The majority of product organizations are not led by people with product backgrounds. In this ProductTank London talk, Ken Chin, Director of Product at Farfetch, explains why dysfunction is a problem in many companies and provides three examples of dysfunction. They are:
Watch the video to see his talk in full or read on for an overview of his key points.
Unintended Consequences of Strategic Alignment
Alignment is essential if you want to execute a strategy, but it takes enormous effort to align an organization as well as extensive communication. Unfortunately, there’s often an over-commitment to the strategy in which key risks and assumptions are overlooked, resources are fully committed, and product roadmaps are locked in. It can then be potentially dangerous for leaders or individual contributors to challenge the strategy.
Groupthink occurs when the desire for harmony leads to irrational decision-making. What happens if the strategy or the execution of that strategy turns out to be wrong? As the product manager, it is your job to talk with leaders about risk.
Four Big Product Risks
There are four major risks for any product:
- Value: Do customers want it?
- Usability: Can users use it?
- Feasibility: Can we build it?
- Viability: Is it good for business?
As the product manager, you can talk about managing risk through customer or product discovery or adopting lean startup principles such as experimentation, prototyping, and testing.
Planning involves prioritization & roadmaps, and there are a few different ways this gets done in an organization. Oftimes, the big rock analogy is used, which is effectively a static snapshot in time. However, a better analogy is the highway approach, which considers that organizations are dynamic and complex. Since organizations are dynamic, they are delivering value continuously, there is a fixed capacity, and some vehicles are more important than others. However, when product managers take the same big rock approach to the highway, they end up with over-committed roadmaps.
Optimize for flow (continuous delivery of value)
In order to cope with the built-up traffic, organizations need to have an optimal flow rate and prioritize traffic in the fast lane. The space between the cars has value. When it comes to prioritization and roadmaps, it is managed by introducing force rank prioritization, implementing organizational work in progress limits, breaking up large vehicles into smaller batch sizes, including some uncommitted capacity or space between cars, and having managed dependencies.
When considering your roadmap and prioritization, focusing on “getting stuff done” like delivering code or software can be appealing. But it’s also essential to think about the underlying reasons for doing an activity.
Choosing the right outcomes
For many companies, there is a focus on activities and outputs instead of outcomes. This can be seen in feature roadmaps, feature factories, a focus on delivery dates, or a lack of product discovery. However, if you’re using OKRs correctly as a product manager, it’s crucial to describe the end state you’d like to achieve and make your objectives customer-focused rather than focusing on activities or metrics. Then, key results can be used to measure progress and outcomes. However, these key metrics should be balanced with health metrics that don’t go down.
The key takeaways from this talk are that dysfunction can arise in an organization in different forms due to the behavior of the people, fear, and a lack of trust between different teams. But, it is possible to overcome it by having the right conversations with leadership.
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