In this November 2020 #mtpcon Digital keynote, Mary Poppendieck, author of Lean Software Development and three other bestsellers, shares the most important lessons she learned as a Product Champion at 3M in the 80s and 90s.
At the time, 3M’s film products were being replaced by digital and, according to Mary, it managed to survive only because it was so good at developing new products – thanks, in no small part, to its dedicated Product Champions.
Watch the video to learn from Mary what it takes to be a Product Champion (and stay tuned for her Q&A with her husband and co-author Tom!), or read on for an overview of her key points:
- Every good product needs a Product Champion
- Be an entrepreneur surrounded by a team of experts
- Understand your user
- Let conflict between skilled people take the decisions
- Learn your way forward
Discover what it means to be a Product Champion, and why the role is necessary, via Mary’s 8 lessons:
1. No champion – no product!
If you don’t have a Product Champion, Mary says, your product is unlikely to succeed. It is that one person who really cares deeply about the product and does whatever is necessary to make it successful.
2. You are an entrepreneur
The Product Champion is fully responsible for the marketplace success of the product. Mary compares it to an entrepreneur running a small business.
3. Attract a leadership team
As a Product Champion, Mary emphasizes, you’re not going to be an expert in all areas needed to make your product a success. You are, however, the person who builds a great leadership team out of domain experts that complement each other well, like Product, Tech, Design, Marketing and Finance.
4. Understand the problem you are solving
To avoid costly mistakes in building something no one will buy, you have to understand your users and their problems. The Product Champion, Mary explains, is the one to walk in the user’s shoes and thoroughly understand them. They’re the ones who should learn what kinds of problems their users have and how they used to solve them up until now.
5. Establish one clear goal
To make sure the product is successful, Mary explains, the team has to have a shared understanding of a product-level goal that clearly defines success. All of the different disciplines have to play their part to achieve that common product goal.
6. Provide for Conflict
In Mary’s view, a great product requires trade-offs. A Product Champion should get key disciplines around the table, make sure their arguments are heard and provide an opportunity for them to resolve their conflicts. Mary’s advice: make sure everybody’s on a level playing field so they have “fair fights”, with no one more senior to the others.
7. Avoid Making Decisions
Elaborating on her point on conflicts, Mary says that it is not the Product Champion’s job to make decisions and choose one of the disagreeing parties over the other. Rather, the champion should make sure that they work together and come to some sort of an agreement. Her advice: Be lazy! Let the decisions get made by the proper amount of conflict inside of the team.
8. “Build a lot of stuff and keep what works”
Quoting Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden (who held a 2017 MTP San Francisco keynote on the topic), Mary says to “learn your way forward”, rather than have a set plan from the beginning. Instead of arguing assumptions for too long, create something, collect data and respond to the results. To allow for this, she says, the team should be in direct contact with the customers, to learn from them without the Product Champion stepping in as a proxy.