I’m a fairly non-controversial content creator, but nothing got my audience more stirred than when I advised product managers to have at least three months worth of ready-to-go tasks in a backlog.
I acknowledged this was a hard feat to achieve, but having a substantial backlog allows product managers to thrive. Knowing what comes ahead allows you to work in peace without compromising quality in favor of making it to an available development slot.
To have your team work on items in a mature state, you do need sufficient lead time. What is this? How can you achieve it? Why is it beneficial for a product manager? All those questions, and more, will be answered in this article!
Lead time in product management is the amount of time it takes to deliver a product or feature to the customer, from the moment the product or feature is conceived, to the moment it is released to the users. Lead time in product management can be influenced by various factors, such as:
Now, while product managers aren’t project managers, in practice, you do have to adhere to deadlines and timebox certain activities. It’s especially painful when your product has to set new targets and mini-roadmaps every three months.
In my experience, it does take around three months per medium-sized project to get it ready for development. During that time, you should take the following actions to ensure it’s successful:
As you can see, it’s a lot! Couple that with the fact that you need to run this process in parallel for several projects with tons of unrelated meetings, bug fixes, and improvements on already introduced increments, and a scary picture starts to emerge…
That’s why I recommend having a three month lead time. This way nothing is rushed and you have time to implement the best product management principles and techniques and prevent half-baked solutions from making it to production.
Don’t get me wrong, not every piece of work will go through such a complicated process. Common sense still applies and also, as product manager, you are allowed to take chances. There will be real cases when “released is better than perfect” and your job is to win a race.
A great example here was the emergence of ChatGPT. Microsoft rushed integration with it and despite many issues, took the lead. Google is now “chasing the leader” and it doesn’t appear like their Bard AI is anywhere close to ChatGPT’s fame.
But this is a rare exception. Most likely you will be working with a more challenging process, where the quality and market fit will be the goal, not the release date.
I wish I could open this paragraph by saying it’s simple, but I can’t. The easiest way I know to build up the lead time is to make peace with the fact that not many ideas coming from your work will get implemented in the next three months.
You might be thinking, “But Bart, what should I do in the meantime? The stakeholders will have my head on a stick if I decide that!”
Don’t worry, mine would be too! Still, the goal is worth the extra effort, trust me! In any way, this will be easier to achieve if you are just starting with a new team and/or product.
On top of that, you can decide to give a little time to the team. I’m willing to bet you that they will be thrilled to hear they have more available to work on bugs and technical debt, or perform some of the code refactors. This is for the greater good!
To actually build that lead time, you will have to work two times as hard. This requires a lot of refinements and workshops with the team to collect enough quality backlog entries. I do suggest you do a refinement with the team each day, just after the daily meeting.
This will also put some additional pressure on the supporting departments (design, data analysis, user research, etc.) and make sure they’re aware of your plan. Of course, you’ll need to choose what to pursue during and after the lead time build-up, but this is a story for another time!
Let’s return one last time to the three month lead time. Again, I’m aware of how hard it will be and I can even picture your team protesting. I’ve been there and I understand your point.
That being said, if you keep chasing your tail to deliver rough ideas, you won’t achieve proper product management. You should try to serve your users with the best quality updates. Only having enough lead time can enable this, while also keeping stakeholders and their Excel sheets happy.
Featured image source: IconScout
LogRocket identifies friction points in the user experience so you can make informed decisions about product and design changes that must happen to hit your goals.
With LogRocket, you can understand the scope of the issues affecting your product and prioritize the changes that need to be made. LogRocket simplifies workflows by allowing Engineering, Product, UX, and Design teams to work from the same data as you, eliminating any confusion about what needs to be done.
Get your teams on the same page — try LogRocket today.
Product marketing helps you determine the goals and go-to-market strategy of your product and helps you better adapt to market shifts.
Carlos Jimenez, VP of Product at KingMakers, dispels the “dangerous” misconception that product- and sales-led cultures can’t coexist and thrive together.
A marketing plan is a structured guide for a company’s marketing activities across a specific period.
Alan Fliegelman shares how his work at DHI is transforming the job search process and the various transitions he’s seen in his time there.