Writing by Peter Hilton

The part-time product manager

When product management gets the day off 2022-08-16 #product

Elizeu Dias

While I proabably qualify as the world’s okayest product manager, I systematically do three impossible things at work. I implement a zero bug policy, work fully-remote (in a remote-first company), and I work part-time. These things certainly don’t work in every context, but I’ve heard them called impossible. I really do them, though, which makes me a counter-example and disproves the impossibility claim.

The 36-hour week

I work part-time in the sense that my employment contract specifies 90 per cent of one full-time equivalent (FTE), or 36 hours per week. Attitudes to and legislation for part-time work vary by country. In the Netherlands, where I live, about 48 per cent of the employed population work part-time (source). Meanwhile France already has a 35-hour working week.

Working four and a half days per week works for me because many of my colleagues also work part-time, to various degrees, and we generally choose to accommodate each other. I also don’t have on-call support responsibilities during some time zone’s working hours. At the same time, people who work full-time (especially developers) like the focus time they get from meeting-free Fridays.

No unpaid overtime

More significantly, actually working part-time involves efficiently working normal working hours. While many professions and employers systematically expect employees to do substantial unpaid overtime, that doesn’t apply everywhere. On Twitter, John Arundel had the audacity to suggest making this explicit:

A good question to ask at interviews: “Will it be okay if I just work my contracted hours? No evenings, no weekends?”

If the answer is no, fair enough: make your choice with eyes open. If it’s yes, get it in writing, and you’ll never struggle with work-life balance again.

As you might expect, the replies indicate that job applicants’ mileage may vary. Either way, it benefits both parties to raise this in advance, despite how many employers think.

Sort out your working hours before switching to a part-time contract. If not, you risk taking a twenty per cent pay cut to switch to four days a week, only to continue working 40 hours a week or more.

Getting the job done

I’ve heard people say that while you can work part-time in some jobs, you just can’t do that as a product manager. On the contrary, claiming that product management absolutely requires all of the hours in the week, however many, sounds like a self-own. It would mean that you can neither share product management work with your peers, nor delegate responsibility to juniors or specialists. Besides, if your product happens to require exactly one full-time product manager and that doesn’t change, that lack of growth sounds bad for your product.

On the other hand, working part-time doesn’t mean that I log out of Slack or switch my product-thinking brain off at evenings and weekends. Perhaps I should, but I don’t make the rules… Okay, I do make the rules, to some extent, and value the flexibility that part-time work gives me in choosing when I get the job done.

Ultimately, your mileage may vary. Working part-time makes more of my time my own, without particularly making me less responsive to colleagues. And best of all, it makes sure I never forget to prioritise everything. Especially my time.

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