How to empower product teams to thrive

Photo by frimages on freepik.com

Product Managers and business/leadership seems to be in a love/hate relationship. I read many articles from wonderful product managers and thought leaders about how we should implement product thinking.

It occurs to them that leadership is still thinking in terms of deadlines, budgets, and features to release. However, product evangelists preach more freedom to product teams.

Both parties seem to point the fingers at each other. Product believers to Leadership for not knowing how to do product and leadership fears not getting the results that they want to have.

I believe that the solution to this dilemma of getting business results and more freedom to product teams is possible if we all took responsibility for ourselves and others.

It sounds pretty simple and too easy to believe. It’s doable if we started empowering product teams. Below, you see my vision about empowered product teams.

Product discovery as the holy grail of product management

Most product managers and product leaders see product discovery as one of the most important areas of product management. It’s what makes product management so exciting and also challenging to do.

Opposite to project management, product discovery won’t break down the work into smaller pieces and predict output.

Product discovery is about getting to the best possible outcome. This is different from project thinking, where the desired output/outcome is agreed upon.

What is Product discovery

“A rapid series of experiments, primarily using prototypes, that enable us to discover effective solutions to the problems our team is tasked to solve — solutions that are valuable, usable, feasible and viable”. Marty Cagan

Leadership on every level

There are many definitions of leadership. For me leadership is about “taking responsibility for yourself and others, empower others, see greatness in them and be able to translate a vision into reality”

“Leadership is about recognizing that there’s a greatness in everyone, and your job is to create an environment where that greatness can emerge.” Bill Campbell

When I thought of leadership first, I was thinking of the drivers of an organization, people at the top to be the only leaders. Today, I see leadership on every level and most importantly, it starts with personal leadership.

Empowered product teams have leadership on every level.

There is a great Product vision

A product vision is the description of the essence of your product. It’s about what are the problems it's solving, for whom and why now is the right time to build it. A product vision gives your team a bigger picture of what they are working on and why. A great product vision should be inspiring, short, and clear. See below a template:

Image by Robbin Schuurman on scrum.org

Challenge the team / don’t tell them what to do

Most product teams are asked to deliver a solution, a roadmap, or features. Empowered product teams love to research, discover and deliver solutions that they think are best to solve a challenge/problem.

Don’t ask them to implement solutions, ask them to solve a problem and let them solve it, they are great at discovering solutions.

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Steve Jobs

There is a Product strategy

A product strategy is a high-level plan describing what a business hopes to accomplish with its product and how they plan to do so. The strategy could answer key questions such as whom the product will serve (users), how it will benefit those users, and the company’s goals for the product throughout its life cycle.

Image by productPlan

A product strategy provides clarity for the company and team. It also helps with the prioritizing of the product roadmap. It makes tactical decision easier.

Product principles as DNA

Product principles are the core DNA of the product. They are the fundamental values that underlay every action, decision, or move that the product team makes.

A product principle is never reached, it’s not a goal. They guide you on what to decide, build and how to build it. They are also not design principles.

There is Roadmap

Product priorities or roadmaps are all about what we need to do/create to reach our higher goals.

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a useful framework for setting goals and KPIs for organizations and teams. Building a product roadmap that follows the OKR framework is a great way to help your team focus on building products that matter most.

OKR-Roadmap by Productplan

Promote Product evangelism in the organization

Product thinking vs. project thinking. Most of us are already familiar with project thinking.

We have been working in projects for years, we have a plan, a budget, resources a team. We stick to the plan, no matter what, and we will make sure we will get to our end goal.

Project thinking is breaking down everything into the smallest pieces. We do this to make sure we will deliver what we promised.

It appears that we try to build the future from the past. This can be fine for certain products, but not for software development.

Product thinking is about discovery and outcome. Since we are dealing with complex problems, we can’t know the solution from the start. We will discover it as we go and make sure we will have a valuable outcome.

Here comes the most important part, which is coaching and allowing business and leadership to learn more about Agile and product management. Most teams focus on promoting agility within the team; However, we also need to enrol leadership and business in being agile and thinking differently.

The right people in the right teams

Empowered product teams have the right people in the right place. The role of management is accomplishing that. Every product team has a minimum of people that is needed to make a product. Think of a product owner, designers, and engineers.

Some companies might want to hire only the best of the best, but I believe that we can get the best out of everyone with the right environment and coaching.

Putting the right people in the right places will increase their chance of success.

Coaching accessible to everyone

Personal development has been my lifelong focus. Gathering information, reading, doing studies were a great way to evolve.

However, when it came to making true breakthroughs, coaching has been the best way for me to transform myself and others around.

Waterfall mythologies have made most of the designers and engineers lazy. It went so far that some designers and engineers are lazy to think about vision, challenge the product owner or come up with new ways of discovery.

Estimations and deadlines made engineers to think of the fastest and occasionally the easiest way to develop something.

Coaching these team members will help them to transform and thus deliver great value.

The team must have a coach that they can go in case of any situation.

Trust as the base of relationships

Empowered team members trust each other. There is a safe environment where we stand for each other and guide each other whenever it’s possible.

There is no room for big egos that create a toxic environment and promote fear.

Each team member feels safe to be their self, be authentic and speak up when necessary.

There is also trust between the product manager and leadership about the decisions that the product manager makes.

Leadership trusts product management and vice versa. Leadership trust product management to deliver value and product management trust leadership to guide, allow and facilitate what is necessary to create change.

Ordinary people delivering extraordinary results

There is greatness in everyone, it takes some time, effort and listening to find that out.

Leadership is about seeing greatness in others and empower them to reach that greatness. It’s truly seeing something in others that they might not see yet.

Ordinary people within the right teams will deliver extraordinary results. Don’t be fooled by long CV’s and big ego’s to solve all your problems.

It’s the empowered team that will discover those wonderful results. Allow ordinary people to try to show what they are capable of.

Final thoughts

Empowered product teams have great relationships with leadership and business. They are being guided when necessary, but also have the freedom to discover and act in the way that they see suited.

It’s a continues process of trust, leading, coaching and delivery. It's a team effort where we bring our powers together to create what we believe to be the best solution for the challenges that we face.

Everybody is empowered within the team to act and take leadership. Coaches guide team members if needed and create new possibilities.

Leadership is done by example and not by blaming or pointing fingers. No Mather what the other person thinks or does, it’s always our responsibility to act from a place of power and love.

I hope you enjoyed this article about empowered product team.

I am excited to know more about your thoughts, please let me know in the comments.

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Amanj Hamid

Amanj Hamid

I guide companies to deliver value. I combine my experience of Business, UX, and Technology to maximize value and increase profits. www.amanjhamid.com