How to Improve an Enterprise’s Product Team

Many of my clients tend to be older enterprises looking to move from brick and mortar only to digital-first.

The challenges tend to be steady across these clients:

  1. Inconsistent data (no single source of truth)
  2. Lack in process (too many steps to perform an action)
  3. Lack of a digital-first approach (leadership is not all bought in)

As you might imagine these problems pose an issue to any product team trying to create a better experience:

  1. Lead times tend to be longer and change not as quick.
  2. Product and dev teams not 100% in-sync (or aligned).
  3. Corporate bureaucracy hurts innovations.
  4. Established processes become hard to change (complacency).

As product teams continue to develop a stronger presence in older enterprises, Product Managers should consider themselves leaders of change and formulate practices that bread good product and great experiences.

The following are activities I have helped implement at enterprises I have been apart of (and they work):

1. Create a vision manifest

When a digital team is comprised of multiple Product Managers spread across different functions it is important all team members align to the same vision. Typically, this vision is communicated by C-level and product leadership; however, it is easy for the vision to get lost overtime and this causes product to not be effective.

I recently had a client in the apparel space looking to bolster its e-commerce functionality. Both the front and back-end platforms were outdated and not updated in 10+ years. My job was to work with the two Senior Product Managers to develop these products; however, both PMs had their own vision. One PM was mobile-first and the other was focused on functionality optimized for desktop. Both had valid cases, but there was no vision to unify the two and this impacted the final product.

As leadership, it is important to vocalize the vision with your team. Create a vision manifest similar to how a creative team puts together a style guide. This is a document that PMs can continually reference as they develop their product.

When I create digital product roadmaps for clients I make sure to align each initiative to a core tenant. These tenants essentially create the overall vision of leadership. If we make sure each project aligns to a tenant, then we know the project is something that will help business achieve its goals.

2. Develop a communication cadence

An interesting part about working with different clients is that I get to see how different product teams interact and collaborate with each other.

What I have learned is that it is important to establish a regular communication cadence and I do not just mean weekly status meetings:

  1. Schedule a weekly demo session where different product teams showcase what they are working on. This allows teams to provide feedback to each other and also see how maybe your feature can work with theirs.
  2. Schedule a monthly Digital Product Management meetings where Product Managers present what they are working on with leadership and key business stakeholders. This helps to make sure that the proposed product is aligned to the enterprise’s vision and business teams can prepare for what is coming down the pipeline.
  3. Schedule a quarterly All Hands session for Product Managers and dev teams to brainstorm, whiteboard, and play around with different ideas.

These meetings are both a form of knowledge share and enable Product Managers to be accountable and document what they have been working on.

3. Invest in the RIGHT solution and LEAD with process

Creating great user experiences involves partnering process with the right tools. You can have the best tool and a terrible process or vice versa and be left with a bad user experience.

If something is too complex to maintain, then that experience will ultimately wane. Let me explain:

I was working on creating an e-commerce roadmap for a leading drug store. We analyzed its current processes and manual was the big takeaway:

  1. Merchants had to manually link each qualified product to the respective gift with purchase.
  2. Merchants had to manually link like products together to display product recommendations based on shopper history.

The merchants fell behind and all customers were getting shown the same products. The idea and the tool were there to perform these actions, but the process was not and this created a bad user experience for both merchants and the customer.

I was working with a watch retailer to improve online engagement. We recommended displaying user generated content on the product pages. There are no shortages of tools to do this, but the capabilities (such as automation) vary between them. The client decided to go with the cheaper option and do a lot of the heavy lifting in house.

The team quickly realized the amount of time it took to manage this platform. The savings were eaten away by the amount of labor hours this process took. The company decided to go with a more expensive platform that had more automated curation capabilities.

Understanding user flow and process before diving into vendor selection or any kind of solution will save you from creating a bridge to nowhere or a fancy car that never gets used.