Why the Best Product Managers Love Interruptions

Moustafa and Sarah — on the Aha! engineering team and product/UX team, respectively — work together at a recent company "onsite." | Photo by Jodi B Photography

July 14, 2023

Why the Best Product Managers Love Interruptions

by Aha!

Distractions vs. interruptions. Both can interfere — especially when you are fully engaged and in the zone. It can be disorienting to be pulled away from what you are focusing on. But the two are not the same. Smart product managers push distractions aside while embracing interruptions as opportunities to solve challenges and help the team.

Interruptions interfere — but for a good reason. If you can learn to embrace them, you have a better chance of creating value for yourself, your team, and your customers.

We have written before about being interrupt-driven. It is core to how we work at Aha! and the basis of The Responsive Method (TRM), our framework for personal and business success. We realize that the best time to help someone is when their need is fresh.

But while it is easy to say this, it can be harder to act on. Interruptions are everywhere, especially for product managers. If engineering is asking about the scope of a feature, it is because they need context to give delivery estimates. If customer support is sending you a bug to review, they want to know if a solution can be implemented. Before you know it, it is 3 p.m. and you still have a long list of to-dos.

Does being interrupt-driven mean you cannot set aside time to focus? Definitely not. But it does mean that you have to hone your ability to identify which interruptions merit attention right now and which can wait. And you have to develop strategies for juggling meaningful interruptions against heads-down time.

All interruptions are not equally meaningful. Seeing the purpose behind the ping is a product manager's superpower.

To provide some clarity, we asked four product managers at Aha! to track their time for a week — paying special attention to the type of interruptions that they found most meaningful and how they made time for them. These are the types of interruptions that our product team embraces:

Interruptions that spur progress

Chrissi Bernardo was alerted of a major blocker on a big project. Neglecting it could mean delaying the release of the new look for custom roadmaps in Aha! Roadmaps. So she set aside what she was doing and connected with the development lead. They worked through potential solutions and selected one that balanced effort against impact.

Chrissi tries to approach daily tasks like she approaches prioritizing features — assessing planned work as well as interruptions against the team's goals and focusing on what is most valuable. She says, "I center my day around what is most important. There are days when I still get tempted to overload my to-do list. But in those situations, I revisit our goals and focus on where I can have the biggest impact."

Interruptions that align the team

Sarah Moisan-Thomas reflected on the little interruptions that add up — Slack discussions, design changes, and unplanned feature work. Each is a chance to build confidence as a product team — relying on each other to share fresh insights and re-align on strategy.

She manages non-urgent interruptions by tackling them in batches — jotting down what is needed in a daily note. She says: “Interruptions can feel destabilizing. But if I can address a few at a time, I am more efficient. So I try to designate 'power hours' in the day where I can solve for anything unexpected that comes up. Creating room for the interruptions calms the chaos."

Interruptions that build trust with engineering

Nathaniel Collum was asked to re-spec a feature to solve a Jira integration issue — an engineering teammate proposed something that would be more efficient to implement. This kind of interruption can feel almost serendipitous. Jumping on a quick Zoom call in the moment means you can move forward faster — together.

Nathaniel says, "I welcome anything that drives better outcomes for our customers. So I try to weigh interruptions against the priorities on our roadmap. I meet with my manager every week to validate these priorities. If I am clear on where we need to help customers next, I can be more disciplined about which interruptions are opportunities to add value right now and which can be set aside to look at later."

Interruptions that deliver customer value

Kelly Sebes often adjusts her calendar to fit in a customer call. Connecting with the people who use our software brings her some of her best insights about how we can serve them better. Even when calls are unplanned (and many are), it is worth it to learn more about customer goals, challenges, likes, and dislikes — directly from them.

Kelly says, "Things are bound to come up throughout the week. When presented with an interruption, I ask myself, 'Will doing this right now enable someone else’s progress?’ If the answer is yes, I want to focus there."

Embracing interruptions can be hard. But based on the experiences of four product managers, doing so can lead to the most meaningful work of the week.

Product managers are results-oriented and go, go, go. That is why getting pulled away from planned work can feel frustrating. But making time for interruptions will drive results, and not just for you — for cross-functional teams, the business, and your customers, too.

Rise to your next product challenge. Try Aha! software today.



Aha! is the world's #1 product development software. We help more than 1 million product builders bring their strategy to life. Our suite of tools includes Aha! Roadmaps, Aha! Ideas, Aha! Whiteboards, Aha! Knowledge, and Aha! Develop.

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