If you want to be a bad product manager, solve each problem individually. With so many issues coming up during your work, the only way to make any progress is to handle each one on its own. Start with the most pressing issue, take care of it, and then move on to the next one. This is the most efficient and effective way of making sure you’re addressing all of the relevant problems.
If you want to be a good product manager, look for solutions that will solve multiple problems. Efficiency in product management is not gained by addressing individual issues quickly but by looking for ways to solve multiple problems at the same time, or ideally before they come up. In some cases, these issues may initially seem totally unrelated, which makes it all the more important for product managers to keep an open mind to new ideas and be aware of many different areas in business and technology.
reCPATCA (thanks to Brainmates for the tip) is a great example of an innovative solution to two separate problems — how to prevent spam on blog comments, and how to digitize books. Their solution allows a site owner to leverage a technology to solve his or her spam problem, while at the same time solving the problem of identifying words in digitized books that were incorrectly interpreted by computers.
On my product, we had some challenges keeping certain documentation current. The legacy complexity meant we had to update information in several different areas each time there was a change. Customers often had old versions of the documentation or did not understand the difference between the sources. We solved both problems by doing away with the old material, changing the format and creating a new single location for all relevant information. This has greatly reduced the work required when updates are needed and has reduced the number of questions for customers significantly. Additionally, the new format makes it easier to highlight aspects of the product of which customers were previously unaware and also works as an effective sales tool.
Product managers looking at how these disparate problems were solved with a common solution should ask themselves how similar thinking can be applied to their products. Some solutions will come quickly and easily, whereas some may require more thought and effort to solve. However, when you change your mindset and start thinking about problems as being connected, rather than being standalone issues, you will find that sometimes the solutions easily present themselves.