Everyone knows about technical debt. But we often stay silent about the emotional debt product managers can build up while building products they love.
In this talk from #mtpengage Manchester, Tomek Wlodarek explores the topic of emotional debt, and what product managers can do to mitigate it.
Being a product manager can be like riding a bike, except the bike is on fire – you’re on fire, everything is on fire. That’s how our days can feel. We have to take care of our product, our team, perhaps our finances. Our schedules are full from looking after other people or things. And these things invariably drive emotions; we care passionately about our products, we can love and loathe our stakeholders, and we feel an almost parental-like responsibility for our teams. Our days are filled with these emotions, good or bad.
So how often do we look after ourselves? We’re obsessively caring about others, but rarely do we consider our own emotions and how to address the build-up of emotions resulting from our work.
Emotional debt can be defined as the distance between our sense of ownership and accountability, sense of duty and obligation, expectations, ambition, and reality. It’s easy to see why many of us may be carrying significant emotional debt, we can go for weeks or months without gratification when we have a product under development.
And the symptoms of emotional debt aren’t healthy either; sarcasm, anxiety, trouble sleeping and focusing, and fatigue, to name just a few. If our emotional debt gets out of hand, we end up completely disengaged; our product is nothing but a burden and we’re materially unhappy. It’s not good, and is why we need to keep our emotional debt in check.
Tomek asks if you can plan your activities according to your emotional debt, and says that sometimes a product owner might need to take a hit emotionally in order for their team to pay down their emotional debt. He talks about including emotion in a product’s acceptable loss, along with money and time. Sometimes it is smarter to withdraw before you make things worse, and by doing this you can regain control.