How Product Processes Can Shape Your Company Culture
Achieving product-driven leadership requires an organizational focus on cultural change. But what does that mean exactly? Your processes, how you’re supposed to do things, shape your culture. Product processes and company culture are therefore interconnected and rely on each other to succeed. Cultural obstacles are often the greatest challenge.
While organizations are able to establish the product function via the role of the product manager to provide the foundation for becoming product-driven, there’s much more to it than that. Becoming product-driven is a journey, one which unfolds over time. This article will help you to accelerate these efforts, identifying the challenges in product culture and offering concrete solutions and processes to become product-led.
The Challenges of Product Culture
Adapting to change is never easy, but within organizations, it’s necessary in order to become product-led. Cultural change is imperative to success as it represents business transformation over time. But the reality is that embracing change and experimentation can be difficult. It requires a strong product culture and a focus on testing value propositions and business models. The organization has to create an environment where product teams need to successfully implement techniques and processes that will foster cultural change over time.
There are a number of factors that can have a negative effect on product culture:
- Lack of prioritization: Prioritization is key and sometimes the most difficult part of product development.
- Internal politics: Time that should be dedicated to prioritization activities is spent navigating internal politics and resolving internal conflicts.
- Loss of direction: Loss of direction means a lack of growth. This can feel like it's a decline, with no one seeing the rewards of their time and energy.
- Being set up for failure: Product leaders hedge bets on features supported by anecdotal evidence (not data). This is where product managers wing it and have no clue what they’re doing or talking about.
- Contention: When staff work at capacity and feel pulled in multiple directions, it can lead to decreased productivity, burning out more quickly and getting less done.
- People issues: This could be a lack of value produced by other teams. For example, sales, support and marketing teams might find that the product and engineering contributions aren’t valuable.
- Wasted resources: This could be a situation where communication is extremely difficult, engineering time and energy is wasted, a company releasing features that are not important or necessary. This means that everyone is dealing with the burden of unneeded features which leads to the product being unlikely to succeed.
- Behaviour and discipline: Most stakeholders don’t understand or know their role. Crafting a product roadmap requires embracing company vision, product thinking, tools and best practices.
Solutions and Processes to Becoming Product-Led
Now that we’ve listed the factors that can have a significant effect on your product culture, let’s look at a number of solutions and product processes that can help drive cultural change throughout an organization.
1. Create Leadership and Consent Culture
Consent culture is where the leadership team as well as the product manager and engineers proceed with an idea once everyone involved agrees that it's the right thing to do. We’re not building a consensus culture — a decision-making process with the goal of getting 100% agreement (consensus). This is hard and often impossible.
Consent-based decision-making asks everyone to default to buying-in and to only speak up if they can't live with a decision. This is a 'stop the train only when you have to' culture that understands the value of making progress — even when people aren't in agreement.
Alternatively, you can have your leadership team define the processes and tools so as to empower product managers to succeed, build roadmaps and contribute to the growth of your organization. Cross-functional collaboration and trust can only be achieved if everyone has a say. Ultimately, the leadership team creates and guards a culture of consent (alignment and buy-in on next features to build).
2. Close the Strategy Execution Gap
Companies that successfully close the strategy execution gap far outperform those that don't. It isn't just about having an excellent strategic plan, it is about building a culture that enables the successful translation of strategy and tactics into actions that the team can understand at a high level. Companies with good strategy execution see the results directly on their bottom line.
The product leadership team still faces the challenge of hiring a product manager and defining how product works within the organization. But a word of caution, there isn’t a set template to follow. Your company culture will heavily depend on how your organization empowers the product management team.
3. Build Good Habits Around Roadmap Completion
Implementing a successful product-led process can be difficult when the product leadership team exhibits messy behavior. Often in this situation, product leadership upholds preconceived notions after roadmap prioritization and dilutes the scope of the quarterly initiatives with new priorities.
This leads to them interpreting minor market/industry, customer/competitor shifts to improvise, modifying the product mission, strategies and tactics beyond recognition, causing product teams to lose control. As they seek harmony or conformity within their team, they make roadmap completion confusing and difficult to deal with.
Instead, you want stakeholders to build good habits around roadmap completion — from executing collective product discovery to pre-wiring meetings.
When the messiness of product leadership culture impacts your roadmap, don't be rigid, hear them out and know when to adapt to these adverse circumstances. It's normal to get tangled with leadership. Asking them amicably not to interfere in roadmap pillars once prioritized is the most straightforward way to prevent unpleasant jolts.
Remember, you’re not here to get them all to 100% agree. Roadmap prioritization is about getting product leadership to give you the go-ahead to build a feature mix. You need their collective consent.
4. Develop an Open-Minded Work Culture that Encourages Collaboration
For the ultimate success of any team, the leader must ignore their ego. No one person is any more valuable when it comes to the exchange of ideas. Open-mindedness is key. When each person is given the opportunity to be heard, trust is instilled. When trust is earned, a culture of respect and success follows.
You can build an open-minded work culture that encourages collaboration, opinions, and feedback, allowing you to gain a variety of perspectives from the people on our teams and beyond.
One of the best ways to keep cross-functional teams determined is to be a good listener. Attentive listening and empathy improve relations with others and separate ordinary product managers from great ones.
Encourage fellow colleagues to talk about their product ideas and establish a workplace where those around you feel comfortable bringing new opinions to the table. Make sure all voices are heard, and not just those that are the loudest. All opinions matter.
And while it can be difficult sometimes to work in an environment with clashing opinions, it is simply something we have to deal with. Embrace the discourse! Use everyone’s ideas to firm up your roadmap. Fill in communication and understanding gaps to ensure each person makes the best decisions for them and the team.
Once trust has been earned, the next step for a product manager is to ensure constant improvement is being made. Once again, it remains a process, not a destination. Focus on building a strong culture, and steadily improving team performance.
When there is a thriving culture in place, a relentless pursuit to constantly improve is what drives the company vision forward. Nothing worth achieving is done without hard work, and those who continue to get better over time, find themselves on top in the end.
Thanks to Loren O'Brien-Egesborg for contributing to this article as well as reading drafts and overseeing aspects of its publication. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article, then shoot us an email email@example.com.
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