Since the early days of commerce, customers have wanted to buy the products that provide the timeliest, most innovative solutions to real-world challenges. Today, the problems customers need solved are more complex in step with continuously evolving, hypercompetitive marketplace dynamics. As a project manager, you need the agility to quickly adapt to your customers’ rapidly shifting requirements, while helping your development team focus on the ultimate goal:
Delivering the best product possible.
In addition to customer feedback and demands for immediate responsiveness, other factors transforming modern product delivery and your role: fluid requirements documents of 100-plus pages; a push toward increasingly iterative roadmap management; and geographically dispersed project teams. As these challenges mount, the pressure is on you to evolve your organization’s product delivery and shepherd in the new era.
The crucial first step is to acknowledge that you can’t keep working the old way. Continuing to communicate via unstructured methods such as email, chat messages, those huge Word documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint slides, document repositories, and so on simply doesn’t foster true collaboration. Conversations about your product need to stay connected to the work, in context, so everyone involved has visibility into what your team is building and why. This sort of structured collaboration enable the healthy, vigorous engagement required to deliver the truly innovative solutions your customers demand.
Chances are, your organization already emphasizes iterative product delivery, with inherent processes for on-the-fly product improvements. Agility breeds innovation; it also can make your role as product manager much more pressure-packed. You own the roadmap, and as such, must lead your teams to embrace change as workflows and the development cycle continue to become more iterative. You need to balance your company’s business objectives with the realities of time, scope and resources.
The product roadmap communicates the value.
Geographically distributed teams are the new reality, forcing product managers to rethink how to keep everyone in sync. The last thing you need is contributors disconnected from what should be a team wide, collaborative endeavor. A lack of team wide alignment can be your Achilles heel.
To help you better understand why transforming the ways in which your team collaborates is the key to delivering market-disrupting innovations, we address three of the top challenges product managers commonly face:
Defining and Executing on the roadmap
Everyone across the organization claim to support the importance of building, and sticking to, a roadmap that guides your collective product delivery efforts. But overly influential stakeholders or short-term memory loss often disrupt that agreed-upon product plan.
Embracing change to accelerate product innovation and delivery
Winning means introducing innovative products more quickly. But doing so requires change. You need a new way to manage the product-delivery process, a modern system of collaboration that delivers measurable efficiency advantages.
Maintaining consistent organization-wide alignment despite rapidly shifting requirements
How do you ensure all product delivery contributors work together as a singularly focused unit when the rate of delivery accelerates and change requests threaten to derail alignment? threaten to derail alignment?
FRUSTRATION: Defining and Executing on to the roadmap
The product roadmap communicates the value you expect to deliver to both your business and your customer. It ensures your company’s product plans dovetail with its longer-term strategic goals, maps the product’s delivery path and known iterations throughout its lifespan and creates unified buy-in across all groups of product delivery stakeholders.
Developed correctly, the roadmap describes to your entire team the problems the product will solve, why and for whom you’re solving them, the prioritized order in which the product’s releases will be developed to address those problems, and how they’ll be addressed.
After the roadmap has been defined, developed and agreed upon, it’s up to you, the product manager, to stay apprised of and document all shifting marketplace trends and incoming customer change-requests to ensure continued stakeholder alignment.
TIP: Focus on Transparency
If developing the roadmap is half the battle, effectively managing and rationalizing the roadmap defines the other half.
Managed ineffectively, it’s easy for one set of stakeholders—such as Sales, Service and Support, Marketing, or even the customer—to assert disproportionate influence during the product development process. This group could upset your roadmap’s balance. If you’re like most PMs, you’ve encountered one of the following scenarios, at least once:
The Sales team which, being rightfully focused on landing more business, sees a promising opportunity to capture additional revenue. But to capitalize on the opportunity, the product needs functionality that’s not slated in the roadmap’s current requirements.
The Service and Support team, seeking to expand revenue from existing customer accounts raising concern about product implementation? In such a scenario, the team will be too narrowly focused on delivering customer-specific iterations that aren’t in step with the product’s broader long-term value.
Marketing, so intent on maintaining your company’s standing as an innovative thought leader, attempts to skew the roadmap toward delivering new, innovative features more rapidly, with little regard for quality or whether the features address the broader market or users’ requirements.
As a product manager, you want all these stakeholders to have seats at the table, without any one group having more influence than another. You need to weigh the relative value and impact motives of all sets of stakeholder inputs and find a way to balance their often-competing interests.
What’s more, after your development team commits to scope and schedule, it’s your crucial responsibility to track the activities of the team’s UX designers, developers and QA testers, minimize churn and ensure continuous alignment during the varying stages of definition, design and validation. What you need is a way to connect and align every stakeholder, every product delivery team member and your organization’s top priorities, every step of the way.
Successfully managing your roadmap requires process transparency and unambiguous communication. If priorities shift—and particularly if they don’t—everyone benefits from robust collaboration that provides all participants with complete, real-time, contextual visibility into how the roadmap adheres to broader business, customer and user goals.
A specialized product delivery platform with innovative collaboration tools at the core of its DNA can serve as a comprehensive system of engagement; a hub where every product-related conversation is clearly and logically associated with the relevant requirements, and where everyone can see the work of the teams of designers, engineers and testers.
Collaboration at your fingertips promotes team wide ownership of the entire product development process and allows stakeholders to provide feedback, solicit reviews and approvals, and discuss in real-time their work in progress. When challenges and conflicts arise, you can more easily overcome them and maintain your “deliver faster” ethos.
Successfully managing your roadmap requires process transparency and unambiguous communication.
FRUSTRATION: Embracing Change to Accelerate Product Innovation and Delivery
You get it: At the end of the day, your business depends on being able to give your customers the most innovative products as quickly as possible. Is your product-delivery system equipped to do this perfectly? Doubtful. But does everyone agree it’s time to change your methods? Is “good enough” ever really good enough?
If we are talking about appeasing customer needs, then “good enough” is probably not good at all, not if your company strives to accelerate the pace of innovation without sacrificing the real value you deliver to your customers.
TIP: Focus on winning
An iterative system enables greater roadmap-management flexibility and greater responsiveness to customer input. In many cases, smaller portions of the entire job can be parsed-out for rapid prototyping, testing and de-bugging, and then validated with end-users, allowing your product delivery team to focus on developing the most high-value product capability.
Heightened emphasis on agility and a faster pace of delivery requires companywide buy-in. Every team member—from upper-tier decision-makers to software engineers, QA testers, sales reps, marketers, and service and support staff—should be able to view the product roadmap and understand how the process quickly solves the timeliest problems while adding overall product value with each new iteration.
If your product delivery method lacks such visibility, then minor miscommunication can quickly devolve into systemic communication breakdown. The next thing you know, effective collaboration is back off the table.
But when such an iterative development process is embraced business-wide, a new mindset takes over, one that fosters a collective comfort level with a new product delivery method with a modern view on product releases. Instead of trying to “get everything right” with each release, your team wholly focuses on delivering products that solve major issues—providing immediate value where customers most need it.
With the right foundation in place, you’ll have more flexibility to solicit customer feedback and gauge market indicators to fine tune, or “polish” secondary or tertiary releases once you’ve accomplished primary objectives.
Of course, embracing and implementing a new product delivery method requires more than a fresh mindset; you need to rally all contributors behind a singular focus on winning. With an effective solution in place, that offers complete visibility into changing requirements, cross-project relationships and the impact of change, your stakeholders will see precisely where your team is getting the edge and will root you on accordingly.
They’ll experience just how seamlessly you can collectively transition to a new world of agile innovation. Through productive and collaboration you can beat your competitors to market.
Heightened emphasis on agility and a faster pace of delivery requires companywide buy-in.
FRUSTRATION: Maintaining Consistent Organization-Wide Alignment Despite Rapidly Shifting Requirements
It doesn’t matter who wants to make a change. It could be anyone on the product delivery team who sees an opportunity to improve a product or iteration during the delivery process. And as you know, change is can derail delivery deadlines.
However, the most common reasons for missing product-delivery deadlines, according to a survey conducted by Forrester Research, Inc., unclear or changing requirements, quality issues and delayed decisions. All of these circle back to communication issues.
How can you ensure all stakeholders are able to perform their tasks on schedule when aiming at a frequently shifting target, and when proactive communication is lacking? As product manager, one of your key areas of responsibility is to understand and articulate to your team the issues you’re trying to solve. If you can ensure the team knows exactly how the issues are problematic and comprehends the contextual rationale for why you want to solve them you will help chart the course to accomplish the agreed-upon solutions. But while that sounds great on paper, game-changing collaboration doesn’t materialize organically.
TIP: Focus on agility
When managed properly, product delivery is a cyclical process that repeatedly brings timely and innovative solutions to market. Each of your team’s contributors must rely on one another’s complementary skills to ensure collective alignment with the company’s long-term
Just as Sales depends on the development team to introduce the innovative, value-packed solutions that win new business, the development team must in turn rely on Sales and other end-user–facing teams to solicit customer feedback and seek marketplace findings and analyze and convert them into actionable improvements for future product releases.
When all is said and done, the talented people who comprise your product delivery team are your most critical assets, and discovering a more effective means of ensuring their suggestions, opinions, intelligence and expertise are shared and leveraged in a timely, collective fashion will create more effective teamwork and better products as a result.
Truth is, even the most capable product manager needs help getting this alignment. One of the most effective ways to attain it is to recommend and push for a collaborative product delivery platform that everyone can easily use to engage throughout the product lifecycle, from concept to launch.
As product manager, one of your key areas of responsibility is to understand and articulate to your team the issues you’re trying to solve
With the right system in place, you can rapidly access and discuss suggestions for improvement, efficiently monitor—in one centralized location—activities, issues and decisions related to product requirements and tasks and track change requests and related impacts in real time. In short, you will have complete visibility into your team’s activities and your organization will have visibility into yours.
You will be able to keep everyone aligned without having to take valuable time to report, update and rationalize all that you do to keep your team focused on delivering the highest-value products to your customer.