Part One: Key Elements to Become a Healthy Product-Led Organization
Let’s face it, most organizations have poor habits around roadmap completion — this is why getting leadership (or stakeholders) to develop consistent, stable and familiar routines reinforced through repetition and communication is valuable. The most versatile and robust good habits are formed when we train ourselves to make the best decisions, no matter the circumstances.
As a product manager, it’s normal to get all kinds of new feature requests from stakeholders (these requests are usually related to pain points). But how you handle these requests is where it matters. Do you validate the pain point and place it in a parking lot for triage? Or do you try to implement each feature request, leaving you with half-baked projects with an archive of features and no finished product? Saying no isn’t always easy, but it plays a big part in contributing to a healthy product culture.
In the next two articles, we’ll look at what it means to be a product-led organization and how a product-led growth process, product lifecycle management, the implementation of feature parking lots as well as the elements of the product-led organization pyramid can all play a part in achieving product success.
The Product-Led Pyramid
Let's take a step further into what it means to be a product-led organization. This pyramid represents all the elements that actively contribute to a healthy product culture. As such, to be a healthy product-led organization, all the elements in this pyramid need to actively contribute to the product management function.
Let’s dive deeper!
High-Level Strategic Baseline
A high-level strategic baseline is a frequently revised document discovered collectively with leadership that covers the key foundational elements to steer growth, innovation and help stay abreast of changes in the market, industry, customers and competitors. This is to identify areas of opportunity outside of the organisation’s core business as well as new business models, markets and problems to solve for new or existing customers. This includes the BHAG (the big hairy ambitious goals), your value proposition, the product mission as well as its strategy to expand into new markets, innovate or create efficiencies — doing more with less.
In addition, a high-level strategic baseline includes the execution tactics for each strategy accompanied by the metrics (KPIs) the company plans to move. You'll use these metrics to validate that the features you just released will help you achieve the success you seek.
The high-level strategic baseline cannot be delegated to employees and are the tough choices leadership needs to make. Product managers, as well as team members across departments, can have the autonomy to act on tactical issues that improve the product, but not on these strategic choices. The market and customer expectations will shift, the industry will change or the competition may very well come in and take a large market share from you. What’s important to remember: If this shift creates the need to pivot or adjust the strategy, product managers need to report it to leadership for them to decide whether to act.
Ask yourself the pivot question
This is why you have to ask yourself the pivot question of whether or not as an organization your high-level strategic baseline remains relevant. Do this on a quarterly basis as this is how often the situation in your organization will change. A pivot shouldn’t impact the company BHAG or product mission, but will directly affect strategies and tactics.
Essentially, this is a time to ask your leadership whether you need to pivot or persevere with regard to any underperforming strategies or tactics. The pivot or persevere question allows you to question and even challenge stakeholders — is it best to consider a change?
A pivot will have a direct impact on the future features you will release, on the product itself and on the roadmap, allowing you as a product manager to thrive with value-creating initiatives.
It's normal for a company to have hedged a bet on a particular tactic and ship features only to realize that it hasn't really moved the needle. It's also okay for an organization to come face-to-face with the harsh reality that those tactics or strategies weren't the right ones. We all make mistakes. And so asking the pivot question on a quarterly basis allows you to clean up your strategies and tactics and bring them up-to-date so as to align with the changing realities of the market.
Product Leadership Team
The next part of the pyramid is the product leadership team, which is essentially those with influence on the product roadmap. This includes the C-suite, cross-functional VPs and directors whose role it is to nurture the product management function within the organization.
This nurturing will allow the product manager to benefit from the cross-functional collaboration and trust needed for product feature discovery, execution and launch. Most importantly, they are responsible for empowering product management, allowing them to present new roadmap initiatives, prioritize and give consent so the product can evolve.
Unfortunately, product leadership culture can get a little messy. Every leadership team is plagued by derailed discussions, dismissed opinions, side conversations, directors who dominate, and those who bite their tongue.
When dealing with a messy product leadership culture, where group thinking, authority, status quo or confirmation biases prevail, strategic choices get diluted beyond recognition. So you get a lack of clarity. The strategy remains a mystery and offers no guidance or direction to product managers and the cross-functional teams they support. It might be time to make your CEO provide a clear vision.
The Product Team
The third layer of the pyramid is the product team, which includes the product manager, UX/UI and data resources. It also includes the processes used for roadmapping such as the SOAPTM framework with its workflows and collaborative activities the product manager uses to get strategic and goal alignment from the product leaders.
In addition, this encompasses the tools the product team will use to store all roadmap related information. The analysis captures the market, its sentiment, the industry as well as user data. All this information needs to be stored in a command center (your data room) which is transparent to the rest of the organization. Your user personas will also need to be leveraged for UX/UI. Additionally, engineering and QA teams (even though a department of their own) will need to be counted on for writing and shipping code.
The Enablement Team
Next, we have the enablement team. These are the cross-functional collaborators such as the marketing team, support team, sales team as well as all the documentation that will have to be created to support them. They will be involved in the outbound communications of existing and upcoming product features. They don't create these documents without the product manager's input about the evolution of the roadmap. Their efforts include anything that has to do with launch planning, onboarding, support and growth in user engagement.
The Real-World Product
Finally, we have the real-world product — your foundations of customers, users, alpha-beta testers (sometimes referred to as reference customers), your partners and competitors. This is a rich source of data for you to gather input, validate your baseline assumptions and increase the confidence meter for proposing product fixes and future improvements.
Wrapping it all up
The path to successful product-led growth is a tough one. What you want is for stakeholders to build good habits around the product-led organization pyramid, but unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.
We understand there’s a lot to take away in this article, so here’s a quick summary:
There are five stages to the product-led organization pyramid:
- High-level strategic baseline: BHAG, value proposition, product mission, strategies, tactics, KPI metrics.
- Product leadership team: C-suite, VPs, directors nurturing cross-functional collaboration, trust and empowerment.
- Product team: Roadmap process (e.g. SOAPTM) for strategy and goal alignment, tools, analysis and data, personas, UX/UI code.
- Enablement team: Marketing, customer support, customer success, sales collateral, product documentation and launch planning.
- Real-world product ecosystem: Customers, users, alpha/beta testers, partners and competitors.
Looking to find out more about SOAPTM? This is our sustainable, repeatable planning and prioritization framework. We created this methodology based on principles of product strategy, lean startup, user-centered design, data science and more. Book a demo here.
In the second and final part of this article series, we’ll look at the challenges of achieving product-led growth as well as the importance of product lifecycle management and understanding the feature parking lot process. Stay tuned!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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