Guest Post by: Rodhmir Labadie (Mentee, Session 5, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Stuart Moore]
The process of taking a product or a feature from idea to execution is a taxing proposition for any team to undertake. Moving from product concepts to execution requires the steady guidance of a product manager to listen and understand the needs and wants of the organization, the teams involved, and the users for whom the product is being built.
Communication starts with listening
The cycle of creating a great product begins with listening. To create value for customers requires a series of conversations with customers, sales, marketing and their marketing goals, clients, engineers, and designers. These different departments need to be part of the conversation deeply and early. It takes organization and a facilitator to ensure that these conversations occur.
Effectively communicating across the different departments can only happen when you’ve build relationships and have kept everyone informed. Where ideas can be recorded, discussed, and tweaked without the scrutiny of judgment. Just as we listen to gain insights into what we build, we should also listen to the team’s feedback when deciding on how we build it. Without that vital component progress becomes hindered by a bottleneck of resources.
Additionally, just as there is a necessity to take in the value of collaborating with teams internally, there is an interplay of pulling in valuable data from the individuals who use the product. Sometimes the team will present their feedback from customers who say the the product does not do ‘X’ however, the conversations provide a case for doing ‘Y’ which would actually solve the problem. It’s the value of ‘Y’ that needs to be conveyed to the team.
Listening to the users voice is also critical, from the research provided by the UX team to the pain points illuminated by Client Services teams to the features being requested by the Sales team– all of these inputs are providing insight into the user’s needs and can flesh out the conversations that are being had with the users themselves.
Imagine building software that supports sales teams manage their client relationships. Your sales team has a distinct view based on competition and the requests they hear in the market. The client service team supports the work flow that software has been built to support, and different organizations have strategies in managing these interactions. These different conversations have the ability to provide dimensionality to problems you’re trying to solve. This process of allowing these different channels to paint the clearest perspective of that user is invaluable in making sure that product is being built with the user’s goal in the products vision.
Products are not simply about being built. They are also about bringing value. The value that your product brings to your users comes from taking the vision of the user your team has assembled. And through careful synthesis contributes to a build strategy that has an end goal of creating a product of value.
Synthesis is not only about reducing it’s about selecting. Selecting is making a choice, based on the conversations, and organization of problems, what decisions can be made now that will add the greatest value to the overall product itself. This also encourages you to take your learnings and sitting with your team to share these assumptions, reiterating what they have shared with you and helping them to view your shared goals through a singular lens.
This singular lens allows you to control the narrative that you are presenting to the team as you help them to build empathy with the user’s problems. The value of empathy in this case is invaluable as it is what will drive the team to execute against the common goal that you’re trying to solve. User needs are what effectively drive your products value so it’s in understanding those needs that a team can create a product that is meeting those needs.
When the loop is closed on what constitutes users needs and what the assumptions are against a product strategy that aims to meet those needs, the critical task of getting buy in from the different teams begins. As each of these teams are tasked with the responsibility of creating assets, strategies, engineer, and support against these needs assumptions, it is important that they believe in the overall vision. This shared understanding further reinforces a cohesive unified vision that can be executed along the entire product engagement funnel*.
*The product engagement funnel is the path that describes all the major touch points of user with a product. (1) It starts with the exposure which is normally the efforts of a unified Sales/Marketing strategy, and can be organically garnered, and (2) moves into a onboarding phase where the first uses of product are through a positive experience either a product specialist walks a user through, or a demo is provided, or the user interacts with the product in a meaningful way. This is then followed by (3) the user pushing the product to it engineering boundaries and continuing to learn about the product which forces the team to help the user achieve their goals within the product through (4) support or (5) user experience and taking the learning from that to (6) improve the product itself.
Experiments framed as learnings rather than failures
Experimentation is a concept that is well known in the product development world. Ways to control what the product is not only looking to accomplish in the immediate future but how the product can improve processes, integrate better with clients and consumer needs, and how much risk to take when the goal is to add greater value.
Along with experimenting comes risk. When decisions are being made through experimentation the team is not focused on being right, but it’s vital that the team is aware of that fact. Removing the concerns of being wrong from the team strategy can help when looking to iterate on a concept or pivot away from another. Reframing failures to learning. This is vital aspect of allowing a team to grow, take feedback and continue to build without losing momentum. The goals that team builds against should be small enough that not too much effort is exerted versus the amount of learning looking to be had. Through a series of learning and decisions, the product value begins to emerge, and engagement begins to increase. Through this method of experimentation learning becomes a path to successes and learnings and removes the fear of failures.
The goal is to encourage experimentation learning as a key way to building a framework that tests assumptions freely. Experiments framed as learning encourages a spirit of exploration and removes the crippling effects of fear from a team’s process.
Sharing the win and owning the losses
As the product engagement funnel seeks unify a team around a singular product vision and experimentation learning provides the framework to learn around that ecosystem across an organization. There isn’t one individual responsible for a product’s success. Rather, it is through the collaborative efforts of many that the funnel succeeds. And the process continues to cycle.
This cyclical process is a key requirement when taking experimental learnings and reintroducing into the product cycle. And it is a concerted effort to ensuring that the product improves over time and does not stagnate.
These cycles should never be lost on the team and they should celebrated when crossing key milestones in a product evolution. This ensures that the team understands what is learned, reinforces the vision, and further builds credibility in your judgement. The end goal should always be against the team’s efforts and they should be celebrated accordingly.
Through the process of effective communication across disciplines in an organization this furthers the goal of bringing greater understanding of the customer needs. The beginning of creating and building relationships with different teams, brings a product manager a great deal of currency from which to continue the conversation. People feel empowered when they are a part of vision that is greater than them and communication is a critical component to gaining their trust. Through building that trust, you begin to establish the value of the efforts happening around them in collaborative exercises and synthesizing it in accessible bits of information. When the team understands the goals, it becomes times to push the envelope, takes risks, and experiment. The valuable learning from these experimentations becomes the bedrock for the successes to come. And it is through the investment of this cycle that we can truly build great products.
Rodhmir Labadie has been involved in product development for over 10 years. He cares about building innovative products, fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration, and delivering best in-class solutions. He currently works as a User Experience Lead in New York City.
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