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How to avoid daily firefighting (And sticking to your Roadmap)

Post by
Mark Smith
How to avoid daily firefighting (And sticking to your Roadmap)

In business terms, firefighting is defined as giving immediate attention to perceived problems, thus temporarily straying away from the overarching objective. It essentially means putting out problems (fires) whenever and wherever they start, hence the term firefighting.


Why does it happen? Critical bugs that emerge, an important customer that is pushing us to develop something they need, a sales team that sold a feature that was not planned, or an executive that decided they need something “right now!”

But, in the words of General Ackbar from the 1983 Star Wars film Return of the Jedi, “IT’S A TRAP!”. And without proper planning and a solid methodology in place, it can be quite easy, even tempting, to fall into this trap. But, it’s important to not get sidetracked and stick to what’s on your Roadmap, and in this piece, we’re going to show you how to do just that.

Product management mentality - The Park Ranger vs the Firefighter

A common analogy used in the industry is the Park Ranger versus the Firefighter. Real Firefighters are brave, they put themselves in direct danger for the benefit of others. They are headstrong and get in the thick of the action. 

On the other hand, a park ranger’s job is not as glamorous but their role is equally important. Rather than ousting fires, their role is more preventative, stopping them before they even start. They monitor the situation, patrolling the area to keep the peace and ensure everything is running smoothly. And in business terms, it’s better to be a park ranger than a firefighter. 

How to properly manage and prioritize unplanned requests

Everyone have good ideas and important requests, proper prioritization will prevent you from getting lost in the clutter

Requests inception process. Have a clear process for anyone in your organization and for customers to request product changes, features, and ideas. This can be done using a product management feedback collection tool.

Collective decision-making. Very important not to let anyone just hand over the problem to you and walk away. Show the requestor and stakeholders how implementing an unplanned request will delay other features on your backlog, and how will it affect achieving the targets you have originally set for yourselves. Use a prioritization framework and scoring to achieve that.

Stay focused on your goals and vision. Keep your path towards your north star. Remember you have short and long vision goals that are important to your company’s success, make sure that every action you take gets you a step closer to achieving these goals and not further away.

Risks with giving in to daily firefighting culture 

Beware of time-wasters. Firefighting can seem harmless, you may find a minor issue and think to yourself that it won’t take too long to sort out. And this may well be true. But the problem is that it becomes an endless cycle. Once you’ve dealt with one, another one props up.

You’ve committed yourself to solve these issues and before you know it, you become overwhelmed. You might have your sales team or even CEO telling you to add this new feature and whoever shouts the loudest wins out.

Planning becomes impossible. The temptation from firefighting stems from achieving short-term results. However, this comes at the expense of long-term planning. It’s a vicious cycle as 

The act of firefighting will likely lead to more and more firefighting when you should be focusing on preventing them before they even start. In other words, if you’re continually sorting out issues as you go along, you may never reach the source of the problem in the first place.

All these issues are a distraction from achieving your OKRs and KPIs. You run the risk of losing sight of what is important and overshoot your deadlines. Now let’s see how to offset these issues.

The Brightest Star In The Night Sky Rises Today (And No, It's Not The North  Star)
Your vision and goals are your north start - make sure every decision you make gets your company closer to it

Be the Ranger!

As stated earlier, a ranger’s job involves constant monitoring and assessment of the situation before action is taken. A product manager who’s good at their job will have a set methodology in place and will not be so easily swayed by every request that comes your team’s way. It’s important to know when to say no and start building what really matters.

It’s a given that some fires must be dealt with immediately, lest they turn into large-scale forest fires but a process is needed rather than diving straight in. This is why it’s important to plan ahead and be ready for every eventuality. You need to be proactive, snuffing out problems before they appear and prioritizing tasks in terms of importance and urgency. 

Take their requests, put them into a priority framework and assess whether it’s truly a necessity or whether it can wait. After all, the main aim is to stop fires from happening in the first place and that can only be done via introducing a procedure for product planning. 

Creating a Roadmap with Prodeology is a great way of staying ahead of the game, keeping your team focused and aligned with the overall business strategy. Make sure that everyone who needs a copy of your Roadmap gets one (including other departments). It may be slow going at first but will end up saving you a lot of time in the long run. 

The tools available at Prodeology enable you to use quantified data to prioritize as you please, aiding in decision making. It also acts as a reference point for the relevant stakeholders, clients, and other departments so that everyone is on the same page.

You also need to be proactive, so take note of past meetings, gain a new perspective by listening to those around you, especially in sales. This is not just about prioritizing and hitting your OKRs, it’s about being more efficient in increasing the revenue of your business.

So, stop putting out embers and start preventing them from even happening when you sign up to Prodeology’s free-forever account today!

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