The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing, Part 2

A good friend and colleague of mine, Michael Papanek, once implored me to “keep the main thing”. In fact,

The main thing
is keeping the main thing
the main thing

(He’s quoting Stephen Covey)

Earlier, I wrote about what the main thing is in product management.

Perhaps the next question is, “what is the main thing?” for your company? And for you?

I once led product management at a company when I paid almost no attention to product features. It wasn’t because I was in product marketing. It was because the product was fairly baked, but we were having a very hard time selling it. So I rolled up my sleeves and got directly involved in the most important deals in the funnel. This was confusing for some people, but in that case, my main thing was figuring out how to sell this product. Product changes were going to take 6-18 months, and we had not yet demonstrated that we had a viable offering. We hadn’t yet nailed it.

At another company I held a “strategy” role where I spent 60-hour weeks redesigning the product from the bottom up. That company had a killer sales and support engine, but we needed a next-generation product. The main thing was long-term product competitiveness.

In another case I was a classic marketer, and worked very closely with a killer marketing team. We had a great product and a good-enough sales team.

When I was working for someone else, I always liked to get involved in the company’s main area of need and found myself gravitating to different areas depending on that.

What is your company’s main thing? What one area, if improved, could make the biggest difference to the company? How can you get involved in that? It’s usually most rewarding to be involved in a company’s main thing.

Next question: “What is your own personal main thing?” How often do you ask yourself that? And how good a job are you doing of keeping your main thing front and center?

Since we are entering the summer months and a nice long weekend, allow me to suggest a little exercise:

Before you go on a significant vacation, make a to-do list for your professional and personal arenas. Don’t think too hard. Just write it down and seal it in an envelope.

When you get back, without looking at the other list, repeat the exercise.

When you get back from a significant break, I hope you will have recovered some sense of what the main thing is, for you as a person, for your career, and for your company.

– Alan