Sustaining Momentum within Product Development Teams

Photo by Robin Pierre on Unsplash

For Product Owners, instilling a sense of urgency around the execution of roadmap within the product development team is a vital component to long term success. Assuming you’ve done a the necessary product strategy work to set the stage for why this roadmap is worth investing in — back-end analysis to uncover a meaningfully important opportunity, and the market/competitive/user research that supports the vision for capitalizing on that opportunity — everyone will believe the goal can be reached in the timeframe you’ve outlined. “Initial belief” is not enough — it wears off too quickly. Product Owners want to think really hard about the way to keep the teams’ progress toward the goal top-of-mind, so that you can lead the team from the front and hold everyone accountable to something that’s big, specific, and meaningful.

To do this, the product owner can leverage a daily wake-up metrics dashboard that shows the team’s day-over-day progress toward reaching the goal. Ideally, this is a time series chart of the metric your roadmap is designed to move the needle on. As Product Owner, you are the loudest to broadcast the insights that appear in your dasbhoard — Weekly, daily, hourly. You reference it in status updates you submit. You’re living and breathing it. When the team first starts out chasing a new goal, your daily wake-up dashboard is going to show a big fat zero. Each day passes, you’re looking at that zero and feeling it. Maybe you think, “I’m not going to email out the project status out today. We haven’t made progress yet, and everyone will be depressed.” Instead, you send the update and include the numbers because that’s reality, and a big part of the Product Owner’s job is to be objective and transparent — to let the business and all within it know where we stand.

It’s two weeks in, and this initiative is really starting to feel like a 2 ton stone flywheel that is standing perfectly still. Worse, you’re feeling like the only person in the world that’s trying to push on it. Worse still, you’re feeling like the team or the company itself is standing behind you demanding you“make it go faster.” Every time an engineer says “Hey, we got another infrastructure task we gotta do. The timeline will slip because the discombobulator in the secure zone needs to be rejiggered for optimal compliance,” your first thought is — zero progress our number so far. You’re asking, what the hell is a discombobulator? You’re advocating to skip this project, or you’re looking for proof that it really needs to be done, and done now. Do our competitors do it? How can it really be a requirement if I’ve never heard of it in all my research or my previous experience with similar projects? What’s the true risk? Convince me this is absolutely needed.

If you’re not convinced, ruthlessly prioritize that project towards the bottom of the list — for now. You won’t be winning any popularity contests, but there will be time to revisit in the future. If it’s truly a bad priority decision, someone will escalate to the VP of Engineering and perhaps overrule you. That’s a good thing — your team is thinking hard about overall success. If someone does convince you, you’re all over that project too. You’re truly convinced. It must be done. You’re requesting additional resources from Engineering. Can we bundle these new requirements together with an existing project that we’re already doing? Can we do just the 20% of the work that yields the most benefit? You’re imploring the team to help you understand how to get this new infrastructure task done quickly. Why? Because we set out to achieve a meaningful goal and today’s wake-up dashboard is showing that we’re not on track.

It’s 4 weeks in and the team is worried about you. Maybe you care too much about this goal. They wonder what’ll happen if we don’t hit it? Is our PM going to have a nervous breakdown? You’re not sure. It’s at this point, after weeks of this project being in “active development” that are you feeling that the stone actually begins to move a little bit. Everyone reads the daily wake-up email and dashboard you send, so the team feels it too. With time, the team starts feeling it more than you. “You know what, that discombobulator project is kind of a nice-to-have. We’ve not made sufficient progress toward the goal we committed to hitting. This sucks. Where’s the mobile team at with their piece? We’re expecting them to chip in a few points too.”

It’s 6 weeks in and only now do you feel confident you’ve truly created a sense of urgency. Everyone is pushing on that flywheel and it’s picking up steam. The daily wake-up chart is moving up and to the right. Because people love winning and want to be part of a team that’s experiencing success, creative ideas are only just now flowing in from all directions. Some other PM on a different team wants to know if “it would be alright with you” if they borrowed some engineers to work on their brand new initiative. That resource request gets crushed by this 2 ton stone flywheel that’s now spinning at about 95 revolutions per minute. Whoops. As a Product owner , you start to believe the project is finally “on track.” Or is it? Hard to predict what unexpected pitfalls you’ll encounter. Better just keep pushing that flywheel with 110% effort because it would be crazy to trip and fall at the finish line of a marathon.

When you do hit that goal, it’s a huge celebration. We did it. You’re celebrating everyone’s contributions and making sure everyone’s boss knows it. We could never have hit our number this quarter without that discombobulator project. What a huge win, and to think — I wasn’t convinced we even needed it! Thanks all around. As Product Owner, you never wrote a line of code, but you are accountable for delivering outcomes. Now, you have the option to pass this off to an optimization team — just keep tweaking this thing to increase its impact by 1 or 2% on a regular basis. Maybe you want to be a part of that effort, too.

Or maybe you’re taking the lessons learned from this project and eyeing that 10 ton flywheel that’s not moving? Who’s on that one?