Product Practice Pedagogy: Terrific Task Tracking
May 10, 2022
Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes
The Product Practice Forum(PPF) is an in-house ritual where product practitioners can seek peer-to-peer guidance, advice, and feedback on projects and problems. So I decided to utilize this resource and ask for feedback on my task tracking setup for a recent high-stakes project. Our team had to build a functioning prototype using new processes and technologies – all in 2-months.
The Challenge: To build a functioning prototype to showcase our MVP feature
The Team: 1 Product Designer, 2 Engineers, and myself, a Product Strategist
The Time: 2 Months
I live for this kind of work. Fast and scrappy; pushing into the unknown while placing big bets; utilizing new technology to create something entirely new, and learning as we go because what we’re doing has never been done.
The pressure to succeed is palpable, but rather than oppress, this pressure has the potential to propel.
That is if I can keep our small team tactically aligned and engaged across the fast-paced and ever-changing myriad of priorities, dependencies, and blockers.
I’m a confident person by nature, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t initially feel the unpleasant pang of self-doubt. A doubt I knew would only serve to cloud my ability to focus and execute the tasks at hand.
That’s why I was all too eager to check in with some of my Product Manager Guild colleagues at a new ritual dubbed the Product Practice Forum (PPF). Designed to provide peer-to-peer advice and problem solving, I signed up to get some feedback on my tracking setup for this above engagement.
While never easy to get one’s work critiqued (in public, no less), I knew that I could benefit from the experience of my peers who worked on similarly scoped projects. That’s why I bit the bullet, took one for the team, and got a little vulnerable, but as you’ll see from what I learned, it was totally worth it.
There is no one way to do it
Your approach should be rooted in real problems. For example, working across time zones on parallel design and development tracks. We need a task tracking setup that provides visibility across workstreams and tracks dependencies. We don’t want to overcomplicate it either. Jess summed it up: “your boards should work for you, not the other way around.”
Identify the right level of granularity
Task tracking exists on a spectrum with varying granularity, from lightweight to complex. For example, you can go lightweight and use a shared Google Doc for tracking tasks from a bulleted list – a simple solution that only answers the questions your team needs to answer. At the other end of the spectrum, for more granular task management, there is no shortage of products offering tons of custom filters (e.g., task priority), automation, or alternate views that visualize task dependencies. Of course, the right level of granularity will depend on several factors: the team’s maturity and/or makeup, type of engagement, and of course, what problems you’re ultimately trying to solve.
Select different tools for different things
What works for tracking engineering tasks may not work for research or design, and vice versa. You can use more than one task tracking tool if that’s what the team needs to keep moving. A Google Doc to align research and design activities and a Jira board for the Engineers? Sure!
Things change – accept it and move on
Your product strategy can change as more hypotheses and assumptions are validated or invalidated, so can your task board. Previously, I feared that changing the board too much was to admit I made a poor choice, to begin with. I was reminded that getting a board that works for your team is an iterative process. To this end, Sam uttered the words I didn’t know I needed to hear: “I changed the board’s layout 2-3 times throughout the project. Be flexible and make sure it’s serving you.”
When I first came to the PPF, the feeling of self-doubt was real. However, it didn’t last long.
They provided me with some valuable feedback on my setup, a much-needed confidence boost at a time when I was feeling low, and some incredible advice that has left me feeling willing and able regardless of what this project throws my way.
In this new world of remote work, it can be difficult to recreate the same kind of spontaneous, peer-to-peer support that used to be so common in the office – but I feel our new PPF ritual is a step in that direction. Our culture has always been one of continuous learning and improvement, and this is just one other way of doing that.
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