In Part 2 of our Product Leadership Forum recap, we take a look at yet more insights shared by a group of senior product leaders during #mtpcon 2019 (if you missed Part 1, take a look here).
(All of the issues discussed were under the Chatham House rule, so you won’t see any direct quotes, but everything reported here comes from the most forward-thinking people in the world of product.)
Companies that are intentional with their product culture tend to have benefits over those that don’t. Facebook switched its cultural statement from ‘Move fast and break things’ to ‘Move fast with stable infrastructure’. While many will disagree with the way the company has gone about this, it’s been deeply strategic as its scaled.
No Vision = no Intentional Culture
If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to know what culture is or should be to support that journey. Your vision and its supporting culture shouldn’t be generic. It should be very specific to who you want to employ and how you want to work. It shouldn’t be for everyone. It should help you make choices from how you measure personal performance all the way to what you build in your products.
Once you have a vision you need a north star to help guide your day-to-day operations, usually focusing on a shorter timescale.
There’s no Such Thing as a Stakeholder
Either you’re actively building the product, or you’re playing a role that isn’t helpful. If people don’t support that process and need to be ‘managed’, it points to an organisational issue.
The time product teams spend detailing their plans is usually because someone else thinks they have a better idea than they do. If your organisational chart allows this to happen, then you are building inefficiency into your culture and way of working.
You Shouldn’t Have Department OKRs
The point of OKRs is to align everyone’s work to the company’s vision. If you or your team has to have separate OKRs, then it’s another sign of a problem. If something you’re doing isn’t aligned to the company’s plan, rather than shifting OKRs to allow it, you simply shouldn’t be doing it.
Your org Chart is Your org Culture
Lots of different frameworks try to align people around a certain principle, such as Spotify’s squads. To be truly brought together, you need to bring the whole organisation into these ways of working. Legal, finance, marketing should all be included in the solution.
Hire Generalists for the Best Product Culture
Generalists tend to go through inflection points, more easily than people who are specialised in certain types of product. Skyscanner looks for people with exceptional problem-solving skills. It wants people who don’t get hung up on particular decisions and can move on from difficult situations.
Stop the Success Theatre
Your reporting shouldn’t focus on activities – such as running away days or launches. This is a symptom of rewarding the wrong things. To be successful you have to focus on outcomes and the value that they deliver for the organisation. An engineer’s job is to write code, but in terms of what they deliver, it’s to move the company forward.
You get the Behaviour you Incentivise
Economics is the study of incentives. At the company level, you need to reward the product outcomes that you want to see. It takes patience to not reward a release, and rather to celebrate the success metrics three months later. But it’s worth it.
Stop Looking at Competitors
By continually focusing on what others are doing, you risk copying other peoples’ solutions. This risks reducing the confidence of your own staff members in their own capabilities because you constantly put other peoples’ opinions on a pedestal. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at your competitors completely, but the balance should be tipped towards speaking to your users.
Finance are the Gatekeepers to Product Culture
In many organisations, finance controls the purse strings. One way of moving them away from three-year roadmaps and project investment, is to get them to look at funding in an investment cycle. This means finance can still keep control, but you can drive your product iteratively.
Building a Product Culture
Hire by Asking People About Behaviours
By focusing on how people do things, then you’ll get a better sense of how they’ll fit into your culture. You can teach skills, but it’s much harder to get people to change how they approach situations. So focus your interviews by asking how people felt or thought when faced with certain problems. From here you can decide if they will be able to contribute to the way that your organisation is structured.
Start Cultural Change Small
Keen to drive transformation in the way that your organisation is structured? Start with a small test. If you want to create cross-functional teams out of a command and control hierarchy, don’t try and do it all at once. Get one group to make the change. Then give them enough bandwidth to still do much of what they needed to before in terms of tasks and reporting. You’ll still see the benefits but won’t anger or frighten as many people at the same time.
New Information Comes to Light all the Time, so you Have to Change
Given that culture drives how your business operates, it needs to change fairly regularly. Your org charts, skills and approaches need to keep iterating to achieve success. You shouldn’t be afraid to throw away things that you’ve tried in the past if there are new conditions that mean they are no longer a good idea.
Find new Ways to Relight Your Cultural Fire
You need a sense of urgency to keep people motivated. Most people don’t operate at their maximum in a situation which is completely comfortable. If you win in a single category, then you need to restructure your plan to try and be successful in others. If you achieve your initial goals, then look at what’s next to scale. If there’s a big failure, make sure it never happens again. Any of these objectives will need you to re-orientate your culture and ways of working to achieve them.
Decide Where you Want to get to and Work Backwards
A great way of deciding what shifts you need is to imagine what winning looks like in 24 months’ time. From here, you can see where you should be at this point to be on track. If you’re on plan then it is encouraging to keep working hard. If you’re not, then it’ll create an impetus and get people to look and what needs to change.