Not every idea leads to a successful product and not all companies stand out. There is a big difference between good companies and great ones. You should know where your company and product stand: the early stage to find a market fit, the growing stage where you are scaling successfully or you are a big entity where you should allow innovation. The root cause of failed product efforts is in seeing product development as a linear process.
- Somewhere in the company, ideas are generated
- A business concern is created for these ideas
- An idea roadmap is built
- The product managers expand ideas with requirements
- These requirements are transferred to the designers
- The requirements and the design are passed on to the developers to build it
- QA double checks on the built product
- Then the product gets released
There are some major problems with this way of working:
- The team members cannot develop their skills while creating solutions for the problems they are asked to solve.
- This way product roadmaps focus on output and delivering the features that stakeholders want rather than reaching the desired outcomes through iterations.
- Product managers are just the project managers that document requirements for the development team.
- The first real feedback comes after the product is released, which can lead to the failure of the idea as it is late.
AGILITY TO THE RESCUE!
The essence of Agility leads to success. Iterations and sprints help seeing risks early while focusing on solving problems rather than just implementing features. And designing products is about collaboration. Building prototypes can lead to real feedbacks. Also by creating a vision, things can be communicated properly internally and with stakeholders.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE
A Strong product team is at the heart of a strong organization. There are characteristics for such a team:
It has all the different skills it needs.
It feels real ownership for a product.
It behaves like missionaries, not mercenaries.
The size of the team is at a minimum of 2-3 people, and a maximum of 10-12 people.
It is given clear objectives, with ownership of delivering to those objectives.
It does not have the Product Owner as the boss of anyone in the team.
It is co-located, with a preference to actual employees instead of contractors or agencies.
It has the responsibility for all the necessary work.
It is long-lived, not just put together for a project or feature.
It only has minimal dependencies to other teams.
Creating solutions need certain levels of expertise that needs to grow. Also creating such solutions brings senses of responsibility and ownership to the team so they will try their best to deliver the desired outcome and they will want to see the success.
STRUCTURE OF PRODUCT TEAMS
There is no formula for a perfect team structure, but there are principles that can help:
- Minimize dependencies: fewer dependencies make the team move faster with more freedom and autonomy. It helps them to grow skills while developing solutions.
- Ownership and empowerment: “A team should feel empowered, yet accountable for some significant part of the product offering.” This makes the team members feel like missionaries, not mercenaries.
- Carefully considering shared services: By making shared services, the team can speed up and become more reliable. But there should be platform product managers to make sure that there will be no issues with the autonomy of the team.
Great products are not accidental but by design. The product manager has two main responsibilities: assessing product opportunities and defining the product to be built. The product manager with the help of an interaction designer and software architect has to discover a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible.
Do not forget that as the engineering is important the user experience design (both interaction and visual designs) is more important and difficult to deliver.
THE RIGHT PRODUCT
The product manager is responsible for defining the solution, but the engineering team knows best what’s possible, and they must ultimately deliver that solution.
While roadmaps are mostly focused on output and not the outcome, these roadmaps ignore the fact that not all ideas will work out and iterations are needed to get ideas to result into values.
A good alternative for the roadmaps is to highlight the product vision and strategy, and to give objectives to every team.
Business objectives let the team find the best way to solve the problems while they know how the results will be measured and what the stakeholders need.
While coming up with an effective product vision and strategy, there are some principles that you should consider.
Product Vision Principles
Start with Why
Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.
Don’t be afraid to think big with vision.
Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourselves because, if you don’t someone else will.
The product vision needs to inspire.
Determine and embrace relevant and meaningful trends.
Identify the things that are changing.
Be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details.
Realize that any product vision is a leap of faith.
Communicate continuously and relentlessly.
Product Strategy Principles
Focus on one target market or persona at a time.
Product strategy needs to be aligned with business strategy.
Product strategy needs to be aligned with sales and go-to-market strategy.
Obsess over customers, not over competitors.
Communicate the strategy across the organization.
There are different ways to product discovery, ideation, testing, prototyping, and evaluation, where you can also read This is Service Design Methods to get some good ideas. Involve your engineers and architects from the beginning of the product discovery process to get very early assessments of relative costs of the different ideas, and to help identify better solutions.
THE RIGHT CULTURE
It’s easy to get hung up on the minutiae of all this, but what’s really important here is creating the right product culture for success.
There are differences between how the greatest tech companies create products and others including:
- Good teams have a strong product vision and a “missionary-like passion”. Weak teams behave like mercenaries.
- Good teams create their ideas from the vision, their objectives, and direct customer interaction. Weak teams gather requirements from sales.
- Good teams have “product, design, and engineering sit side by side”. Weak teams sit in their silos and prefer to communicate through documents and work orders instead of direct interaction.
- Good teams make sure that their engineers participate in product discovery every day and try out the designer’s prototypes every day. In weak teams, engineers are only involved when it comes to estimating effort.
While a culture of innovation is characterized by a culture of experimentation, open minds, empowerment, technology, and business- and customer-savvy teams, a culture of execution is rather built on a culture of urgency, commitments, accountability, collaboration, recognition, and results. Obviously, not every company is strong at both innovation and execution.
“In any case, what I hope you and your team will consider doing is assess yourself along dimensions of innovation and execution, and then ask yourselves where you would like to be, or think you need to be, as a team or company.”
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