As a Product leader, you might often be faced with three very hard objectives: addressing your customer needs in a prioritized way, rallying teams behind your plan and demonstrating high impact to your entire company.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula here. Building philosophies largely depend on the organization itself, the people that run it and the stakeholders they interact with.
Through this series of articles, I’ll walk you through how we do things at Everoad, and the results this philosophy has yielded. Our tale will touch upon insights, planning, cadence and more-than-you-could-think-of hacky stuff.
Part tres. We ship & support. Relentlessly.
Another former boss of mine — the great James Cox, now building the future of subscription-based mobility (check out Canoo) — nagged me for months to improve my ‘operating cadence’. I remember walking up and down Market street thinking “so what exactly does he mean there”. Was I supposed to attend more meetings? Was I not communicating enough? Or did I just need to toss in more stuff in my weekly schedule?
It took me a bit of time — and, true story, some dancing classes too — to understand what an operating cadence meant. Building a product, a company or the coolest restaurant in Europe (you’re welcome, The Barbary), requires groove. That’s right, groove. Having a plan is good. Translating that plan into a roadmap, even better. But operating a roadmap is what truly matters. In other words, it’s all about execution. So today, we’ll show you how we execute at Everoad, to ship products and support them, relentlessly.
Turning problems into projects.
If you remember from our previous chapter, we plan every quarter, narrowing our priorities to a list of around 30 items. These items are problems, meaning that we have a clear view of what’s not working but we have no idea — at this stage — of how we’ll solve them.
This is where we turn into project mode. There is a lot of literature on how Product Management is not Project Management (here, there and there). I tend to agree with them but I also believe that a good Product Manager is an amazing Project manager meaning that they can leverage a set of working methodologies to build products and features that address user needs while providing return on investment for the company (just to be clear, ROI is not just a financial metric).
The very first thing we do when kicking off work on one of our priorities is to create a Product Requirements Document. A PRD is a very common tool among Silicon Valley companies, but it hasn’t really made its way across the Atlantic yet. For us, PRDs are the very backbone of each project. They help us document and store information in a single spot, they foster collaboration for projects that are at least ten-hand-made, and most importantly they provide transparency to the entire organization about what we plan to build.
Breaking down projects into smaller ones.
Now, even with the help of a well-written PRD, the task would be immense for our team to execute alone. They wouldn’t know what to do or where to start given the number of things required for an idea to become live. To help drive clarity, we have chopped projects into 5 distinct phases. Just like breaking down problems into smaller ones help better address them, breaking projects into smaller phases help team-members focus on specific tasks, thus increasing their efficiency and our overall velocity.
It also helps other team-members, especially on the business side, understand where we stand, what we are currently doing and what they could help us with. Imagine we’re stuck in phase 1 because we can’t reach enough customers to interview. They might lend a hand and introduce us to some of their contacts thus accelerating our work.
I’m sure our Product Managers will soon detail each of these phases so I won’t spoil this any further.
Passing the baton.
The great thing about having distinct phases is that it allows us to have clear owners for each as well. Doing all of the above would be close to impossible for a Product Manager alone. That’s why we actually rely on all team-members to lead the project at some point in time. While a Product Designer will be responsible for the Design phase, a Software Engineer will take over for the Build phase and so on.
Imagine how messed up New Jersey would be if Tony Soprano and Paullie Gualtieri were both giving orders.
As our CTO often puts it, having multiple owners simply doesn’t work. It would lead to confusion, relieve people from endorsing responsibility ultimately create a culture of renters. Since we are All owners, it was an evidence for us to name a single lead per phase.
Obviously there is still a need for coordination and this is where our PMs truly excel, making sure that the road remains unblocked so that builders can build. That being said, shipping projects remain a multi-hand show, kind of like performing a jazz tune.
Our project teams perform just like Chet baker’s quartet.
We start with a structure, a melody but then each player takes the lead and transform the project to form the best possible outcome that could exist. Until the next tune.
Showing stuff, early and often.
Cadence obviously means impact. Think of it as Flamenco heels tapping the floor each new move. ‘Tac tac tac, tac tac tac…’. This is why our cadence orbits around a series of tasks led by clear owners. For each phase, we have a list of things to be done articulated by Product Managers and tackled by their owner.
As you can imagine, not all elements listed above are required for each project. For instance a small update in our Pricing calculation logic might not require to draw an experience map. On the other hand, a change in a complex customer-facing app, say contract management, will definitely demand a super strong Definition phase where the problem is clearly specified.
The great thing about unifying owners, tasks & documentation is that it allows for everyone to see where we stand and help people collaborate in full transparency. Now, remember that transparency is key to highly-efficient organizations.
Finding the balance.
But there is another reason why we insist so much on a super strict tempo. Managing one project without a clear framework is doable. Juggling between five projects is literally impossible unless you have a really healthy cadence. Hence the importance of finding a good balance.
Since cadence is all about rhythm, we encourage our team-members to balance their time between projects in a way that works for everyone. This means organizing themselves to be able to focus on specific tasks and demonstrate rapid impact on parallel workstreams. There are numerous articles about how to organize one’s work so I won’t enter any details here. The point is — organize your time in a way that allows you to focus and deliver.
Our job as leaders is to ensure that there are no blockers preventing builders from actually building, and to remove them as soon as they appear to keep teams focused on shipping and supporting products, relentlessly.
Relying on ultra-cadenced phases has allowed us to release 200 features in the span of two years, ranging from small upgrades like the switch to a vertical navigation to large product rollouts like our instant invoicing flow for Carriers. If you were to remember three things only:
- Centralize information into one source of truth.
PRDs tend be really helpful when it comes to fostering flawless execution by providing transparency to key stakeholders while allowing all-hands to collaborate on projects.
- Distribute ownership across the life of a project.
To increase velocity, create a clear sense of ownership by distributing lead roles across the life of a project thus freeing time from PMs to work on other ones.
- Remove any blocker preventing builders from building.
Identify any obstacles standing in the way of builders and make sure you intervene as much as needed to get rid of them as soon as possible and help your team #deliver.
In our mind, Product success lies in three elements: collecting insights at scale, cross-functional planning exercises that truly highlight priorities and ultra-cadenced execution. But things wouldn’t be fun without a twist, right? Insights and planning might reflect user pains, but a great Product Manager should also trust something else. A vision. We’ll get to that in the final article of our ‘How we build’ series.
Until then, best wishes of relentless execution for 2020.