Since the earliest days of commerce, customers have wanted to buy products that provide timely, innovative solutions to real-world challenges. Today, the problems customers need solved are more complex and in step with the continuously evolving, hyper competitive dynamics of the marketplace. As a project manager, you need the agility to quickly adapt to your customers’ rapidly shifting requirements, while helping your development team focus on business goals.
DEVELOPING THE BEST PRODUCT POSSIBLE
In addition to customer feedback and demands for immediate responsiveness, there are many other factors transforming your role within modern product development: a push toward iterative roadmap management; fluid, 100-plus-page requirements documents; and geographically-dispersed project teams. As these challenges mount, the pressure is on you to evolve your organization’s product development process and shepherd in the new era.
Structured collaboration enables the healthy, vigorous engagement required to deliver the complex, connected products your customers demand
The crucial first step is to acknowledge you can’t keep working the old way. Continuing to communicate via unstructured methods — email, chat messages, documents, spreadsheets, slide decks, document repositories, and so on — simply doesn’t foster collaboration. Conversations about your product need to stay connected to the work. In context, everyone involved has visibility into what your team is building and why. This sort of structured collaboration enables the healthy, vigorous engagement required to deliver the complex, connected products your customers demand.
Chances are your organization already emphasizes iterative product development, with inherent processes for on-the-fly improvements. Agility breeds innovation, but it can also 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 also need to balance your company’s business objectives with the realities of time, scope, and resources.
Geographically-distributed teams are the new reality, forcing product managers to rethink how everyone can remain in sync. The last thing you need is disconnected contributors in what should be a team-wide, collaborative endeavor.
Understanding and transforming the ways in which your team collaborates is essential to delivering market-disrupting innovations. To assist, we addressed three of the top frustrations product managers commonly face.
TOP THREE FRUSTRATIONS:
- Defining and executing on the roadmap
Everyone across the organization claims to support the importance of building and maintaining a roadmap that guides your collective product development efforts. But many factors occur that could potentially disrupt the agreed-upon product plan.
- Embracing change to accelerate product innovation and
Winning means introducing innovative products quickly. Doing so requires change. You need a new way to manage the product-development process — a modern system that delivers measurable efficiency advantages.
- Maintaining consistent, organization-wide alignment despite rapidly shifting requirements
How do you ensure all product development contributors are working together as a singularly-focused unit, when the rate of development accelerates and change requests threaten to derail alignment?
Defining and executing on the roadmap.
The product roadmap communicates the value you expect to deliver to both your business and customers. It ensures your company’s product plan dovetails with its longer-term strategic goals. It also maps the product’s development path and known iterations throughout its lifespan and creates unified buy-in across all stakeholders. When 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.
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. Any one of these groups could upset your roadmap’s balance.
Roadmap transparency can help eliminate scenarios like the ones below that result when outside teams don’t have full visibility.
Rightfully focused on landing more business, the Sales team 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.
Service and Support
Seeking to expand revenue from existing customer accounts, the Service and Support team raises concerns about product implementation. In such a scenario, the team would be too narrowly focused on delivering customer-specific iterations that aren’t in step with the product’s broader, long-term value.
Intent on maintaining your company’s standing as an innovative thought leader, the Marketing team wants to skew the roadmap toward delivering new features more rapidly. However, quality could be compromised, or those features may not address the requirements of the broader market or customers.
As a product manager, you want all these stakeholders to have seats at the table, without one group having more influence than another. To do that, you need to weigh the value and impact of all stakeholder inputs and balance their often-competing interests.
What’s more, after the development team commits to scope and schedule, it’s your responsibility to track the activities of UX designers, developers, and QA testers. You must also 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 development team member, and your organization’s top priorities, every step of the way.
Successfully managing your roadmap requires process transparency and unambiguous communication. Whether or not priorities shift, everyone benefits from robust collaboration that gives all participants complete, contextual, real-time visibility into how the roadmap adheres to broader business, customer, and user goals.
A specialized product development platform with inherent collaboration capabilities can serve as a comprehensive system of engagement; a hub where every product-related conversation is clearly and logically associated with the relevant requirements. One where everyone can see the work of designers, engineers, and testers.
Successfully managing your roadmap requires a hub where every product related conversation is clearly and logically associated with the relevant requirements.
Collaboration 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.
Embracing change to accelerate product innovation and delivery.
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 development process equipped to do this perfectly? Are you willing to settle for “good enough?”
If we’re 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 value you deliver to your customers.
An iterative system enables greater roadmap management flexibility and responsiveness to customer input. In many cases, smaller portions of the entire job can be parsed-out for rapid prototyping, testing, and debugging, and then validated with end-users. This allows your product development team to focus on developing the most high-value result possible.
Heightened emphasis on agility and a faster pace of development also requires company-wide 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. This will allow them to better understand how the process quickly solves the timeliest problems while adding overall product value with each new iteration.
If your product development method lacks clear visibility, then minor misunderstandings can quickly devolve into a systemic communication breakdown where true collaboration is impossible.
When an iterative development process is embraced business-wide, the potential for a new mindset takes over. This can foster a collective comfort level with a new product development method with a modern view on product releases. Instead of trying to “get everything right” with each release, your team focuses on development products that solve major issues — providing immediate value where customers need it most.
An iterative development process empowers your team to focus on providing immediate value where customers need it most.
With the right foundation in place, you’ll have more flexibility to solicit customer feedback and gauge market indicators to fine tune secondary or tertiary releases once you’ve accomplished primary objectives.
Of course, embracing and implementing a new product development method requires more than a fresh mindset; you need to rally all contributors around successes. With an effective solution in place — one 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 support you accordingly.
The solution will allow them to experience just how seamlessly you can collectively transition to a new world of agile innovation. And, through productive collaboration, you can beat your competitors to market.
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 development team who sees an opportunity to improve an iteration during the development process. And as you know, change can derail delivery deadlines.
MOST COMMON REASONS FOR PRODUCT DELAYS
- Unclear or changing requirement
- Quality issues
- Delayed decisions
However, some of the most common reasons for missing deadlines are unclear or changing requirements, quality issues, and delayed decisions. Each of these stem from communication issues.
So 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 a product manager, one of your key responsibilities is understanding and articulating to your team the issues you’re trying to solve. You must ensure the team knows exactly how the issues are problematic and comprehends the contextual rationale for why you want to solve them. That will help chart the course to accomplish the agreed upon solutions. Of course, while that sounds great on paper, game-changing collaboration doesn’t materialize organically.
When managed properly, product development 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 business goals.
For instance, the sales department depends on the development team to introduce innovative, value-packed solutions that win new business. Likewise, the development team relies on sales and other end-user-facing teams to solicit customer feedback, 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 development team are your most critical assets. Discovering a more effective means of ensuring that their suggestions, opinions, intelligence, and expertise are shared and leveraged in a timely manner will create more effective teamwork and better products as a result.
The talented people on your product development team are your most critical assets — leverage them wisely.
Truth is, even the most capable product manager needs help achieving this level of cohesion. One of the most effective ways to attain alignment is to recommend and push for a collaborative product development platform that everyone can easily use to engage throughout the product lifecycle, from concept to launch.
With the right system in place, you can rapidly access and discuss suggestions for improvement. You can also efficiently monitor activities, issues, and decisions related to product requirements and tasks in one centralized location. Plus, you can track change requests and related impacts in real time. In short, can have complete visibility into your team’s activities and your organization will have visibility into yours. You can keep everyone aligned without having to take valuable time to report, update, and rationalize all that you do. This will ensure your team stays focused on delivering the highest-value products to your customer.
TRANSFORM YOUR PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
Transparency, agility, and communication are vital in your product development process. Without them, you won’t be able to meet customer and market demands. You’ll also open yourself up to ever-increasing competition, as well as risk losing organizational trust and customer loyalty.
In most cases, however, implementing transparent, agile, and collaborative systems requires a paradigm shift in process. According to a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report of product developers creating digitally-infused products, the majority (52 percent) are partnering with software or other companies to assist with their transformation. So you don’t have to enter this new territory alone.
Jama Software’s product development platform transforms your product development process into a competitive advantage. Imagine the success and confidence you’d have as a product manager, and as part of a product development team, with the right tools in place to build the complex, connected products of the future.