- Good PMs and managers in general must be able to break down the end goals into discrete tasks and assign the same to the right people in their team.
- Good managers should be able to estimate(from experience& smarts) how much time will each individual task take and in which order should the tasks be assigned & completed.
- Good managers know what can be parallelized and what should be the checkpoints in the process.
- Good managers clearly establish at the begining, the exact output for each task and the project as a whole.
However, to put it in one sentence, good managers know how to break complex projects into meaningful, small tasks which add up to the whole. even when one task is assigned to one resource, it is best to define sub-tasks for the day and schedule necessary checkpoints to gauge progress.
Not doing this step often leads to situations where resources(especially techies/ geeks) overdo things, keep experimenting and keep chasing perfection. This often leads to costly delays in the project at hand. Defining sub-tasks and checkpoints makes sure everyone is focused on the task as well as the deadlines (And it is not just you who keeps an eye on the project timeline)
Often, young managers don’t do the above because they don’t have the experience/ can’t imagine how the tech team(or any other team you are working with) is going to go about it . This is almost always a mistake. As a manager, it is your job to be in control of the project. The same is true for startup CEOs. Even if you don’t code, you must be involved and in control of defining tech projects, requirements, timelines & checkpoints for technical projects. How will you get there when you haven’t ever done it yourself? Well that is an art and one good managers/ CEOs should build comfort with. As Ben Horowitz says, good product managers define the ‘what’ and let their juniors figure out the ‘how’
A more important exemplification of the manager’s ability to break down a complex task into smaller parts is seen during a startup’s early days. A lot of times founders trick themselves into thinking of business models . A particularly dangerous trait is when founders figure out multiple possible business models and keep swinging between them as they go on learning more about the customer, problem and market. This often leads to business models being force-fitted and this is dangerous.
Good founders, like good managers can break the bigger project(finding a sustainable business model) into smaller tasks(Relevant & important questions about the problem, consumer & market). In the initial days, founders must focus on ASKING the right questions & DISCOVERING the right answer. The focus must be on market visits, field work, consumer interviews, user behavior and NOT business model. The answers to these questions will then qualify as ‘Validated Learning’, what Eric Ries calls ‘the currency of a startup’ in his famous book ‘Lean Startup’
This is helpful in 2 ways:
1) If you have the answers to the right questions, the business model selection becomes very easy. You can easily pick a business model which is in sync with the answers you arrived at
2)When you take the question-first approach, you can potentially imagine newer business models more suited to your consumers and market. This is always a better model than just fitting an existing business model. Plus, you can always keep the existing business models for reference anyway
So focus on asking the right questions, get close to the user & market to unearth the answers. The rest will take care of itself.