Challenging Myths — Part 3: Is it possible for product managers to work part-time?

Part-time product positions are rarely offered and some senior executives are skeptical that this even makes sense due to the workload. Time for a closer look.

On the one hand, all PMs know that even a 40-hour week is hardly enough. More customer-, market-, competition- and trend analyses, more deep dives, better preparation for decision-making meetings and many more would lead to better results. High availability during business hours for urgent requests also remains relevant. How can part-time make sense in such an environment?

On the other hand, the competition for talent and the call for equal and flexible working models causes that we can no longer afford that good employees can’t be appointed because they can’t or don’t want to fulfill a full-time contract.

What can we do to enable part-time positions?

Solutions that carry risks

Some classic ideas for enabling part-time positions create pitfalls in product management:

  • Trying to further increase efficiency: completing important tasks first, empowering the team to make decisions as independently as possible, and saying “no” to many invitations and requests should already be a requirement for effective employees in the full-time job and rather prevent the 60-hour week. In a part-time job, trying to push it even further quickly leads to missed breaks, lack of social interactions, or overwork, especially if there are young children or other obligations waiting in the “second shift.” Or it leads to a lower quality of work results because the earlier workload is not accomplished despite trying.
  • Split the role into two different roles: As pointed out in the post on workload reduction, splitting responsibilities is likely to lead to poorer decision-making, as related contexts are torn apart and dealt with separately. The quality of work and decision-making suffers.
  • Staff a role with two responsible individuals who share the job: This may work for some roles, but product management has a lot to do with context, communication and creativity. Handing over the information needed to do this would take too much time with both parties involved. Similarly, it’s difficult to find two individuals who work symbiotically together on the same page. They would need to be able to immediately internalize each other’s ideas and decisions and be able to represent them to others.

Such concepts would probably not work well.

Solutions that can work

However, some remaining options have the potential to make the product role work part-time given the right environment:

  • Take on a role with less responsibility: This is an option for experienced product managers who could thus lead a less complex product with a smaller team and fewer stakeholders on a part-time basis. Alternatively, a complex product can be split into two separable products that are managed with two part-time PMs. Roles that otherwise might be filled by full-time employees with less experience can thus be filled by “part-time professionals.”
  • Relieve workload from tasks that are not core to the role: As stated in the post on workload reduction, project management, product marketing, research, organizational, and other work can be taken on by appropriate staff in some circumstances without significantly compromising the quality of product decisions.
  • If home office is an option, work can additionally be distributed in such a way that presence appointments are minimized or even completely dropped. The journey to the office, which can easily cost 5 hours per week, can thus be invested in part-time work. More flexible time models are also imaginable, which do not make sense in case of presence appointments, e.g. early, late or short working hours on certain days. Due to such flexibility, the absence of entire days can be avoided and converted into a reduction of hours per day. This suits the usual daily interaction with teams and stakeholders.

Despite these ideas, half-time positions in product management remain a challenge. However, models in the range of 25 or better 30- to 35-hour positions should be feasible, especially for employees who can already work effectively and efficiently due to their experience. Junior employees who need a lot of coaching, however, are less qualified for such part-time positions.

This article was first published on Medium by Traian Kaiser

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Experienced Product Leader supporting aspiring and new-baked product leaders to succeed in action.

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Traian Kaiser

Traian Kaiser

Experienced Product Leader supporting aspiring and new-baked product leaders to succeed in action.

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