We’ve already touched on the importance of working with Designers and Sales — and UserVoice gave me an opportunity to discuss working with Engineers — so today we’re going to continue the logical progression of teams that a Product Manager must have good relationships with by talking about the proper care and feeding of your Marketing teams. Product Management often has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Marketing — they provide us with many opportunities for direct contact with the market, but often the positioning and materials are viewed as not reflecting reality. So how can we not only improve the relationship that we have with Marketing, but also help them to be more effective and accurate in their own work?
In the first part of this series, I focused on two of the primary causes for failure in the implementation and use of Agile methodologies — cultural failure and lack of training. While these are probably the primary things that cause issues with Agile processes, they’re far from the only things that can (and do) go wrong. In this second part of the series, we will explore the need for continual (or continuous) improvement and lack of evangelism and how they relate to the success or failure of an Agile methodology.
There’s no Product Manager alive who hasn’t spent time dreading a HiPPO attack; the sudden derailing of well-laid plans by a management or executive-level stakeholder who insisted that their direction was the right one simply because it was their idea – regardless of whether or not they’d actually done any research or validation.
This is the HiPPO problem – the moment when the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion” is asserted as fact and intended to be directional. Often, these HiPPOs come from the executive level, from the CEO who has a new “vision” for the company or from the CTO who wants to take the company’s technology in a “new direction.” HiPPOs can also pop up in other contexts, such as sales management trying to ram through a hypothetically big sale, development managers asserting that they know the “only” way to solve a problem, or service delivery management teams insisting that the way they use the product is the way all customers use the product.
HiPPOs usually come with good intent – rarely does the HiPPO represent ill intent or a desire to be obstructive; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right or that they should be allowed to dictate product direction without further investigation.
Among the most common issues that Product Managers face — particularly those in smaller companies or in companies where Product Management as a discipline is a new thing — is the seemingly random collection of features, functionality, plans, “strategies”, market segments, and really everything that surrounds the role. Part and parcel of being a good Product Manager is identifying these situations and attempting to get a diverse set of stakeholders focused on a single goal — for at least a brief time. It’s literally impossible to deliver a good, solid product when everyone and their brother has the ability to derail or randomize the direction that product should take.
The best tool that we have to combat this is simple – question everything. Ask for specifics, ask for data, ask for testing results — and be willing and able to come up with your own answers when others ask for yours in return. While it certainly won’t make you the most popular person in the company, Product Management is not a popularity contest — it’s a role whose job is to deliver the best and most compelling solutions to market problems that your customers will be willing to pay for.
Product Management is often seen as a simple matter of inputs and outputs — we take information from the field, from the market, or from the users, and we create new products and features that meet their needs. If only it were that simple! Customers rarely know what they really want, although they can be very vocal about what they “need”; sales teams are often focused on the last deal they lost or the next deal they’re trying to close, and market intelligence can often be muddied by statements and claims by competitors and thought leaders which can be hard to distinguish marketing spin from product fact.
This is why it’s important for a successful, clever Product Manager to ensure that they have a view not only of the “product” that they’re specifically working on creating requirements, specs, and user stories for, but the “whole product” that the company is selling. If you silo yourself to only viewing the “product” as the particular piece of technology or a specific solution to a specific set of problems, you’ll inevitably be missing the bigger picture of how people use your product, why they use your product, and most importantly where your “product” fails to meet the needs of the users — and where those gaps are being filled in by others, either internal to your company or external groups making money where you should be focusing product.
In part one of this series, we discussed the concept of “social capital” and how important it is to build, manage, and spend it in the process of leading through influence. In this installment, we’re going to extend the scope of the discussion to a highly effective way of building your social capital in an organization, as well as to build the trust and respect of your peers and senior management team.
Facilitation is the process by which an effective product manager brings people together and drives them toward a common goal, and in doing so establishes themselves as a hub around which the spokes of the organization turn. When performed effectively, good facilitation is almost imperceptible to those involved in a meeting – people enter, engage, and leave with an understanding of what’s to be done next. When done poorly, or not at all, the company and management devolve into a morass of pointless, lengthy meetings that go off on wild tangents and never deliver any meaningful progress.
Which sounds more familiar to you?
I know, we’ve all been in a “brainstorming” session which devolves into either a pointless series of discussions that never goes anywhere, or which are code for “let the executives speak, and follow their lead.” The simple fact is that most people aren’t trained to work in a true brainstorming fashion, and that most businesses don’t invest in the right kind of thoughtful facilitation that’s necessary to have effective brainstorming sessions.
But that’s not to say that it can’t be done, and that there aren’t proven and reliable ways to create an engaging and productive brainstorming session. Through my work as a Product Manager and Product Owner, I’ve worked with teams who fully embraced the principles of Agile development — and, surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of commonality to be found in empowering a team to be self-directed and working with stakeholders to brainstorm new ideas. To wit, I provide you with the following framework for effective and productive brainstorming sessions.