Best Practices Tech

Are your product management processes creating more problems than they solve?

Are your product management processes creating more problems than they solve?

Insights from interviews with product leaders from Intercom, Drift, InsightSquared, and Betterment

Building a product is a cross-functional endeavor. The issue is that, as Martin Eriksson lately and definitively concluded, the product manager is “finally answerable for the success or failure of a product” however doesn’t have authority over any of the individuals involved in the collective effort. To be effective, product managers should align their groups by being leaders moderately than commanders, they usually must make cautious use of probably the most powerful weapon in their arsenal: course of.

A product management course of is one thing that a group deliberately does at regular intervals so as to facilitate cross-functional communication and execution. As one instance, Aims & Key Results (OKRs) is a well-liked framework that many product groups have adopted to keep them aligned and improve the probability of product success. The performance measurement system was invented by Intel and helped corporations like Google to grow rapidly.

However some processes are still an open debate. Some product managers create public-facing roadmaps to align their group and inner stakeholders, and to keep clients informed about priorities. Others hardly consider in roadmaps in any respect, especially of the public-facing selection.

The very fact is that, regardless of company measurement or business, a point of uncertainty is inevitable in product management. It’s human nature to need to exchange that uncertainty and chaos with the order that processes promise. The problem is that processes may be onerous to vary afterward. In a world that’s changing so shortly, a course of that solved yesterday’s issues can finally forestall a staff from creating tomorrow’s options. So how can product managers determine dangerous processes and help their groups shift to good processes?

It’s essential for product managers to recognize the warning signs of a counterproductive process. Assume critically a few course of when…

1. You must stretch yourself skinny as a way to execute it.

Product managers and leaders generally tend to instill process as a way to be sure that one thing gets accomplished. For example, answering customer help tickets will help product groups build empathy. Whereas that’s confirmed to be useful especially during times of relative calm, there might come some extent when there are larger value actions and opportunities to pursue. When you will have a key customer fascinated with switching to a competitor, chances are you’ll want all hands-on-deck to figure out why and how you can hold them.

Additional, your staff might even find extra environment friendly and effective ways to realize insights and empathy anyway, comparable to one-on-one customer interviews. In these instances, instilling a buyer help course of, moderately than focusing on the top objective of creating empathy, may actually forestall the workforce from attaining that goal.

2. It requires more planning and execution than it’s value

Typically, it’s straightforward to underestimate the time and price of executing a process whenever you’re not the one truly doing it. For instance, requiring a staff to supply complete analytics reviews on a frequent basis might allow you to make knowledgeable selections, however it might come at the expense of your staff doing any actual work (rendering the info and your selections pretty out of date).

Whereas it’s definitely necessary to generate knowledge to tell product selections, product managers also needs to contemplate the time it takes to compile knowledge, make fancy studies, and get stakeholders collectively for meetings.

3. Your course of wants extra course of to work

Think about that you simply decided that your group should use Trello as a Kanban board to manage new function requests. Whereas it appeared like a good way to track progress, you understand after a number of weeks that no one in your group is retaining the board up to date. So that you create a day by day stand-up to remind everyone to update Trello. And perhaps an automatic Slackbot too. Earlier than you already know, your office is a Dilbert caricature.

You get the thought. When your course of requires more process in your staff to adopt it, that’s a purple flag. In fact, some helpful processes might take time in your group to finally embrace, however the advantages ought to usually be so obvious that they don’t want fixed reminders.

Given how some processes have the potential to turn into counterproductive, you may sympathize with those that mistrust nearly all course of. Once I interviewed David Cancel, CEO of Drift and former Chief Product Officer of Hubspot, he explained how he encourages each member of the product workforce to act autonomously. He even allows his engineers to talk on to clients when they need to study one thing, which might principally cause heads to roll at a standard Fortune 500 firm.

While I personally favor to work in such an surroundings, I definitely understand the advantages of some processes, notably within complicated organizations. In these instances, nevertheless, it’s essential for product managers to take mandatory steps to make sure the processes are productive in the direction of the top objective of building great merchandise.

1. Make it iterative

As Anthony Schrauth grew Betterment from 4 to 224 individuals, his views on product administration processes developed in tandem. As the company’s Chief Innovation Officer, I asked Anthony what advice he would give to his younger self about scaling his company. Apparently, he urged younger Anthony to be extra versatile about process:

“The processes that you simply comply with and that you simply instill in the staff are continuously altering. What was working 6 months in the past – and even three months ago – might not work anymore based mostly on how the company is altering – how totally different stakeholders are involved, and how massive the staff is and the way you must communicate with them. You all the time must be evolving that.”

Executing a course of simply because it exists contradicts the very purpose the process was instituted in the first place. A process ought to be maintained and executed if, and provided that, it’s helping you obtain outcomes. You must question whether it’s doing so frequently.

In case you concentrate on the objective of the process, it’s much more possible that you simply’ll revise the method to realize the target over time. So as an alternative of creating a stand-up, ensure that the emphasis is on the staff being on the same web page. You might understand afterward that there are better methods to maintain everyone updated than by huddling collectively at a set time every morning.

2. Be sure it’s high influence

It’s straightforward for brand spanking new processes to creep into a workforce’s workflow over time – all it takes is one stakeholder with a brand new concept and all of a sudden you’ll have processes around executing it. While the thought may be a great one, if it’s not an important thing for the staff to be working on, it could possibly easily forestall the staff from undertaking their ultimate objective: constructing a terrific product.

Once I interviewed Samuel Clemens, Chief Product Officer of InsightSquared, he explained how each of his firm’s product managers are required to go to a customer at their office once per 30 days. At first, that seemed to me to be an intense course of, however Samuel argued for the influence it has:

“You need to know your customer very properly and particularly, achieve this data by means of on-premises buyer visits. I stress the on-premises part. It’s essential to be on the customer location to see the animal in their native habitat…

“You’ll be able to’t just do surveys. You possibly can’t simply do telephone calls. You need to get out of the building and go to clients. So, one of the processes for my product workforce is obligatory, once-a-month, on-premises buyer visits for all of my PMs.”

The objective for InsightSquared is obvious: get to know clients very properly. On this specific instance, you’ll be able to think about how, with out course of, a staff would resort to easier however less impactful strategies (e.g. surveys). This process is stringent however not too intrusive, and finally allows product teams to build great products.

3. Don’t overlook concerning the individuals

Every individual has unique preferences and each staff has a unique dynamic. Some individuals want process in an effort to be effective, while others have problem being artistic in extremely structured environments.

When deciding what processes to institute, it’s necessary to stability your objective with the nuances of your workforce. Identical to when creating a brand new product or function, processes have to be tested and regularly iterated upon based mostly on suggestions. Your buyer on this case, nevertheless, is the group.

Once I interviewed Brian Donohue, Group Product Supervisor at Intercom, he talked about applying lean methodologies to instituting processes:

“For process, you’ve received to start out small and simply say ‘what’s the least quantity we will do this helps us a be slightly simpler,’ slightly than making an attempt to figure out ‘hey, here’s our new productive improvement process. It’s 12 steps! And here you’ll be able to see all of the dependencies’…

“…[Process] justifies itself by organically staying alive slightly than artificially needing injections of ‘hey do this thing.’”

Let qualitative feedback from stakeholders, as well as metrics from productiveness to buyer satisfaction, inform you what’s greatest on your workforce and your product. If after instituting a course of, your workforce is making better product selections, properly, then you might have your reply. In any other case, grab the axe.

Course of is a double-edged sword. Good processes will help teams operate successfully, but dangerous processes can cripple an already efficient staff. Product managers must remain essential of present processes and be cautious when instituting new ones.

While process is probably probably the most powerful weapon in the product supervisor’s arsenal, it’s not a panacea for different issues, and shouldn’t be used as a band-aid to repair them. Don’t depend on course of as an alternative choice to hiring the correct individuals and constructing an incredible culture.

Past that, simply have affordable expectations. Product administration is inherently chaotic, and making an attempt to artificially create order can backfire painfully. I need to depart you with this quote from my interview with Brian:

“We have now this expectation that it shouldn’t be a multitude, however truly in the event you’re making an attempt to construct one thing of influence – in the event you’re making an attempt something that needs creativity, you must anticipate it to be chaotic and messy. Messiness is actually a defining characteristic of recent, impactful corporations.”

Should you’re not snug dwelling with some chaos, you’ll only unintentionally create more of it over time. Nevertheless, with the proper staff, a concentrate on the best goals, and the willingness to iterate, you possibly can substitute inertia with significant execution.