In 2021, with my college Oliver Borders, we shared our experience scaling product and design teams highlighting 7 imperative factors.
This article is part of a follow-up series and a deep-dive into factor number 7: Fabricate your product values and principles.
What is product dynamics?
In simple terms, it is how our behaviour as a product person affects our product work. It guides the product team on how to approach a tough conversation, a mistake, a decision or even celebrating a win.
In this post, we’ll delve into what you need to know and why it’s important.
Why do we need product dynamics?
As humans, our values and principles are self-created based on education, experiences, and beliefs.
As product people, our values and principles follow the same formula: they are created based on your product education, product experience, and beliefs associated with the work environment. Though this could bring positive aspects like diversity in ways to work, it often creates unnecessary friction across the team due to misunderstanding, confusion, and frustration.
The modern product manager role is only ~25 years old, and it is continuously evolving. We are still trying to unify definitions, responsibilities and ownership across company sizes and industries. Consequently, it is a key responsibility of the product leadership team of every company, to bring product cultural coherence so every product person speaks the same language. Benefits are not just harmonisation which assures smooth collaboration in and out the team and company, it also guarantees quality and purpose to our jobs within a determined context. Read: Product manager zero: How to be number one
What is the difference between values and principles?
Values determine our behaviours on any kind of interaction: a call, a message, a chat, a stand-up, a performance review. It applies everywhere: within your peers, stakeholders, and even customers or partners.
Principles give purpose to our actions. They guide us on how to make high-quality choices and contributions, understanding trade-offs and consequences. They work as internal checkpoints before executing any next move.
My recommendation is to create values first, as principles will cascade organically afterwards. For instance, ’Transparency’ as a value empowers principles like ‘Learn from mistakes and iterate faster’, or ‘Ask the tough questions’.
When do we need them?
When you are in an early-stage company what matters is what work has to be done. How you get it done is always messy and chaotic. However, this is expected as the duty is adapted to the specific business context. Your top priority is to figure out what makes sense to build first, being flexible on the how.
Everything changes when you achieve product-market fit. The focus turns to scalability, efficiency, and optimisation. This is the right time to implement product dynamics across the product division.
It usually matches with the product team count expansion, having from 1-2 to 3+ product managers, and 2+ leads or heads.
Track and evolve
Measure your product values and principles at least once a quarter. How? Ask your team.
In my current role we send a simple questionnaire with key questions about how they act in specific scenarios linked to our product values, below are some examples:
- Was there any situation where you had to admit your mistakes to your fellow colleagues and coworkers? If yes, how did it go?
- How comfortable are you providing feedback to your peers/colleagues/managers?
- How often do you collaborate with another member of the Product team out of your key area?
Once responses have been collected, the product leadership team meets together to analyse and determine how to improve product dynamics based on results. For example, once we detected a big drop in the collaboration value and after some digging, we realised the product squads were working in silos. We immediately restructured the squads to be multidisciplinary, and we advocated for regular inter-squad communication. Read this case study on cultivating collaboration across large product organisations.
Additionally, it is useful to share a full report with the team and arrange a meeting to get more inputs on whys and ideas on what to do next.
Apply this process once a quarter, or in 6 months cycles depending on the product dynamics and team maturity. Less than 3 months feels not enough to evaluate progress, and >6 months feels very distant to keep momentum along the year.
‘Before and after’ experiential exercise
The best way to emphasise the importance of values and principles is through contextual testing with your team. First, describe some usual product scenarios to them, and ask how they would react. Here are some scenario cases as reference:
- A senior salesperson comes to you stating that he is working on a massive opportunity, and persuading this is what we should do next. How would you react?
- In a kickoff call for a specific project, you got the room divided by a diversity of opinions. How would you proceed with the call?
- You are working with an engineer to define implementation for a new feature. She says that the desired functionality can’t be made. How would you respond?
- An engineering lead approaches you raising performance concerns in a core part of the system. What would you do next?
Let the team think and describe their responses, working on their own.
Once it is done, run the same exercise but this time indicate default product principles (it doesn’t matter which ones at this point) to follow. You can see some examples beneath:
- Knowing the why is the 1st step
- Understand and solve real problems
- Always back your decisions with data
- Being opinionated is valuable
- Consider the whole system
Once both exercises are completed, compare responses before and after principles. I’m quite confident you would have a better consensus on the right behaviours to apply. You could do this either with values or principles, however the latter is much more effective on awareness as the rules are narrowed.
If you are not yet convinced whether you need or not product values and principles, you just need to observe. Jump to some meetings where you can examine your peers’ behaviours. Are they the same? Are they the right ones?
Assuming you decide that is the right time to create your product values and principles, you can’t do it alone. Your voice as a product leader is very important, but you will need buy-in from the team to make them work.
I’d strongly recommend meeting with the team, and practising the exercise shared previously. Therefore, workshop with the team what they believe is important to remember in every action that we do. As a leader, guide the conversation, share your beliefs and give room for team input. Also, it is very impactful to share current observations and real comparisons of how colleagues handle similar situations to make it tangible.