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Successful product professionals are always looking for an edge. I’ve done it all my career and have enjoyed some success using the 5 simple strategies (plus a sixth bonus) that other successful professionals like you and I can use daily to improve performance. If you need an edge or just need a boost in your productivity…this is the post for you.

I know what you are thinking, “Brian, we already use Agile to make us agile.” Yes, we’ve built an industry of products for ourselves to optimize our teams and our work around Agile with Scrum, Kanban boards, Scrum-ban, and so on. Marketing and Product Marketing has seen some of the benefits of Product Management and has started using these techniques with their teams. All great. I use the “Big A” for the “little a” myself. I’m talking about your Scrum of One. How is that going?

If you had $1 dollar in your pocket doing nothing and you could do something that would give you back $1.10, would you do it? Maybe? Maybe not? What about $1,000 you could turn into $1,100? That sounds like a get rich quick scheme, right? We would all do it though if it was the $1,000 dollars because a 10% return on our money sounds great and tangible to just about anyone. Some of you might not bother with the $1. It is the same thing, but we skip over what we might consider a small gain because it does not feel like it is worth the effort. The small changes that yield the same results of a bigger bet are just as valuable in the long run. Having a daily system is just like making that $1 investment. Did you make that investment in yourself yesterday?

The Habits Pros Use

These 5 simple–and obvious–things can improve your daily output.

  1. Rise and shine—wake up early with a realistic plan of what needs accomplished (emphasis on realistic)
  2. One better—do it better than you did yesterday
  3. Always document 
  4. Do evaluate and celebrate it
  5. Segment your work for the next day

It is the simplest systems that yield the greatest results and help you exceed reach. These daily tasks will make you more successful in your leadership role—because they work. The path towards your individual goals can take you down many roads. This system has helped me personally and I would love for it to help you too. I’ve given my personal system the mnemonic of R.O.A.D.S. described here because of the new paths it can take me on daily.

Rise and Shine

The early bird gets the worm, right? Just Google the benefits of waking up early and the impact it has had on successful people. I’m an advocate for early risers and have seen the benefits in my own work-life. The greatest army in the world is known for doing more before 9 am than most do all day. There are also physical health benefits from consistent sleep patterns.

Do you have a system in place to know what you are going to accomplish when you wake up—what you want or need to accomplish for the day? When I don’t it is painful. If you don’t, then like me when I slip we are at the mercy of our inbox, phone, texts, co-workers or the universe for that matter to only accomplish that to which you are reacting. If you wake up later, that compounds the problem.

One of the worst criticisms that can be branded on you as a product leader is that you are reactive. Even if you are the top boss, you can’t just show up and respond in your business. Yes, there are a few professions that you could get into if you simply want to respond, but being a product leader is not among them. Even “first responders” are not sitting around all day waiting for things to happen. They’re preparing the tools for service and training daily to ensure that they can meet the need when they are called in to serve.

Are you ready for action and improving daily?

One Better

The daily improvement must be built into everything that you do. I used my “one better” system with my team when I was leading Sales & Marketing Operations. Most of us get into product leadership because we like solving big, complex, hairy, audacious problems. We enjoy the discovery as makers. It is the same for product marketers trying to discover product market fit and the true voice for messaging to our customers. If you are not improving, then you are stagnant. Being idle even for a short season will stagnate growth in your product and business. It limits your ability to exceed the reach of your product’s potential for solving your customers, prospects, and potentials greatest needs.

You won’t know if you are being better if you don’t have a system in place to track your activities and your daily outcomes. Agile is everywhere today because it has been shown to work in software development because waterfall methods failed time and time again. A lack of engagement with the customers until the item shipped was a failed system. We know this, so with Agile using Scrum we develop epics and stories around the needs of our customers in order to make sure we are working on the right things daily. We prioritize our backlogs, so that we are doing what is important now. When was the last time you developed a story around your own goals. As a…I want to…so I can…

Try it. If you want to try a simple messaging bot I built for myself to pull these nuggets out, click the link for the simple story development bot.

If you look across the aisle where I spent a good portion of my career in Sales Operations leadership, you see the growing value of systems for Sales. I worked in organizations where the sales representatives used to gripe about the customer relationship system (CRM) that they had to use. I know first hand that any CRM is better than your memory—because it is a system. I can tell you with certainty, that every sales team that I have ever worked for in the last 17+ years had one thing that was consistent: the representatives with the highest usage of the CRM were ALWAYS the individuals that stood on stage at the annual sales meeting accepting the rewards—always. Why? It is because they understood the value of a system for their sales activities and the ability to evaluate and have access quickly to their data. Never failed. Every stinking year without fail. Personal systems work in Sales.

In most sporting activities you only need to be one better to win, right. The same has also been true for the marketing teams of which I have been a part. Being a little better than the competition is going to get the greatest results. Although they are arriving later to the party, Agile marketing, marketing automation, and marketing management operation systems are the way to go to improve the output of your marketing team. Improving on the daily output is the path to continued innovation and eventual success.

When I was at Aprimo, the leader in Marketing Operations, as the Sr. Product Marketing Manager we were developing Kanban boards and Agile documenting systems into our product for Marketing teams. I’m a little biased towards Aprimo, but Workfront and others have made some huge strides in areas for using an agile system within your marketing team. Systems are only as good as the effort behind them. As a Marketer I know that I struggle with estimating the effort it will take, prioritization of work, and socializing the finished product. Agile Marketing methodologies definitely will help in those areas, but there is still value in a waterfall approach for many activities in Marketing–we are 60/40 split still Agile/Waterfall. Find a balance that works for you personally and your team.

How well are you or your team using the system(s)?

Always Document for Success

As I stated above, the proof is in the success of those that use the system to keep track of their activities. Don’t leave it until the end of the week when you are home if you travel in your role or have built in some down time to catch-up on work activities.  I would hear from Sales representatives in my Sales Ops role for years that they wait until Friday to document their activities from the week. Unless your mind is like a steel trap that does not forget anything, that is a flawed practice.

I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and an MBA in marketing and finance. One of the first things I learned is that our memory of details gets fuzzier even within a few days of an event. The more recall you have when documenting, the better your information captured from customers and prospects will be. Real professionals have the best data or information systems. Don’t let your contact with potentials, prospects and existing customers be left up to the highlights of your memory when you are ready to do product planning. There is riches in the niches of your notes.

I’m telling on myself a little about how I was able to change the behavior of others that I did not necessarily have direct leadership over. As a Sales Operations executive, I learned that I had to combat bad practices from some Sales representatives with a midweek data pull by myself and the team for the Friday deal review calls. It did not necessarily change all the bad habits of not documenting, but we saw a dramatic increase in the data points captured and these reps’ performance improved over time. Funny how that happens when you get them to document closer to their activity and interactions.

I’m not letting Marketing and Product Marketing off the hook here because this one absolutely drives better marketing and builds better products. Win/loss analysis and getting outside the four walls of the office are by far some of the top things that successful marketers do, but so few actually do reach out to customers, prospects, and potentials to actually do them. It’s hard work. I get it. I have done the win/loss analysis myself and it takes time. The investment of time is absolutely worth it—especially when you document these activities and have a system to capture what you learned.

How do you know if it is worth the time to document?

Do Evaluate the Output

Everything is for nothing if you have not measured what you have done. Retrospectives anyone? They work in our personal systems as well. It is like the memory issues—dependent on your ability to recall what has happened and then make an evaluation of the success or failure of the activity. I talk about the services we offer to help with exceeding reach at my company’s blog, but it is also built around the capture and evaluation of data. The great news is that the amount of technology or software solutions that are available for you in this area are growing at an astronomical rate both personally and professionally–Atlassian anyone?

We are capturing more data today than we have in the history of man. I have heard statistics that say that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. That is a lot of data and why “Big Data” is such a hot topic. It is only BIG if the size of the data creates problems for managing and evaluating it. The data that you would be evaluating is definitely not a big data problem daily for most product leadership roles unless you are building big data solutions, right?

Of course, digital marketing groups do have some issues with big data depending on the points of data capture for your business. For this, I am talking about evaluating the personal contributions from your daily output in order to improve (be one better) on them.

My wife has many software tools at her disposal for documenting and evaluating her work activities. Instead, she uses a simple system in a notebook with a highlighter to map out her weekly and daily progress on those items. It works. At the end of the day and the end of the week, she celebrates by ripping the sheet up and starting with a fresh page. That is what is important about anything that I have described…making it work for you. I advocate for software and CRM systems because of the greater good that they can do if used properly by individuals and the team. Using a system of any kind is better than nothing at all.

Do you still have doubts that reflecting on your daily activities and then planning for the next day are valuable? Benjamin Franklin would ask himself “What good did I do today?” every night before he went to bed. Have a system for waking, planning, documenting, improving and evaluating daily and you will move toward whatever you deem as success.

Are you ready to put your system into place?

Systematic Plan

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.” Get started with your plan if you do not already have one and segment it out. If you strive to be better daily; plan it out in batches. You will find success in what you do.

They call it work because it is hard and someone else did not want to do it—so that is where you add value and how you’re earning an income for that value you’ve created. If you are lucky enough to spend your days at play, plan out your playtime. Who doesn’t want more playtime?

A system at work is going to take you, your team and your business to new levels. Give it a try if you don’t believe me. Challenge accepted. Commit to the above system for one week and let me know how it turned out.

Improve your habits today!  Check out Charles Duhigg’s books Smarter Faster Better or The Power of Habit to amplify your learning today–personally I’ve listened to them on Audible in my professional development system. Be One Better!

Brian Stout (Bri-bot if you were adventurous)

You can find me on LinkedIn or blogger here monthly at www.pmrounds.com/blog where we tackle the issues facing product professionals. We are working to advance product marketing, design, and management every day.

Added Bonus

The 6 item is daily exercise routine—any activity will do. You can’t be successful if you are sluggish from a bad diet, lack of sleep and no physical activity. A planned and scheduled time for the activity is the way to go. Saying you will exercise and having a plan with accountability to doing exercise are two different things. When you are not accountable to it, it slips.

It is that reactive nature that slips in and we give up the activity for the other items that sneak into your day. Do yourself a favor and create a system that incorporates a daily activity of exercise and you will be better for it. Once you start, you will see the benefits physically, emotionally and mentally that come from exercise. You will miss it when you can’t make it work for the day and your body will let you know when you fall off the wagon of a daily routine of exercise.

Again, a simple tip that seems all too obvious, but you can create a game with it or add a networking aspect to it and make it a natural part of your day. There are some great apps out there for that like lift.do.

(I’ve adapted this post from a Sales & Marketing focused post that I did back in 2011 on LinkedIn. It was my first post on the platform, first time putting myself out there on a social platform, and I received over 1000 views on the first day alone with tons of likes, comments, and engagement. I had found my tribe–I thought. It did not go viral, but was better than just my family liking my posts on my Andzeon company blog. My next posts on LinkedIn all bombed until I wrote the “Be Brief. Be Bright. Be gone” post. I got “Edge ranked” or my writing was too vanilla or boring is likely the ebbs and flows. I’m not an influencer yet. At least the first one gave me some confidence. Thanks for throwing me a bone out of the gate LinkedIn. Engage in my content and maybe we can get some movement on this post too product leaders. Thank you!)