purview.
Do yourself a favor and eliminate those tasks that are time-consuming, redundant, or don’t align with your product goals. This enables you to create space to focus on activities that are crucial to achieving your product goals.
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You can’t do everything at once. That’s why it’s so crucial to distinguish what is essential and what is not. Delete the latter to improve your productivity.
Even after you’ve scrapped the most irrelevant activities, you still have plenty left. Now let’s have a look at the second D in the 4 Ds framework: delegate.
Delegating, in this case, means assigning tasks to others who are better equipped to handle them rather than trying to do everything yourself.
It’s important to note that delegating means assigning tasks to others who are better equipped to handle them, not passing the buck on tasks you don’t enjoy doing. You’d be surprised how often this happens and the impact it has on the people to whom the tasks are delegated.
Identify tasks that can be completed by others and assign those tasks to them. This includes outsourcing tasks to third parties. Doing so enables you to free up time, complete tasks more quickly and with higher quality, and help others to utilize and further develop their skills and experience.
If done well, delegation is a powerful tool for building highly productive and efficient teams.
As mentioned previously, you can’t do everything at once and you can’t do it all. If you’ve deleted tasks that don’t add value and delegated activities that others are better suited to complete, you are well on your way to getting things done.
Now, look at the urgency of the remaining activities. Which should you complete ASAP and which can you postpone?
Identify tasks that aren’t urgent or critical and schedule them for a later date when you have more time or resources available.
Deferring tasks by prioritizing the most critical ones and moving the less important ones is another way to free up your time and focus first on what matters most.
If you’ve used a prioritization framework and ranked the activities. my hat’s off to you. You have almost completed the final steps of the 4Ds time management framework!
At this stage, you should have identified the tasks that are most crucial to your goals and can be tackled immediately. Now, nothing stands in your way, so go take action!
How to categorize your tasks
Though it sounds pretty straightforward, executing the 4 Ds framework isn’t as simple as you might think. How do you effectively identify and categorize your activities to know which tasks you should delete, delegate, defer, and do?
Let’s have a look at some tips, tricks, tools, and frameworks that can support you in carrying out the 4 Ds framework in a structured way:
- Look at historical data
- Get an outside perspective
- Prioritize rigorously
- Review regularly and correct course
- Make tools and software work for you
Look at historical data
If your list consists of activities that have been done before, look at historical data and lessons learned. What do they tell you about what worked well? Are there any recommendations on what to avoid and what to do?
The importance of looking at available information is not to be underestimated. It always surprises me how this is often overlooked or lacks ownership.
Why would you spend time doing something that data tells you doesn’t need to be done? Why would you spend time trying to complete an activity yourself when lessons learned show you others are better at doing it and delegation has proven to increase quality?
Get an outside perspective
Time management is difficult — especially if keeping your worries in perspective is not your strong suit.
Sharing your challenges with others brings fresh views and perspectives. Your colleagues can help you let go of biases and judgments and focus on facts. This allows you to develop a better understanding of things and more aptly evaluate the importance of something.
It never hurts to get an outside view.
One may be the loneliest number, but it also gives clarity — especially when it comes to deciding what to defer and what to do. Prioritization frameworks are your best friend when it comes to the 4 Ds of time management
The first framework worth mentioning is the Eisenhower Matrix, which looks at the importance and urgency of tasks. If a task is urgent and important, you might want to tackle it first. If the task isn’t urgent but important, defer it to a later time. If it is not important but urgent, delegate it, and if it is neither urgent nor important, delete it.
You might find that defining what is urgent or important is difficult or that you have too few criteria to base your prioritization on. If that’s the case, there are countless other prioritization frameworks that can aid you, such as MoSCoW, Kano, RICE, and weighted scoring frameworks.
Review regularly and correct course
It’s important to regularly review your activity list. Internal and external influences can at any time change your priorities.
Regularly reviewing your tasks allows you determine whether all are still relevant and reassess which category they belong to. On top of that, it enables you to take corrective actions when needed.
Make tools and software work for you
Why not track, automate and get insights by using tools and software aimed to improve your time management and work more efficiently?
When you have a process in place, I’d recommend you consider using tools that provide to-do lists, task managers, allow you to label and tag categories, provide prioritization functionality, and so forth.
How to apply the 4 Ds to product management
The 4 Ds of time management is an extremely helpful tool for product managers because they are constantly focused on making trade-offs to create products that customers need and end up loving — a product with sticky features that goes viral and has an ever-increasing community of champions.
Let’s go over few examples of how product managers can use the 4 Ds to maximize the efficiency with which they deliver value to their customers:
- Maintain focus by deleting
- Master the art of delegation
- Set the right priorities
- Measure progress toward reaching objectives
Maintain focus by deleting
Ever had an endless list of backlog items? Have you found yourself telling a stakeholder their idea is great and promising to put it in the backlog only to tack it to the bottom of your to-do list? Let’s be honest — we all have.
In those situations, there is a good chance you’ll never complete that task. So why not simply delete it?
Deleting items helps you and your teams to stay focussed. It helps you keep a crisp, clean, and well-managed backlog, reducing the risk of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out by all the things that are still yet to be delivered.
Master the art of delegation
As a product manager, you aim to deliver experiences that have the “wow” factor for your customers. However, your team might not have the skill set needed to create and maintain the kind of features that bring this experience. Even if it does, strategically, it doesn’t always make solid business sense to develop this capability in-house.
In these cases, you might consider making a build-vs.buy tradeoff — in other words, delegating some of your activities to third-party vendors.
Set the right priorities
To defer or to build now, that is the question.
As a product manager, you are constantly bombarded with great ideas and requests on what to build next. Understanding what brings the most value to both customers and the company, as well as what you can develop in an acceptable time frame, allows you to drive the conversation with your stakeholders.
Prioritization frameworks are a product manager’s best friend. Add themes and objectives and key results into the mix and you are well on your way to deferring and doing.
Before you know it, you’ll be creating a roadmap that inspires your organization, reduces the number of opinions, and points everyone in the same direction.
Measure progress toward reaching objectives
Using the 4Ds of time management also helps you identify potential issues and delays. You can then define a plan and take corrective action to mitigate them.
Measuring your progress toward achieving your goals helps you and your team stay focused on the big picture.
Coaching your team to develop time management skills
Now that you have time management superpowers thanks to the 4 Ds framework, why not spread this knowledge to your team?
Below are five tips to help you instill good time management practices in your team:
- Communicate the importance of time management
- Set clear goals and deadlines
- Encourage prioritization
- Create a culture of accountability
- Promote communication and collaboration
Communicate the importance of time management
It’s your job to help your team understand the importance of time management.
Provide examples of cases that could have benefited from better time management and how it relates to the success of the product. Explain how great time management supports a successful launch.
Set clear goals and deadlines
Goals and deadlines provide structure and something to work toward.
Set clear, measurable goals and deadlines. Communicate what is expected and by when and explain how success is measured.
Watch the Highlander movie with your team to get them hyped — there can only be one!
Alternatively, schedule a meeting to go over some of the prioritization frameworks described above.
The point is to introduce the importance of prioritization and demonstrate to your team how to use the 4Ds of time management to categorize tasks.
Create a culture of accountability
Are your team members accountable for meeting their deadlines and delivering their tasks? Encourage them to take ownership and communicate any issues or challenges as soon as they arise.
Note, however, that creating a culture of accountability can easily turn into a culture of fear when not managed well. Don’t use missed deadlines as a means to punish; use them as a means to learn and continuously improve.
Promote communication and collaboration
The power of many minds working together is greater than the power of a single mind. By putting your heads together, you can provide better insights and solutions than one person can on their own.
Encourage people to openly communicate and collaborate to help identify and resolve any challenges they may experience as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Lead by example
If you want others to feel inspired and experience the importance of good time management, you’d best lead by example.
Model great time management habits yourself. Prioritize your activities and demonstrate in everything you do how to effectively use the 4Ds of time management.
There are only 24 hours in a day. Effective time management is all-important.
Understanding and knowing how to decide when to not do something, when to leverage the experience of others, and what to do now, next, and later is crucial.
Whether you use it in your personal life or in your professional life as a product manager, the 4 Ds of time management is a great framework to help you efficiently manage your own agenda.
Featured image source: IconScout
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