Where should I invest my time?


School book theory says you can only benefit from an investment if it is made in the bottle neck. How about using the concept in personal planning?

bottleneck-949247-edited.jpgIn my career I hold positions including being general manager for semiconductor plants as well as electronics production lines. These facilities are built with considerable capital so a very careful process is needed to come up with optimization of investments. 

The PM as “master-of-all”

The product manager role is unique in companies – having interfaces with almost every other part of the organization. This does lead to numerous (useful) meetings and interactions. And maybe some less important stuff …

Back in 1999 the Swedish Physics professor Bodil Jönsson wrote a very popular short story on “Ten thoughts on time”. She introduced the concept of time split. One hour of uninterrupted time is very much more worth than 6 x 10 minutes short slots.

From production theory we understand the concept of set-up time. Changing a car manufacturing line from Sedans to Station Wagons etc. Being able to spend hours on your own – eg looking into strategic insights is certainly very valuable. It rarely happens of course – due to the constant incoming flux of emails and phone calls …

Working as a PM consultant is similar to being a PM in-the-line. Sometimes I have 10 different assignments/upcoming training classes running in parallel. Weeks when I actually plan ahead and book time slots in advance would be the weeks where I accomplish the most.

Investing in the Bottle neck

To come back to the production line. In a semiconductor plant there are typically “stations” where the microchips to be are being processed numerous times. If volume capacity (pcs/hour) is matched there will be a continuous flow of material. But in real life – there is always a bottle neck – where material will pile up waiting for being processed. Investing in a higher capacity – maybe a more modern machine or just optimizing the process method will solve the issue. Or – rather – move if further along the line creating a new bottle neck. In other words – a never ending story of finding and solving bottle necks.

This is exactly what we have with our products. The bottle neck for profitability might be in missing features. “If we had function x like our competitor – our sales would sky rocket ..”

Or – it might be in marketing and sales. “If people in those new markets were aware of our solution they would certainly go for it”

Translated to PM lingo:  in the first case – invest in insights and product development. In the 2nd spend more time developing a compelling marketing story to be distributed in appropriate channels. Read more about the art of story telling here. 

Exactly as in the case of the production line – once you removed one bottle neck – another one will surface in an adjacent – or very different area. Again – a never ending story of chasing bottle necks!

 Our own time is really the only asset we (should have) full control of. Why not use two basic theories from manufacturing:

  1. Efficiency: Minimize Setup time (by planning at least hourly time slots for own work)
  2. Effectiveness: Optimize your impact by investing in your product bottle neck

If you want to read more about how product management organization and interfaces with other functions, download our Product Management framework.

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About The Author

Erik has extensive experience in product management, business management and development. Within the software, electronics and hardware, Erik has pursued commercial success.