How Product Managers Influence Organization Culture

Image courtesy Technical.ly
Image courtesy Technical.ly

Among many others, maximizing value and ensuring ROI are primary responsibilities associated with a Product Manager role. These include activities around market research, customer interaction and much more. All Product Management activities are split across 2 broad categories; strategic and tactical. These activities take away the majority of the Product Manager’s time with limited or no time in hand for the team solving the problem.

A Product Manager’s engagement with their stakeholders highlights a very distinct gap. This gap is caused by the approach driven by local optimization where customer’s priority is about market expectation and their need for new features, management which is concerned about timelines and cost and teams that are about stress and impact of changing business landscape. In a nutshell, each interaction deals with local problems without much attention paid to common business goals and objectives and the missing alignment.

When it comes to development teams, the kind of engagement a Product Manager is able to develop impacts how the team performs. Here are some Product Manager attributes that impact team culture:

Shared Product Vision – Developing a good Product Vision can be difficult. A lot of market data and research goes into understanding what you need to build and why. Knowing the vision of the product can greatly impact the behavior of the team. It is imperative that the people involved in building the product buy into it. A lack of it can cause the team member to be demotivated or follow their own goals which make it harder to achieve product success. An inspiring vision that is able to articulate the positive change it will bring can go a long way in how teams think, engage and innovate.

A vision also helps in guiding the decisions of the team. A team member who will be able to challenge a Product Manager on a decision that deviates from the vision is typically a motivated team member.

A Product Manager should bring in the team together every once in a while and have them articulate the product vision to ensure shared understanding.

Product Strategy – The next step is to have a product strategy. A strategy is developed taking into consideration market and customer needs, key product differentiators and focused outcomes. While Product Managers own the strategy, an inclusive approach where the team gets to influence strategic decisions based on their understanding of business and product helps builds a culture of trust.

Focus on the problem – It is commonly said and understood that while Product Managers focus on the “WHAT” and “WHY” of the problem, they should trust the team to come up with the “HOW”. Many Product Managers indulge in influencing decisions about the “HOW” suggesting lack of ability in the team to solve problems.

While organizations invest heavily in hiring people with the right skills and talent, Product Manager trying to force solutions may suggest their lack of faith in team’s ability and skills. Product Managers and other team members must have mutual respect for each others knowledge and contributions to the team. A Product Manager who shares a problem and trusts the team to find a solution build a culture of collective ownership.

Acknowledge unknowns and need for experimentation – Just like all business solutions may not be successful, technical solutions can fail too. Expecting development teams to be first time right can kill the creative capabilities and limit the team from taking risks.

Product Managers should encourage the team to experiment and take risks towards building next generation solutions while staying aligned with the latest technology and industry trends. Technology teams understand market and business constraints and should be trusted to provide solutions that work around the constraints and provide business value. This will also lead to building a culture of celebrating failure.

Allow technology to drive value – We live in the era of technology innovation where the biggest businesses have been successful by leveraging technology to solve the most common problems. Most successful enterprises are creating a “playground” for exploration to explore new technologies cause disruption.

Driving business value is crucial for Product Managers but the most innovative outcomes are produced by allowing technology to remain on the forefront of problem-solving. This needs to have a mindset and culture of collaborative ideation and problem solving to use to best of both worlds to create competitive advantage and create a culture of innovation.

Wrap Up: The most successful enterprises are using joint business and technology portfolio to innovate and create the most innovative product offering. Product Managers can play a critical role in practicing this at the team level by putting the above-mentioned behaviors in practice.

If you are a Product Manager and you have other ideas that can help transform organization cultures, please leave a comment.

Questions to ask to Kickstart Agile Adoption – Part II of II

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Continuing from part 1 of this 2 part series, here are some additional questions based on observed failure patterns which when discussed up front lead to creating agreements, building trust and setting the stage for a successful agile adoption:

Beyond Process Change Agile is beyond processes. Are we open to changing our practices, mindset, culture, and structures? Most people have a perception that agile is only limited to process change. While the adoption does lead to process improvements but a big part of the improvements needs change across mindset, culture, and structures. To experience the impact of agility, organizations have to be open to changes associated with processes, people, practices, leadership styles, structures, safety, relationships and much more. This is precisely why an incremental approach to agile adoption becomes critical to making the adoption successful.Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 11.08.40 AM

A common approach to agility that is a recipe for failure is a leader asking the whole organization to adopt agile without a clear understanding of “why”, leading to a siloed local optimization across various functions of the organization with the focus on survival and risk mitigation.

 

Agile Adoption Strategy and RoadmapHow do you want to roll out the adoption of agile? “All aboard the fail boat”. Because of the reasons mentioned earlier and how agile adoption demands change across multiple aspects in the organization, it becomes imperative that the approach to adopt agile is understood. While a big bang approach is not ideal, organizations might still have reason to pursue the approach which should be analyzed and discussed up front.

Measuring SuccessHow do you plan to measure success with agile? Once the vision for agile adoption has been established and understood, the next step is to create agreement on how progress towards the vision will be measured. Many aspects contribute to measuring success with agile but most organizations look at agile as a way to get things done faster. While that may be achievable, it will not be possible without effective leadership, business engagement and alignment across leadership, business, and engineering.

Measuring success with agile includes measuring leading measures (team or projects metrics), which when improved should lead to improvements in the lagging metrics (customer satisfaction or increase in revenue etc…). Both engineering/team and business metrics should be accounted for to measure success.

Commitment to ChangeAre you willing to have an engaged workforce to impact change? images-7Agile adoption needs a committed workforce that understands the principles of agility and is able to influence change is achieve the vision and objectives of the adoption. This includes organization leaders, senior and middle management, down to the team members. Lack of such commitment results in a conflict of interest for people engaged in the adoption. Additionally, lack of commitment is also a form a resistance which should be discussed and addressed.

Comfortable Being Vulnerable and make Uncomfortable Changes Are you comfortable with exposing problems, being vulnerable and potential temporary slow down? images-6The biggest reality associated with agile adoption is the fact that it exposes problems before they can be fixed. This can make people at different level very uncomfortable and exhibit behavior which impedes a successful agile adoption. Additionally, changes in multiple levels (roles, people, practices, processes etc…) may also cause a temporary slow down in the amount of work or value that can be produced.

In cases where the environment is not suitable for exposing problems and slow down, there might be a tendency to pursue the change without the commitment of making it successful. These expectations should be set up front and the data may also be used to help decision making about selecting the right products/initiatives/teams for adoption.

Wrap up – Agile adoption in most organizations is taking place for some nonconvincing reasons including “because the new CIO wants it” or because the competition is doing it. While these reasons will not go away, the leaders driving adoption or the consultants impacting the change should ensure that these difficult questions are asked and the emerging data used to assess readiness and willingness to be agile.

 

 

When a plumber gave a crash course in consulting

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Source: rlmconsulting.be

 

The idea of consulting is typically associated with an individual with certain specialized skills that makes him an expert in an area. While the term “consultant” is generally associated with high profile areas of specialization, other kind of areas fit rather well into the definition of a consultant.

A close friend was recently sharing his experience where he needed to call in a plumber to a fix a leak behind a wall, however; he also went about researching the internet about how to solve the problem. Not to mention he used certain keywords while searching like “cheap ways”, “quick ways” and some more. He also searched for specific information about how plumbers have a tendency to exaggerate the problem towards generating a high margin. As it was time for the plumber to arrive, he was ready with how the problem should be fixed, what tools would be needed, how he would ensure that the fix was successful and steps he would take to shield himself from getting ripped.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-11-19-47-amThe plumber who seemed like a master in his trade had other thoughts. He was quick to diagnose the problem and suggest the fix which obviously was different from what my friend was expecting. During this period, the plumber was patiently listening to all the research that was done. There was some back and forth and the plumber left without fixing the problem.

Human mind is constantly engaged in the activity of forming opinions about people, society, profession etc. We try to appear smart, knowledgeable and experienced in the most unknown territories. This isn’t necessarily because every human knows everything but because we feel uncomfortable with how the person in front of us will perceive us if we said “I don’t know”. At the same time, this behavior does change in situations when the outcome has a higher degree of risk involved. For example, talking to a doctor about a possible fix to an ailment, we tend to trust the doctor to make the right decision with the end objective of a successful and full recovery. We do not even want to confront the doctor if what our research suggests is otherwise.

While organizations like to have control over what and how consultants solve problems, consultants needs to exhibit certain characteristics and ethics to justify the value for the price paid. Below are some characteristics that identify great consultants from the rest:

  • Listen – A consultant’s first strategy to build confidence is by listening and paying close attention. The 5 stages of listening (receiving, understanding, evaluating, remembering, and responding) supported by active listening (a technique that required the listener to provide feedback of what he or she hears to the speaker) help in empathizing with the situation and subsequently providing solutions or asking relevant questions.
  • Comfortable saying “No” – The fact that consultants are experts in their field gives them a upper hand in making recommendations that are based on skills, knowledge and experience. This also implies that addressing the problem in hand using the right means takes precedence over other measurements including doing things a certain way to keep the client happy. As an expert, a consultant should feel comfortable to disagree with the customer and provide evidence to support it.
  • Align strategic goals and measurements of success – Engagement of a consultant suggests that a certain expertise is needed in order to address a problem which the organization is unable to address by itself. In such a scenario, it becomes vital to understand the strategic goal behind engaging a consultant and the measurements of success both long term and short term. Often these discussions never take place and consultants are asked to follow orders and paint a picture that is expected.
  • Challenge and persist – Great consultants don’t give up. They accept frictions, unforeseen circumstances and negative feedback, they learn from them and they move on. They will analyze and learn from every setback in order to prevent it from happening again.
  • Do not get ahead of yourself – Being a consultant in a specific area does not mean that one works on the same set of problems. For example; the symptoms for the doctor to diagnose a problem can vary from patient to patient. A doctor cannot afford to assume that the second patient has the same problem as the first one given that the symptoms are same. Think and assess before giving a reference to how you faced similar challenges in the past and how they were addressed. Assessment of the problem along with creative thinking should happen before influencing the solution approach.
  • Expose problems and facilitate solutions – Consulting done by providing immediate solutions to problems is done with an intention of creating dependency. A great consultant refrains from providing solutions and instead helps in exposing problems so the organization can solve the problem itself. It is impractical for a consultant to get into a problem solving mode having been with the organization for a short period of time. Instead, a great consultant will use enquiry and facilitate conversations to expose problems so organizations can find the best possible solution(s).
  • Have a exit strategy – A consultant needs to have a well defined exit strategy which should be looked at all along the duration of the engagement. Exit can be a result of a successful solution of a problem or completion of the engagement or a realization where the consultant cannot fathom the value to be added. Either way, exit at the right time goes a long way in building trust with the customer and ensuring a long term relationship. As it a said, the greatest measurement is success if by how soon a consultant can work him/herself out of a job leaving behind a organization that is self sufficient.
  • Maintain transparency – Consultants need to feel comfortable sharing both the good and bad news. Consultants are bought in for a reason that things are not working in the first place. Given the high rates consultants get paid, some consultants refrain from or delay sharing bad news with the client assuming they will address the problem without bringing it to the notice of the customer. The fact is that most issues exposed sooner than later. Consultants should establish transparency as the key criteria of their relationship with the customer right at the start of the engagement. If this is done, a bad news will not come as a surprise for the customer and will only help in building trust and ensure ongoing collaboration in addressing issues and risks.
  • Accept you don’t know it all – Not knowing everything is normal, however; accepting that I do not know everything is difficult. No matter how experienced or qualified a consultant is, s/he will run into situations where the consultant might not have a opinion or an answer. This isn’t necessarily bad news. Acknowledging that I do not know something and then making an effort to research the solution elevates the relationship and provides opportunity to learn something new.

Consulting in the area of business, technology and other recent areas of innovation has forced other business like staffing to get into the consulting fold. Individuals and so called consulting organizations have started using the term rather loosely. While this has resulted in smoke around who consultants are what they do, it is important that consultants practice the above characteristics to bring some credibility back to the professional of consulting and help organization realize the benefits of value consultants offer.

If you are a consultant who exhibits a characteristic not captured here, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. Happy Consulting..