How GTD Areas of Focus relate to Product Management

One of my favorite GTD concepts is Areas of Focus. Using Areas of Focus in your personal productivity system helps group work into context. No need to look at todos like “Get House Painted” when you’re at work. It’s better to look at only work related stuff that you want to be focused on.

For the longest time I’ve had Areas of Focus like House, Family, Marriage, Gear and Travel. I had one Area of Focus for work called PivotDesk. Inspired by a recent webinar on GTD Connect given by David Allen, I decided to refine my work-related Areas of Focus.

Old: PivotDesk

New: Product Management, Feature Development, Product Performance, Product Marketing

As I went through this exercise, I had a chance to think through the different types of work a Product Manager interacts with to get the job done.

Product Management
Idea management, sprint planning, processes, team, budgets, timelines, product roadmaps, internal communication and demos.

Feature Development
Scoping, customer interviews, idea validation, wireframes, designs, details and QA.

Product Performance
Instrumentation, A/B testing, analytics and KPIs.

Product Marketing
Product tour, blog posts, inbound channels, segmenting visitors and drip email campaigns.

I’ve found each of these areas requires a different headspace, pace and communication style. When focused on Product Management, my head is very much in business and planning mode. I’m emaliing, looking at the calendar and updating people. When focused on Feature Development, I am putting myself in our customer’s shoes, feeling empathic and brainstorming ideas. I’m staring at personas and drawings taped to the wall and getting whiteboard marker stains all of my arms and clothes. I’m far, far away from my email and calendar.

What do your Areas of Focus look like?

When will it be done?

The physical world has a funny way of revealing insights into the digital world. Earlier in the day the PivotDesk Engineering team demoed a new feature that’s “almost done”. As I walked through our “almost done” new office without Internet, a floor or paint on the walls I didn’t really think things were almost done. It reminded me how varying the definition of done can be and how important it is to define that for any project.

office

We use a MVP approach at PivotDesk and I believe in iterating to make things better and better over time. Walking through our office had me thinking about how much effort should go into projects and when. For example, if our office had an Internet connection we could move in, sit on the dusty floor and start working. We would be in the environment and give real-time feedback like “this office would be better if we had desks and chairs”. On one hand this is true early feedback that should be useful, on the other hand it’s completely ridiculous.

How much effort should you put into the first version of a feature you are building? If a little more effort, polish, investment was made, how would your user feedback change? If the feature was a bit more stable, how much extra time and reduced costs would that provide to the project?

I am confident our office is going to “launch” on time and on budget just as features of the PivotDesk platform do. The trick is finding the optimal time to let the “users” in the front-door.

The Definition of “Going Live”

Today, Brad Feld walked into my office (well, the Techstars office) and yelled “Time to spin up more dynos PivotDesk!”  5 minutes earlier he and Jason Mendelson had tweeted about PivotDesk which drove 50 concurrent users to our Beta site looking for flexible office space in Boulder.

Our site caved, I added more dynos and restarted all processes and we were back (Thanks Ryan Cook).  The dumbest 10 minutes of my summer at Techstars Boulder thus far.

2012-07-25T22:45:23+00:00 app[web.1]: Started GET "/" for 174.29.90.125 at 2012-07-25 22:45:23 +0000
2012-07-25T22:45:23+00:00 heroku[router]: Error H12 (Request timeout) -> GET beta.pivotdesk.com/assets/layout/denver-img.png dyno=web.1 queue= wait= service=30000ms status=503 bytes=0

“Going Live” is a tricky thing in the enterprise and in Startups.  Leading a large team for the past 2 years at a global enterprise software company, “Going Live” was always about when we felt comfortable telling the disjointed Marketing department that they could make banners for conferences and write whitepapers to put on the website.  I heard “When will it be ready” thousands of times.  “Being Live” meant a 100% bug free, feature complete product that everyone thought was perfect.  Of course this was not realistic and we struggled constantly to come to a shared understanding across the company about this.

In a Startup, “Going Live” means people start tweeting about you.

Here are 2 lessons I reflected on today during my long run up Boulder Canyon to cool down after my fuckup:

1. The day you turn off some kind of basic auth is the day you should increase your infrastructure.

I was kicking back listening to Jeff Clavier drop knowledge on the Techstars teams when my phone started buzzing and the New Relic alerts started arriving.  I had no expectation of increased traffic today and we had not had a single infrastructure hiccup in 60 days since deploying to production for the first time.  My mistake was not thinking of the site as live even though it absolutely was.

2. “Being Live” is not the same thing as MVP, Alpha, Beta, Prototype

You’ve probably heard the question “Are you live?” and the response “Yes, live with a MVP” or “Yes, live with an Alpha”.  That’s all well and good.  Getting feedback fast, not being afraid to put things out there and iterating quickly are wonderful things for software development.  Powering those early versions with weak infrastructure is not acceptable.  Although I had all of the right stuff in place (monitoring, backups, analytics, ability to scale), I was not ready for today’s traffic increase.

So, learn from me and don’t let this happen to you.

Find flexible, scalable office space for your High Growth Business in Boulder and Denver right now with PivotDesk