In his opening keynote session at #mtpcon SF+Americas 2022 day two, Oji Udezue, Product Lead at Twitter, examines the key elements needed to create impactful product systems that elevate everyone.
Watch this video or read on for key highlights from the talk.
- Good product system results in better business outcomes
- Prioritising people means investing in talent – from hiring, to progression, to promotion
- Invest in execution to deliver faster, clearer, continuous value
Oji describes the ideal product system as one which is explicit, responsive and malleable, and ‘allows us to create great products on autopilot’, delivering reliable hitmakers. It should support scaling and maximise output, while minimising the rate of errors. Oji introduces 3 elements of good product systems:
Systems with people
‘Talent is the coin of the realm’ Oji says, describing how ‘it’s the people that build good products’. A good people system, he explains, is on one side about ‘identifying great talent to join your organisation’ and on the other ‘getting the last ounce of ingenuity from highly motivated people in your organisation’. He outlines 3 main considerations of people systems design:
Organisational design: While there’s no single standard for organisational design, Oji recommends using a militaristic framework to ‘design for the mission you have and not the mission you don’t’. He suggests sketching several plans, listing the pros and cons of each before adopting the best parts, and then continually optimising, so you ‘never get stuck in an immovable design […] react to a changing mission.’
Assessing and assigning talent: A ‘clear career competence ladder’ is critical, Oji says, explaining the need to define the skills and competences your organisation requires for every role, and aligning processes of ‘hiring, to promotion, to assessment’ around those individual competences.
Coaching, performance and reward culture: ‘Nurture and evaluate’ talent, while embedding practices of reward-giving into company processes, and connect kudos to performance reviews, progression and promotions. On coaching, Oji says ‘everybody should coach’, recommending teams look at distributing the pressure of mentorship across the organisation, with new starters supported by mid-level employees, and mid-level employees supported by seniors, supporting growth at all levels.
Systems of direction setting and strategy
Oji explains the importance of setting a direction that is clear, easy to align to and customer-focussed. He outlines 2 things to consider when constructing a system of direction setting:
Direction setting at rest: For already established systems, Oji describes ‘setting at rest’ referring to cases where a system can be defined, documented and shared across the organisation. Looking inwards can be a practice of aligning on the fundamental customer problem the business is trying to address, and then positioning the strategy toward a Northstar KPI. The outward view is ‘to maintain an ongoing synthesis of the market’ and understand what changes are approaching and, when change comes, what the impact will be. Oji advises that we articulate and re-articulate strategy using a 1-pager, recommending ‘VMSOP; which means Vision, Mission, Strategy, Objectives, and Priorities’.
Direction setting in motion: Setting direction in motion means comparing your ‘shared reference’ (the document described in the system at rest), to ‘a current synthesis of the market, and figuring out if you can do the things you need to add to it’. He advises teams to take time weighing up strategic options, looking at breaking problems or evolutions down into different elements, before coming to a synthesised strategy. Once finalised, your updated strategy should be shared across the company to ensure alignment.
Systems of execution
Oji outlines 3 things to consider when constructing a system of execution – something which allows teams to continually deliver value and avoid ‘stagnation and stasis’.
Resource allocation Oji describes resource allocation as ‘portfolio theory’, the process of understanding the cost of investing in each bet by looking at the allocation of people and talent, and comparing it to the importance of the change, and likelihood of success. Oji encourages teams to minimising dependencies, as they lead to uncertainty which can increase the cost of resourcing, making execution harder and less likely to succeed.
Playbooks: While most of us recognise the importance of documenting processes or key concepts like ‘customer listening, discovery, experimentation, data analysis, opportunity assessments’, Oji explains that to have a product system focussing on execution, you need to ‘find the key things that people need to do to innovate and try to write a playbook’. This document defines what the essential steps are to innovate, and what the key rituals teams need to follow. Oji refers to a section of a playbook written at Twitter that ‘allowed people to get stuff into production very quickly, once they got into the company’. He describes how these are working documents, ‘you play, try to standardise them; make them clear so that people can make them consistent all the time’.
Alignment: Understanding whether teams are aligned can be as simple as asking people to fill out a Google Form, Oji says, examining how alignment is something that should be practised intentionally, and systematised to achieve desired outcomes. He points to decisions and handoffs between teams as areas which need particular focus, as ‘sometimes there’s limbo [and] people don’t really realise what hard decisions are made’.
Oji ends by describing how ‘the best companies will create a product system to elevate everybody’, he says, ‘people should have the right to upgrade it […] you make space for yourself when you improve the product system in a visible way – make it more explicit.’