Developing individuals as product strategists takes effective hiring, resource creation, process development, and training on those resources and processes. But building a team that can withstand changes in the market needs something more. Creating a robust product management practice — one that empowers us as individuals and as a group — requires us to communally evolve and adapt our processes and techniques, and to fill knowledge gaps about our role and the products we are building.
A solid practice area allows us to build the right habits, which supports long-term sustainable success on the team and has a direct contribution to the health of our product culture here at Myplanet.
There are many ways to sustain and grow a practice area, and today I want to focus on one habit we’ve formed on our team called “ThinkGroup.” Not only does it afford us the chance to continually refine our domain internally, but it has also contributed to how we as product strategists operate and interact with one another. Whether you work in professional services or in a product company, this article will provide insight into why developing a ThinkGroup can be useful for your team, and how to go about implementing it. First, I’ll touch on the benefits we’ve seen using ThinkGroup for our team, then I’ll go into tips to get you started.
We established the ThinkGroup concept a couple of years ago within the Product Strategy discipline as a way to connect as a team while providing a structured and reliable way for us to share, learn, and grow together. Our own flavour of a community of practice, the ThinkGroup has proven successful for us, and may work for your teams as well. Here are 3 key benefits of starting a ThinkGroup.
Fosters a sense of community.
Product strategists don’t often get the opportunity to work together. With ThinkGroup, the Product Strategy team is able to connect and build strong bonds within the discipline among those who can relate to the daily work and the challenges team members face.
Enables knowledge share.
ThinkGroup provides a dedicated platform for sharing experiences and knowledge; it also provides a forum for seeking input from peers.
Promotes skills growth.
A great way to learn is to teach. By focusing a ThinkGroup facilitator on a specific topic, that person is compelled to learn enough about the topic to effectively guide others in the session.
Sounds pretty useful, right? Getting started with your own ThinkGroup doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are the steps we took at Myplanet.
5 Steps to Establish and Run a ThinkGroup
Step #1: Define your objectives.
Our ThinkGroup is focused on creating a sense of community, evolving product strategy as a practice, and generally learning new things. If you’re bringing a group of people together, it’s a good idea to have some clear goals. Run an affinity mapping exercise to uncover the outcomes that individuals want to achieve from the group. This will lead to better participation.
Step #2: Determine logistics and establish session formats.
Establishing a regular cadence for ThinkGroup was important to keep up momentum on the initiatives we wanted to tackle, but we needed to balance the dedicated, focused time with our busy schedules. We recommend 1-hour sessions to cover the content and ensure enough space to go deep without ending the ThinkGroup prematurely when you’re still in discussion.
To ensure a breadth of topics and interest, rotate through who provides the topic for the session and the questions for discussion. With the rotating technique (something we have used to great effect in our team retros as well) we’ve been able to get buy in and build shared ownership and leadership within our group. This also allows team members to practice their facilitation skills and different facilitation techniques. Plus, having a variety of session formats keeps things engaging and caters to a variety of learning styles within your team. Below are formats we used that worked well for our group.
- Fireside Chats. Fireside chats are informal conversations between a moderator and guest.They’re highly interactive and allow the audience to learn and gain insights from the guest. In this format we typically do pre-work to source audience questions on the planned topic prior to the session. This is a great format for bringing in guests from other disciplines like design or technology and learning from these different domains.
- Lecture Style. Lecture sessions can be a straightforward way to provide information and knowledge to your audience quickly. There is control over what is being presented as the facilitator is the sole source of information. This style can be engaging if thought has been put into making it interactive with hands-on learning that can tie theory into practice.
- Workshop Tutorial. Workshop Tutorials require a bit more time from a preparation standpoint, as they involve the facilitator presenting the themes and concepts paired with more hands-on learning. Workshop tutorials allow for discussion, interaction, presentation, and debate on a topic.
- Critique. The purpose of critique is to tap into the collective and learn how to better our work by exploring where things work well and where they could be improved. During critique we focus on two main questions which are separated in discussion: “What are we trying to do with this process or artefact?” and “Does this version accomplish it?”
- Working Sessions. Having a good balance of ‘learning’ vs. ‘doing’ is important when trying to push the practice and initiatives forward. There may be an artefact or resource we’ve been trying to put together as a team or someone may need a peer review on something they’ve been driving. Working sessions are a great way to dedicate time to work through things as a group.
- Reflection Sessions. Aim to have regular reflection sessions every couple months with the team. Have team members call out significant challenges, events, victories, discoveries, or anything else they want to highlight. This is one way to foster a shared sense of achievement and also brings the team closer together when individuals can hear the shared challenges that other Product Strategists are experiencing.
Step #3: Prepare and run your session.
Before your session determine whether you want participants to do pre-work. Ask yourself “What do I need from participants in order to make this session successful? Are there things that participants need to do in advance in order to participate effectively?”
Set the scene by first introducing the vision and goals of the session as well as a clear agenda. Then, following a walkthrough of the agenda, set some norms with the group. By doing this you’re letting people know what you expect from them. Some standard norms may include phones off or on mute, laptops closed, or one person speaking at a time. It’s also a good idea to have a single sheet of paper up on the wall for a “Parking Lot”. There are often useful points brought up that are tangential to the goals of the ThinkGroup session and it is important to capture those and follow up. When you are wrapping up your session make room for discussion, action identification, and next steps.
Step #4: Track your sessions and update the approach.
An important aspect of any initiative is establishing a measurement framework and tracking whether or not the efforts put in are yielding the desired returns. For our team, as we continue to grow in size, it has been important to have visibility into the different things we want to learn, the resources we require, and the artefacts we need to produce to support the group. To maintain visibility and track priorities, establish a team backlog using tools like Trello or Jira. This will enable the team to clearly see the items in To Do, In Progress, Peer Review, and Done. There are many ways you can tackle prioritization but for us, because these tasks were being tackled by the team outside of project work, we opted to allow people to self select what they want to own based on their interests — even if it meant the item sat lower on the list of priorities.
Step #5: Share your learnings with the broader organization.
The act of coming together to share with a broader audience is a great community-building exercise in and of itself. It helps to spread the gospel of product strategy and management, but moreover, it gives product strategists a unified identity and presence inside the organization.
And that’s it! Creating our ThinkGroup has had a profound positive impact on our team growth, both as individuals and as an area of practice within our organization. As Myplanet continues to grow, how we establish and maintain a high-performing product strategy team evolves too. ThinkGroup affords us the tools necessary to move the needle forward as a team and offers us a structured way to build a sense of community, knowledge share, and learn and grow together.
Building an effective team and bringing talented people together to create great products takes time and effort — it won’t happen by chance. But when you have a dedicated group of people supporting one another, learning from each other, and moving in the same direction as a unit, it’s a much easier task. ThinkGroup is a great example of that spirit.
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