Transforming to a Product Culture by Lea Hickman
Through her experience with a wide range of different organisations across the world, Silicon Valley Product Group partner Lea Hickman has a unique perspective on how people do product. In this awesome talk from Mind the Product London 2017 she shares some of what she’s learned about creating a product culture and how everyone has space to improve. Whilst we may all be doing our own products well, the wider culture of our teams and organisations are where the ground remains to be gained.
Business Goals vs Product Goals
Business goals and product goals often compete against one another. A small amount of tension can sometimes be healthy, but if it’s constant and not the exception then it ends up becoming toxic. From CEOs directing product features to sales managers needing defined delivery dates, there are numerous sources of tension that must be avoided for a product culture to become healthy.
You need to tackle any sources of disconnect to get to a more harmonious state with the rest of your organisations. Some of these include competing goals, different motivations and a varied historic context. All of these will make it harder to work with other parts of the business and will limit your overall success. Disconnect is often most obvious and most debilitating when looking at the executive team and how they interact with product teams.
So how do you get past this? Firstly, you need to set up your rules of engagement. By speaking to and collaborating with stakeholders, you can define what’s acceptable and what’s not for everybody. All product managers, and especially product leaders, need to make this part of their role. You should establish these rules early on, as with anything good product people do, then constantly revisit them and iterate.
Moving From Output to Outcomes
For Lea, the critical shift in the development of a product culture is the switch from directing product teams with tasks to making the team investigate solutions to goals. This means a move from a focus on outputs to a focus on outcomes. No organisation can establish a strong product culture without making this change.
Getting Things Done Builds Credibility
To become a true leader in their organisation, as a product manager you must build your credibility. This means getting the rest of the organisation to trust your capabilities. In order to get the autonomy that product teams need, you still have to be accountable to the rest of the organisation and its goals. if you want this accountability you also have to step up and maintain your integrity. You have to do what you say you’re going to do, to build a reputation for integrity that other people can buy into.
Execution will build your credibility with other stakeholders. Through your action focus, communication and support of the organisation goals you should always be talking to the rest of your business. By tying your progress to the organisation goals, you further build credibility, even with those teams that see the world in a different way from you.
Honesty and Transparency
Transparency is key for generating respect for the product management team and its mission. This means being just as comfortable about delivering bad news as positive results. Otherwise you only tell half the story and people won’t believe that you appreciate the whole situation.
Who you Should Hire
To start with this work, you should begin by looking at your team. Lea hires people by looking at their personality and soft skills ahead of their more technical skills. You can learn a skill, but some of the factors that make a good product manager are inherent within a personality.
Intellectual curiosity, natural collaboration and grit are the top three aspects she looks for in a product manager:
- Intellectual curiosity – this applies not just to academia and content, but also being keen to explore and understand more about yourself
- Natural collaboration – if you are more concerned about being right than being open, you will struggle to be a product manager
- Grit – this means passion and perseverance. Without it you’ll be soon lost and moving on.
Product culture is more than the sum of its parts, it is a combination of the right people, the right process, all focused on the right outcomes.