Monday, July 27, 2009

Take a Walk, Improve Your Product

I love to take work. Walking gets so much more accomplished, helps build better relationships, and allows me to get my work done faster.

Think about how many people you email each day that only sit a few feet away or are maybe in the next building over from yours. Think about how many email messages you send that might have struck the wrong cord, were misinterpreted, or led to confusion and delay. Then think about how many personal conversations you have had that delivered similar results. If you are like many of us, the number of email messages that went wrong over our careers far outweighs the number of conversations that ended poorly. So much is left to interpretation in email messages that is simply avoided in person.

According to the Pragmatic Marketing annual survey in 2008*, Product Managers receive 50 email messages a day and send 25. Let's assume you are like most Product Managers and send 25 messages a day. Now, I want to throw out a challenge to you: don't send that next email message. Get up from your desk and deliver it personally. Make this a daily habit.

For many years in my career I worked at HP where Management by Walking Around (MBWA) was highly valued. You could be more in touch with the people you worked with, have a better handle on the tasks and even emotions at hand, and develop stronger relationships with your colleagues by walking around on a regular basis.

Walking is not only good for your health, it makes you a better Product Manager. A key responsibility of Product Managers is to coordinate activities, schedules, and agreements between many stakeholders across the company. You need to influence others and keep everyone on the same page. You handle stressful decisions and cool heated emotions as deadlines approach and sleep deprivation of team members increases. Walking around gives you a chance to connect with your colleagues, key business stakeholders, and managers. Walking around gives you a chance to listen, to excite others, and be responsive to others in an immediate sense.

Before you decide to write that next email....STOP. Get up. Walk.

If this did not get you motivated for a walk, read this tweet from Business Week's JohnAByrne"Obesity: Now 9% of All Health Spending"

Next week, think about coming back to this site to let me know how well your walks turned out.

Many of the comments below were copied from Product Managers who read this article on LinkedIn.



derek said...

FROM PRAGMATIC MARKETING GROUP DISCUSSION ON LINKEDIN. From Jeff Foxworthy, Product Manager at Pragamtic Marketing: "I used to work in an office spread across 3 floors. Twice a day I would go to the top and make one lap per floor as I made my way down, talking to people as I went. This method wasn't the most efficient, but it was clearly the most effective. Granted, my team was co-located, and not everyone has this luxury. But when you've got it - use it! Face-to-face communication is always the most robust."

derek said...

From Wayne Meyer, Product Manager, SICK Inc., via the 280 Group Discussions on LinkedIn...

"Derek & Mike,

The only thing I'd add is, depending on the topic, you might still consider an email - after the fact. You can quickly summarize your conversation and still have documentation of the facts/schedule/changes, etc. Then you don't have to worry about whether the other person "took notes" during your chat.

Best Regards,

derek said...

From Martin Walker, Technical Advisor in the UK, via the Technology Marketing Group, on LinkedIn...

"Can't beat MBWA (Management By Walking Around)!"

derek said...

From Todd Wyder, VP Product Management and Development at Coe Truman, via the Pragmatic Marketing discussion group on LinkedIn...

"MBWA also has the advantage of keeping one in touch with the needs and issues of folks who are below you on the org chart. The insights gained from those folks often contain some real gems about issues the organization is facing.

Another great tip is when you are going to have a discussion with one or two folks, get up and take a walk outside the building. A change of venue can lead to better solutions and its harder for other people to interrupt folks who are on walk about."

derek said...

From George Shaw, Product Marketing Manager at A&D Technology, via the Pragmatic Marketing discussion group on LinkedIn...

"I have also used the walk around as a tool to interact with employees in all departments to collect feedback on product functionality and process issues. This practice has improved understanding of what a product manager does and what do they do for the company. The challenge will be how to extend this to our new international offices."

derek said...

From Richard Hechenbichler
Product Manager at HSBC Bank, via the Pragmatic Marketing discussion group on LinkedIn...

"Easy to say, but hard to do when you work in a large corporation that is spread amongst more than 80 countries and thousands of offices. I really would love to have this opportunity, but I still need to find other ways on getting customer relationships closer, any ideas?"

derek said...

Richard and George bring up a good point: how do you utilize MBWA in a large corporation with numerous locations? The logical answer might be to hop on a plane and go for a visit. There is nothing better than face-to-face interactions scheduled on a regular basis. Over the past 15 years, I have worked in several organizations spread across continents and found my eyes opening to new opportunities and relationships growing stronger when I was able to visit my colleagues in other locations.

I realize in tough economic times, travel is often cut from the budget, limiting your ability to reach out to others in person. For those of you facing this challenge, alternatives do exist. Let me offer one example (understanding there are many): pick up the telephone. All too often, we rely on email to send out updates, ask a quick question, or to gather information. Although email allows you to be productive, it limits your personal exposure to key stakeholders if this is your standard method of communication. Picking up the phone allows for more freedom in the conversation to add personal touches that build strong relationships. An obvious example, but maybe more powerful than you think.

Example #2: As a product marketing manager or product manager, you are often considered an expert on your product, service, or solution. One way to get out in front of people may be to host a training session in the remote location, schedule customer calls in the area in addition to your internal meetings (to get more bang for the corporate buck), or extend your travel schedule around a tradeshow or industry event in order to get to a nearby office.

Above all, frequent and personal communications are part of what makes Management by Walking Around (MBWA) successful. Regardless of the approach you take, consider ways that you can increase your personal presence with your key stakeholders around the business. Look for opportunities to "be there" and your will find the return on your investment in front of people to be lucrative.

derek said...

From Michel Hachey
at Advanced Chemistry Development, via the Pragmatic Marketing discussion group on LinkedIn...

"In the morning and at the end-of-my day, I try to make a round just to greet or say goodbye to people irrespective of departments or functions. Sometimes, this makes me aware of pertinent issues that I wouldn't otherwise know about.

If somebody else is leaving work at the same time, I will often offer to walk with them to the subway or taking a longer path home just to be sociable. You are not interrupting a work task. There is no formal agenda. This gives an opportunity to talk about something other than work, and to discover and share personal passions and interests.

Being outside of work settings, it also provides an excellent forum for discussing and venting on work issues and challenges in an informal way. Not only will you become more aware of challenges but also of triumphs--people love to talk about their victories.

Communication with remote sites and employees is more difficult. I have used the instant messaging capabilities in Skype to share hello, goodbyes, and to just wish people a great day. It is not as good as face-to-face interaction, but it is convenient in its own way. And you can use the voice over the internet function to better communicate if the text conversation evolves to that point."

derek said...

From Bob Corrigan
VP, Product Management at PreEmptive Solutions, via the Pragmatic Marketing discussion group on LinkedIn...

"It's well-known it's easy to demonize people you don't see, don't talk to, and who don't express an interest in you. Walking around tells you more than you'll ever learn in meetings, email or phone calls.

For guys with international offices - sorry, you're just going to have to get on a plane. Make it a practice to "be there" on a schedule, and occasionally "be there" unannounced. Making the world smaller makes your job easier, and improves the quality of life of everyone who needs to work with you."

derek said...

From Liz Love, Associate Product Manager at Perceptive Informatics (UK), via the 280 Group Discussions on LinkedIn...

"This is a bit of a pet subject of mine. I work from home, and have seen others who do the same thing suffering exclusion, because they become unapproachable. I am lucky enough to be a bit of a loud person, so when I visit our office (once a week, whether I need to be in or not) I make sure everyone (in the open plan office) knows I am in - in fact it's a bit of a joke that they can hear me before the see me!

I learn more about what is going on in that one day each week than I do via email - both on a personal and work level. I build relationships with people (know their wives' names, their kids names, their hobbies etc). I find that people are quite happy to ring me at home when they need to talk, rather than email, and at the worst, they ping me on IM without thinking. I am part of the team without needing to be in the office every day - so I can get my REAL work done!

Works for me!"

derek said...

From Tom Wolkin, Program Manager at HP, from LinkedIn discussion group...

"LinkedIn Groups
Group: Product Management
Subject: New comment (1) on "I love to take work. Find out how it can improve your day as a Product Manager and reduce the number of emails you need to send."
Good tip! I also worked at HP for a number of years, as well as Digital and Compaq. Digital had a strong email culture. Like you, over the years, I found myself sending more emails, even to coworkers in the cubes next to me.

I found it amazing how easily emails could go awry due to misunderstandings or lack of clarity which would lead to more emails trying to explain or clarify the situation.

Therefore, whenever I had a complex or urgent issue or needed to resolve an issue that stemmed from some misunderstanding in an email, I found that a brief in person or phone conversation often lead to a clearer understanding and more expedient resolution to the issue.

It also has the added benefit of getting you up out of your chair and moving which also pays dividends to your health and comprehension.