Product Managers: Celebrate the Interruptions
June 27, 2017

Product Managers: Celebrate the Interruptions

by Brian de Haaff

You start the day off ready to cruise through your schedule and To-do list. And then… the speed bumps appear out of nowhere. Impromptu meetings. Last-minute requests. Fire drills from the sales team. If this sounds like your typical work day, I have good news for you — you are a fortunate product manager.

Interruptions are not obstacles to your work. Interruptions are opportunities to achieve your goals and solve challenges along the way. Sounds wrong, right?

Let me explain. Maybe this sounds contrary to what you have always been told, that interruptions distract from your productivity and should be tuned out. But tuning out is a mistake.

Reframe the way you think about interruptions — an interruption simply means someone needs your help. If marketing is coming to you for insight on how to position the new feature, it is because you are an expert and they need your help. If the support team is asking you about the timing of new functionality, it is because they want to help customers know what is coming and when.

When you help people who depend on you, you earn their trust and love. This is why you should cherish every question and problem that comes your way.

Do not get me wrong — I am not suggesting that you need to deeply engage with everyone who comes your way. But at a minimum, you should seek to understand what they are looking for. Maybe there is an easy answer, or you can point them to someone else. Over time, you can learn to pick out what really matters from the noise. You can spot what aligns with where you are headed.

We embrace interruptions at Aha! — we know that each one is a chance to strengthen a relationship. I write about this extensively in my bestselling new book Lovability, where I share how to build products and companies that people really love.

Here is how product managers can embrace interruptions:

When someone reaches out with a need or issue, do not just push it aside for later — take a peek. Is it something you can solve quickly or will it take major effort? If the latter, does it align with what you are trying to accomplish?

Now, dig a little deeper. Consider why the request has been made and whether it will bring you a new understanding. To do this, you must measure each interruption (every request, idea, and piece of feedback) against your goals. This will reveal which ones merit your immediate efforts and which ones are less urgent. And of course, it means that you need to know where you are going.

Once you have your answer, respond immediately. At Aha!, we call this “Yea or nay now.” The idea is that responses should be given quickly — even if the answer is, “I cannot do this right now.” You should also deliver the message with kindness and transparency, sharing the “why” behind your answer. This helps you and the requestor move on to the next task.

The more you practice handling interruptions and resolving issues quickly, the more efficient you will become with your time.

Sure, unexpected questions and problems can feel like nuisances, shifting your focus and spoiling your day. But I promise this is a good thing. It means you are valuable and can have a real impact on the business every day.

When you learn to cherish these interruptions, you will no longer see them as obstacles to work — but rather, a means to achieve greatness with your team and customers fast.

How do you approach interruptions?

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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