Best Practices

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 problem is that, as Martin Eriksson just lately and definitively concluded, the product manager is “ultimately responsible for the success or failure of a product” but doesn’t have authority over any of the individuals concerned in the collective effort. To be effective, product managers must align their teams by being leaders relatively than commanders, and they should make careful use of probably the most highly effective weapon in their arsenal: course of.

A product management process is something that a group deliberately does at regular intervals with a purpose to facilitate cross-functional communication and execution. As one instance, Goals & Key Outcomes (OKRs) is a well-liked framework that many product groups have adopted to keep them aligned and improve the probability of product success. The efficiency measurement system was invented by Intel and helped corporations like Google to grow quickly.

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

The very fact is that, no matter firm measurement or business, a point of uncertainty is inevitable in product management. It’s human nature to need to substitute that uncertainty and chaos with the order that processes promise. The issue is that processes could be arduous to vary afterward. In a world that’s changing so shortly, a process that solved yesterday’s problems can finally forestall a workforce from creating tomorrow’s options. So how can product managers determine dangerous processes and assist their teams shift to good processes?

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

1. It’s a must to stretch yourself skinny with a view to execute it.

Product managers and leaders generally tend to instill process to be able to be sure that something gets carried out. For example, answering customer help tickets may also help product teams construct 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 could have a key customer desirous about switching to a competitor, you could want all hands-on-deck to figure out why and the way to maintain them.

Further, your staff might even find more environment friendly and efficient methods to realize insights and empathy anyway, akin to one-on-one buyer interviews. In these instances, instilling a customer help course of, slightly than specializing in the top aim of creating empathy, may actually forestall the staff 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 if you’re not the one truly doing it. For instance, requiring a group to supply comprehensive analytics studies on a frequent basis might assist you make informed selections, however it might come on the expense of your group doing any precise work (rendering the info and your selections fairly obsolete).

While it’s definitely essential to generate knowledge to inform product selections, product managers also needs to think about the time it takes to compile knowledge, make fancy reviews, and get stakeholders together for meetings.

three. Your course of needs more course of to work

Think about that you simply decided that your group ought to use Trello as a Kanban board to manage new function requests. While it seemed like a good way to track progress, you understand after a number of weeks that no one on your workforce is retaining the board updated. So that you create a every day stand-up to remind everybody to update Trello. And perhaps an automatic Slackbot too. Earlier than you recognize, your workplace is a Dilbert caricature.

You get the thought. When your process requires more course of for your group to undertake it, that’s a pink flag. In fact, some helpful processes might take time for your group to finally embrace, however the benefits should usually be so obvious that they don’t need constant reminders.

Given how some processes have the potential to grow to be counterproductive, you may sympathize with those that distrust nearly all process. Once I interviewed David Cancel, CEO of Drift and former Chief Product Officer of Hubspot, he explained how he encourages every member of the product group to act autonomously. He even allows his engineers to speak directly to clients when they have to study one thing, which might principally trigger heads to roll at a standard Fortune 500 company.

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

1. Make it iterative

As Anthony Schrauth grew Betterment from four to 224 individuals, his views on product management processes developed in tandem. As the corporate’s Chief Innovation Officer, I asked Anthony what recommendation he would give to his younger self about scaling his firm. Apparently, he urged youthful Anthony to be more versatile about course of:

“The processes that you follow and that you instill in the team are constantly changing. What was working 6 months ago – or even 3 months ago – may not work anymore based on how the company is changing – how different stakeholders are involved, and how big the team is and how you need to communicate with them. You always need to be evolving that.”

Executing a process simply because it exists contradicts the very purpose the process was instituted in the first place. A process must be maintained and executed if, and provided that, it’s serving to you achieve outcomes. You need to query whether it’s doing so frequently.

Should you give attention to the target of the process, it’s far more doubtless that you simply’ll revise the method to realize the objective over time. So as an alternative of creating a stand-up, make certain the emphasis is on the workforce being on the identical web page. You could understand afterward that there are better ways to maintain everyone up to date than by huddling collectively at a set time every morning.

2. Be certain that it’s excessive influence

It’s straightforward for brand spanking new processes to creep right into a workforce’s workflow over time – all it takes is one stakeholder with a brand new concept and out of the blue you’ll have processes around executing it. Whereas the thought may be an excellent one, if it’s not an important thing for the group to be working on, it could easily forestall the staff from engaging in their ultimate aim: constructing a terrific product.

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

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

“You can’t just do surveys. You can’t just do phone calls. You have to get out of the building and visit customers. So, one of the processes for my product team is mandatory, once-a-month, on-premises customer visits for all of my PMs.”

The target for InsightSquared is obvious: get to know clients very nicely. On this specific instance, you’ll be able to imagine how, without course of, a group would resort to simpler however less impactful strategies (e.g. surveys). This process is stringent but not too intrusive, and finally allows product groups to build nice merchandise.

three. Don’t overlook concerning the individuals

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

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

Once I interviewed Brian Donohue, Group Product Manager at Intercom, he talked about making use of lean methodologies to instituting processes:

“For course of, you’ve obtained to start out small and simply say ‘what’s the least quantity we will do this helps us a be somewhat more efficient,’ relatively than making an attempt to determine ‘hey, here’s our new productive improvement course of. It’s 12 steps! And right here you’ll be able to see all the dependencies’…

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

Let qualitative suggestions from stakeholders, as well as metrics from productiveness to buyer satisfaction, inform you what’s greatest for your workforce and your product. If after instituting a process, your workforce is making better product selections, properly, then you might have your answer. Otherwise, grab the axe.

Course of is a double-edged sword. Good processes may also help teams operate successfully, but dangerous processes can cripple an already effective group. Product managers must stay essential of present processes and be cautious when instituting new ones.

Whereas course of is probably probably the most powerful weapon in the product manager’s arsenal, it’s not a panacea for different problems, and shouldn’t be used as a band-aid to repair them. Don’t rely on course of as an alternative choice to hiring the proper individuals and building an incredible tradition.

Beyond that, simply have affordable expectations. Product management 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 this expectation that it shouldn’t be a mess, but actually if you’re trying to build something of impact – if you’re trying something that needs creativity, you have to expect it to be chaotic and messy. Messiness is actually a defining characteristic of modern, impactful companies.”

Should you’re not snug dwelling with some chaos, you’ll solely unintentionally create more of it over time. Nevertheless, with the proper staff, a give attention to the best goals, and the willingness to iterate, you’ll be able to substitute inertia with meaningful execution.