A Product Manager’s time breakdown: 3 years in a row

Banner of 3 year evolution of a Product Manager

Read on to see how a Product Manager’s time is spent over the span of multiple years. What are some themes that emerge? Where time is actually spent? How the role evolves over time?

The analysis is based on the system I’ve been using all this time. You can read all about it in the Mind & Time management in practice post.

In a nutshell, what you will see in the analysis is:

  1. The direct impact that company-level decisions have on the way a product manager works.
  2. The evolution of the product manager role, as the “glue” between departments.
  3. What “product” means and engulfs in relation to point number two — product as the “glue”.

A few words on the analysis setup & method

Before diving into the analysis, it is worth sharing how this analysis is feasible.

This analysis is based on a todo system, evolved from the Getting Things Done method. This system is updated daily with tasks, so it holds data on the completion of tasks.

Additionally, each task holds information about the type of work needed in the form of tags, e.g. #product, #marketing.

Since this is an ever-evolving system, for 2021 there is additional information about daily goals achieved and “Saying Nos” on a daily basis. You can read more about the todo system in this post.

The analysis is mainly based on the tags of the completed tasks and spans from 2019 to 2021.

Analysis of 2019

In 2019, there were 1287 tasks completed throughout the year. For that year my working days were 210, excluding holidays, weekends, vacation, and sabbatical leave. This means that on average 6 tasks were completed per day.

Pie chart with top parts being, Product, Engineering, and Customer Success

Diving into the analysis per department we see that the majority of work is related to Product and Engineering with Customer Success following. In 2019 the team was working with scrum, thus a big part of product management revolved around feature development and supporting of the engineering team.

Additionally, working closely with customers has been in the spotlight for quite some time in Transifex. That’s why a lot of effort is on Customer Success tasks.

Finally, working along with the design team has been a big personal effort in 2019. Also, it is obvious that in 2019 little effort was spent on working with the Marketing and Sales departments. The majority of engineering time is related to managing scrum and the delivery of work with the respecting engineering team.

Analysis of 2020

In 2020, 1309 tasks were completed. The average number of tasks completed per day is 5,5 this time.

Pie chart showing the majority of work done on Product, Customer Success, Personal Development, Marketing, and Design.

What is instantly obvious in this analysis is the reduction of Engineering related tasks. This happened because in late 2019 Transifex switched from scrum development to another way of doing work, Agile Squads. With Agile Squads, the engineering team works more autonomously on the delivery of work, with less involvement of the Product team.

Securing time and effort from the delivery of work, left some space to work with other departments:

  • Working on solely product-related stuff increased by 5%. This effort had an impact on how well we organized on building our quarterly goals and prioritizing important work first.
  • The effort on Customer Success was increased by almost 7%! In 2020 as a product team we set a goal to engage more with our customers and users. We leaned in by conducting more discussions and research along with people using the platform.
  • Finally, we started working closely with Marketing. In 2020 we started conducting our first webinars and producing more content for marketing.

Analysis of 2021

This was the year that the whole company turned remote. Being remote we all started working more efficiently, actually doing more stuff. This is reflected in the 1550 tasks completed this year, an average of 6,7 tasks completed per working day.

Pie chart with Product, Design, and Customer Success taking big part of the pie

This year we formed an experience/design sub-team in Product, the Product Experience Team (PET), and I was a part of it. The impact on time is instantly visible, with Design related tasks taking over a whopping 21.5%. It is also obvious that this time was chopped down from pure Product and Customer Success tasks.

Some more observations:

  • Working with Marketing was still a theme in 2021, with a slight increase in tasks worked on.
  • In 2021 the product team invested more in its collaboration with the Sales team, which is also visible on the chart, going from a mere 0.8% in 2020 to 4% in 2021.
  • A significant increase of more than 2% on personal development.

During 2021 I started measuring some more stuff in the todo framework:

  • For the biggest part of the year, there was a single daily goal that should be accomplished no matter what. For each daily goal achieved a “[DONE]” marker was added to the daily goal. This idea is based on The One Thing.
  • A measurement on the protection of time by counting Yes/No replies to ad-hoc daily requests. A negative count was added to days with more Nos than Yes, a smiley “:)” on days with more Yes than Nos, and a plain zero (0) on days with no requests.
Goals met 62.2% of 225days, Time secured 8.7% of 184 days

It’s nice to see that in two out of three times the daily goal was met. So, more than half of the year the focus and goals were achieved.

While in the majority of the days there was no need to secure time and focus, three out of four times that I could secure my time I failed to say No.

Closure and takeaways

When starting with this framework I had no idea that such an analysis could be that fruitful! In retrospect, being proactive and including these tags really paid off!

As shared in the intro of this post, it has been a revelation on how company-wide decisions reflected on tasks. Removing the PM role from daily development instantly secured more time for work on other tasks.

Another impressive insight is around the space created due to withdrawal from the delivery and development of work. Switching to Agile Squads in late 2019, had a direct impact on the collaboration with other departments (Customer Success, Marketing, and Sales). More time with other departments means that the Product team can work more strategically and deliberately with the goals we all set. Finally, leaning to the departments closer to the people using the platform means that the Product team has a more clear focus on the impact and outcome of work than coordinate how and when work should be completed.

In my opinion, the most impressive takeaway is how task breakdown is evolving through the years. It looks like the company DNA on the way of work is reflected on these pie charts. The Product team is pivotal in strategizing and realizing a company plan, thus the pie charts are representative. For example, what we can read in the charts above are:

  • The importance of the relationship with people already using the platform, reflected on the big part that Customer Success occupies throughout all years.
  • In the same tempo, the importance of self-development and personal growth is depicted on the constant percentage of personal development across years.
  • The evolution to a more extrovert profile/company started in 2020, with closer collaboration with the Marketing department. This evolution is strengthened in 2021 by extending to the Sales department. The Product team can affect and is exposed more to the top of the funnel, prospects, and people exploring for a solution.
  • Finally, a company that is willing to experiment and question the way it works. This is visible on the big shift away from delivery, due to Agile Squads, late 2019. The benefits of that shift from a product perspective are already shared. Examining the change from the engineering perspective has a lot of benefits too!

If you find something useful please share! If you have something to add, I’d love to hear that and try adopting it!

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Mike Giannakopoulos

Mike Giannakopoulos

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Thinker, solver, experiences aficionado. Remotee worker, product Manager for hackthebox.eu. Always strive for self-improvement and balance.