Does Your Product Management Team Need to Transform?

Join the on-demand webinar, Five Steps to Transform Your Product Management Team, if you are a PM leader looking to improve your team’s people, process, and tools, to build a team of Product Leaders. Register here.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
– John F. Kennedy

Change is an undeniable part of the business world and can provide as many opportunities as it does challenges. Innovative companies embrace change as a mechanism to address an opportunity gap: they seek to understand how best to transform their teams and their products to advance their business goals, such as increasing the size of a market or taking market share from a competitor. Many companies, however, struggle with transformations. They are difficult to execute and can be very costly when done poorly, often not even yielding the desired results. The purpose of this article is to arm product leaders in an ever-changing world with some thoughts and tools on how to transform your teams – the right way.

The Benefits of Transformation

According to a McKinsey & Company article, 70% of transformations fail. There are many reasons for this including poor executive alignment and support, lack of employee engagement, and a lack of accountability. Despite all of the costs and risks associated with transformations, doing them right can dramatically improve your business, particularly when it comes to the product management function.

Here are some potential benefits that come from transforming your product organization:

  • Deliver better products that are built to address your customers’ real needs
  • Ensure that the products have a well-thought-out strategy and the best possible chance of winning in the marketplace
  • Develop a long-term strategic advantage in each market to ensure the company remains competitive
  • Establish more reliable and predictable delivery of products
  • Be able to clearly articulate user needs to ensure engineers are working on what really matters to customers
  • Ultimately, increase profits for the company

Do You Need Transformation?

While the list above should be motivation enough to want to consider transforming your Product Management team, it’s important to really understand the specific problems your team is faced with today. You also need to consider what is working well in your organization, so you preserve these positive characteristics while addressing the growth areas effectively.

To help you consider what’s working well and what’s not, here’s a list of questions to ask yourself about the typical problems we’ve seen as we’ve helped teams improve:

  • Does your company understand the role of Product Management? Do other teams that your PMs work with know what to expect and how to support the Product Managers they work with?
  • Do you have a consistent process for making product decisions, such as a series of gate reviews?
  • Does your team and the larger development organization know how product prioritization decisions are made?
  • Do your Product Managers have a deep understanding of customer needs? Are other parts of your company supportive in helping your PMs engage with customers directly?
  • Are products being developed to integrate with other products from your company? Do they contribute to whole solutions that customers are looking for?
  • Is the full Product Lifecycle of your products well understood, so that both Product Managers and the wider organization know how to support the product through the various phases it goes through in the market?

As part of our new executive webinar series, we’ll cover diagnostic questions like these in more depth to thoroughly assess the health of your Product Management team in a future installment.

“Change before you have to.”
– Jack Welch

How to Transform Your Team

Entire books have been written on the topics of change management and transformation, so we can’t cover the “How-To” in-depth here, but here’s a good outline of steps to follow to get you started when considering a transformation program for your Product Management team:

1. Set goals

First, consider how successful your products are in the marketplace – is there room for improvement, perhaps even dramatic improvement? Consider whether you’ve seen good success with one product line, but not another, or whether your team struggles to enter new markets.

Next, starting with the questions above, identify and agree on the gaps you see in your Product Management organization. Don’t forget to also take note of what your team is doing well – so you can preserve these characteristics explicitly as you build your transformation plan.

2. Get Executive buy-in and the support of other departments

For any Product Management transformation program to succeed, you’re going to need help from a number of different organizations inside your company, since Product Management touches so many different teams.

Start with your key partners such as Engineering, Marketing, and Sales. Work with each group to identify how these transformations will help their teams be more effective, and ultimately help the company achieve its larger strategic goals.

With these teams in support of your efforts, next get the buy-in of the executive team. Without at least one “executive sponsor,” any real transformation that will have lasting effect is unlikely to succeed. At 280 Group, we’ve seen this so many times that we developed a workshop targeted at executives to help them understand the benefits of creating or transforming an effective Product Management team.

3. Empower a champion to lead the transformation

As we’ve already described, transformations are hard work. They require commitment, hard work, and significant coordination across many teams. In the article referenced earlier, McKinsey and Company strongly recommends that the transformation be led by a “transformation champion” – someone ‘to oversee the execution of each “workstream” (or area of activity), ensure decisions are made quickly, and keep the transformation on course…’ This champion can be someone on the Product Management team, but typically it’s better if it is not the executive leader of the team. The champion should report to this leader and be granted the authority to drive the transformation. Setting up a separate champion to manage change allows the PM executive to continue to lead the team through the transformation. Both can be more objective in ensuring transformation success is matched with keeping the team effective through the changes.

4. Have a plan – a communication plan

Before rolling out any changes, put together a communication plan for why the transformation is happening, leveraging the results of the earlier steps in the process. Be sure to include the “what’s in it for me” perspective for all the other teams that will be participating in the transformation, and even those not directly involved, but who will rely on the results to be successful.

5. And have a transformation plan

With the help of an expert, like 280 Group, build the full transformation plan, addressing the changes that will be needed to improve your process, people, and tools. Process improvements come through an optimization program that identifies the organizational, decision-making, and procedural improvements needed to provide a more effective product management team. Typically, customized training and coaching will be used to help your team members improve their individual Product Management skills and understand how to use the new processes being rolled out. Tool improvements complement the other two parts of the transformation plan, both providing tools to do new Product Management tasks, as well as integrate more effectively with other teams, such as the development team.

6. Coordinate changes cross-functionally and keep communicating

As the Product Management team proceeds on its transformation journey, it’s critical to keep all other organizations informed and aligned with the progress, even attending to the changes they need to make as well. With these other teams, additional, tailored coaching or training will likely be necessary to make the transformation as effective as possible, as quickly as possible. Your transformation champion will play a key role in keeping every team aligned over the course of the transformation effort.

7. Keep the Executive team informed and aligned

As mentioned earlier, the Executive team is another critical component of your success, so keep them in the loop over the whole transformation process. Once they are trained on the benefits of enabling a successful Product Management team, they will need to be given periodic progress reports to remain confident that the transformation is proceeding effectively.

Some members of the Executive team, and their own leadership teams will likely also need further investment, through coaching and mentoring, so they know how to be stewards of change within their own organizations and cross-functionally.

8. Keep it going!

Transformations are long-term investments, but even when they are “done” – they’re not done. Making a transformation truly effective means continuing to promote it, adjust it, and give it time through multiple product lifecycles to succeed. Along the way, be sure to celebrate every win, small and large, to reinforce how the transformation is delivering on the goals that were originally identified.

“Change for change’s sake does not always result in progress.”
– John Wooden

Want to learn more?

Watch the on-demand webinar, Five Steps to Transform Your Product Management Team, if you are a PM leader looking to improve your team’s people, process, and tools, to build a team of Product Leaders.

Watch the webinar on-demand

REGISTER NOW

This webinar will help you recognize the typical symptoms of a Product Management team that is in need of transformation. What do we mean by transformation? Making the dramatic changes needed to make a PM team build products that customers really want and companies can use to achieve their strategic, business, and financial goals. From there, you will be walked through five strategies effective in making that transformation happen.

You will be able to consider whether your team needs transformation and how it could benefit from the hard work that it requires.

This blog post was written by Roger Snyder and Rina Vernovskaya. 

About the Author

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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