In the latest episode of “Beyond the Roadmap: Product Talk with AWH”, product experts Ryan Frederick, Principal of AWH, and Derrek Seif, Vice President of Product Management for Vantage Point Logistics, discuss the biggest challenges of implementing product discipline within an established organization. Whether you are a product manager or business leader attempting to inject a product discipline into an organization these tips and recommendations will help guide you through the process.
Derrek believes there is a regional lack of understanding about what product discipline is and why it is important to the growth of a business. In the Midwest specifically, product management is still relatively unknown and not well understood.
For example, Derrek mentioned a recent conversation he had with a large organization around building an innovation lab. The organization knew they needed to hire someone to spearhead this initiative. They described in detail who it was they were looking for and what their goals were for the position. Little did they know, what they were describing was a product manager.
As Derrek puts it, “it’s really a practice of continually driving the development launch and the continued innovation of a company’s product portfolio.” Product management is about discovering products that are valuable, usable, feasible and viable, with an end goal of improving the customer experience and eventually, making more money.
As Ryan puts it, if you have a company that is trying to be innovative but doesn’t have a product mindset then all you really have is an exercise in ideation. Having product discipline gives you the ability to execute beyond the surface level.
So how do you take that leap and implement a product discipline?
It can be challenging, but Derrek points out that product information is readily available through books, podcasts, and education. Often, there is someone, or a handful of people, within an organization that already understand the concepts behind product management. however, these individuals don’t have the authority to make changes or put new practices into place, and without execution, product management is simply theoretical and academic. To simplify the transformation process, we can put it into three steps.
Keep in mind, there is a cultural shift that must take place and you will receive push back from other departments that are used to doing things a certain way.
A great place to start is education. Define what product management is and how it aligns with the goals of the organization. A technique Derrek recommends is leveraging existing publications. There are tons of materials, frameworks, and best practices online. Product management has been tested and verified so you can find best practices and case studies where the results speak for themselves. Once you have the organization on-board you can begin executing product management work.
Coming into an organization and talking about product management from a high-level standpoint is all well and good, but it takes time to convert a company to a product-focused culture. While the strategic piece of this process is 20%, the other 80% is execution. When you begin executing on the product processes each of the touchpoints within the organization will see what you are doing differently to drive the product initiative forward. The education process continues as you work with different departments like product development, engineering, marketing, sales, and customer success. Your success as a product manager may very well depend on these teams getting on board and developing a product mindset.
A great way to think about this process is that product management is a hub role. You are injected into an existing equation where you must serve as the hub, protecting the interest of the product, end-users, and the business. As the hub, there are a myriad of spokes you must work with in order to be successful. Like the wheel you form, each piece must function properly to move the product forward.
Ultimately, to successfully implement product management into a company you need influence. Derrek recommends taking on a servant leader approach. Servant leaders empower those around them, so in a case where you are trying to gain buy-in, it’s a great strategy to build trust, commitment and likability. A lot of pitfalls can be avoided by setting clear expectations and goals from the start. If everyone understands what the goal is and how the product fulfills that goal, then you will have an easier time steering the team in the right direction.
There will undoubtedly be times where an individual or an organization will be going down the wrong path. In this case, the first step would be to educate. Walk the team or individual through past experiences you have had where someone has done exactly what they are doing and failed. If they are still resistant you might have to let them fail in order to learn. There are ways for you to take control of that failure, isolate it, and help them to “fail softly”. It’s better to fail fast, learn the lesson, and then move on.
Utilizing a roadmap is often based on personal preference. Derrek finds it’s helpful to increase communication with the leadership team, the board, and the rest of the company. He simply breaks it down into goals labeled as now, next, and future. The purpose is to facilitate communication and understanding so everyone is on the same page in terms of priorities. Derrek prefers to measure this as a monthly benchmark without getting too far down the timeline.
Part of the value that product managers bring is a lack of bias and fresh eyes. When a product manager walks into an organization with no industry experience but a product mindset it can be incredibly transformative. It’s the power of turning an idea into a hypothesis and looking at everything under a scientific lens of learning and questioning. It’s equivalent to outlining a path or building a bridge to where the vision lies.
Ryan defines thrashing as a situation in which an organization wants to do more than they can realistically accomplish with their current team, resources, time, money and energy. This lack of focus will eventually kill a product and in certain situations, it can kill the organization itself. With that worry in mind, telling an organization they can’t do something can be disparaging to your reputation and label you as a negative naysayer.
Derrek counters that in the past, being first to market with a product meant everything but that’s not really the case anymore. You don’t have to be first to be successful, it’s more important to have a quality product that is low friction and high value. Consumerism has infiltrated every aspect of product including B2B so you can no longer get away with bad user experience in any market. Usability is now the differentiator in the market, so in situations like this, it’s better to lean on experience and data to illustrate the risks.
Having a product-focused company can be a major competitive advantage in our modern world. If you think your company needs a dose of product discipline but you don’t have the capacity to hire a full-time product manager or maybe you’re stuck in ideation and ready to take the next step towards implementation, consider consulting with an expert. At AWH we want to partner with you on your next project whether that is designing or building a new product, we have dedicated experts in virtually every field. Ready to get start a conversation?
Frederick, Ryan. (host) Seif, Derrek, (Guest). “Implementing a Product Discipline in an Established Company,” Beyond the Roadmap: Product Talk with AWH, (Podcast). February 07, 2020. https://blubrry.com/beyond_the_roadmap/55643344/implementing-a-product-discipline-at-an-established-company/