Establishing Mechanisms in Product Management

How mechanisms enable product managers to unlock the joint power of their extended teams

Zakir Tyebjee
Product School
9 min readDec 29, 2020


Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash

A mechanism is defined as a process, technique, or system for achieving a result. It can also be defined as an assembly of moving parts performing a complete functional motion, or a system of parts working together in a machine.

In product management, there are multiple moving parts involved in building, launching, and growing a product. Product managers lead by influence, instead of authority, and work with multiple teams to move their product forward — essentially, product mangers lead a system of moving parts that all need to work together to operate efficiently.

In this post, we’ll walk through why mechanisms are the key for product managers to unlock the joint power of their extended teams. We’ll start with reasons why mechanisms are important in any organization, go back in time to one of the most effective mechanisms, and then jump into applying mechanisms to product management.

The Importance of Mechanisms

Mechanisms in the context of this post are any recurring set of processes or techniques that are applied within teams. Mechanisms come in many forms, whether synchronous (e.g. meetings or messaging) or asynchronous (e.g. emails or documents). They can be applied to any cross-functional role that embodies ownership at its core, and there are a few key themes that are consistent across organizations that incorporate mechanisms.

Mechanisms create structure and consistency

Teams are, by definition, cross-functional with many disciplines working together towards a common outcome. To provide structure and organization amongst the many moving parts, team leads can establish mechanisms. They should document their mechanisms and share them with the team, so they create structure. They should also lead by example in applying them in both strategic planning and day-to-day operations, so they build a culture of consistency. By embodying clear, consistent mechanisms, team leads can establish routine within a team.

Mechanisms build accountability and trust

With an organized, structured set of mechanisms comes a culture of trust and accountability. When team members use mechanisms to set clear expectations, the team tends to perform better, more consistently, and with more trust. Mechanisms help each team member establish ownership of their area, while empowering each to speak up when they need help. This cycle of accountability builds team chemistry and ultimately delivers better results.

Mechanisms encourage auditing and inspection

Finally, mechanisms enable team members, peers, and senior leaders to audit and inspect work. Auditing typically has a negative connotation, but mainly because it creates a feeling of micro-management. Instead, auditing through mechanisms creates regular check-in points and allows for inspection, both short-term and long-term. More so, when these mechanisms are documented, shareable, and accessible, auditing builds on itself over time and can help contribute to the overall growth of a team.

A Bit of History…

One of the oldest and most successful mechanisms dates back to the 1950s at a small automobile company called Toyota. There, Taiichi Ohno, often referred to as the father of the Toyota Production System, introduced the Andon Corda rope above the production line that any worker could pull if they noticed a quality issue. When the cord was pulled, the production process would stop, management would identify the root cause, and appropriate mitigations would be put in place for the production line to resume. The Andon Cord empowered any line worker to act when quality was a concern, and the cord continues to be a mechanism at Toyota and across the lean manufacturing industry even today.

In tech, the Andon Cord mechanism has been applied digitally at companies like Amazon since 2004. There, customer service associates have the power to pull a digital cord if a customer reports a product quality or safety issue. Pulling the digital cord either takes down the product listing or issues a warning to the appropriate team, so the root cause can be fixed before more customers experience the same issue. Examples of Andon Cord-worthy issues at Amazon are an inflated price (e.g. remember the ridiculous water bottle prices?), an inaccurate product description, or a hazardous issue with a physical product.

“Good intentions never work, you need good mechanisms to make anything happen” — Jeff Bezos

By using the Andon Cord mechanism instead of relying on good intentions (e.g. tagging the issue and hoping the product team notices), Amazon customer service associates can directly help customers and contribute to the health of the business. The digital cord gives associates accountability and ensures Amazon holds true to their customer commitment.

Mechanisms in Product Management

Product managers are the quarterbacks of their product team: they lead by defining a vision, craft a plan to achieve their vision, operationalize the plan by influencing others, and adapt continuously along the way.

PMs typically work cross-functionally, spanning across both their core team (engineers, designers, data scientists) and stakeholders (sales, marketing, operations). As PMs context-switch between strategy and execution, they can establish mechanisms as anchors for their teams. Mechanisms empower PMs to lead with structure, their teammates to execute with efficiency, and their stakeholders to audit effectively — the sections below walk through each of these three types of mechanisms.

Planning Mechanisms

PMs live in the future and are continuously planning the evolution of their product. They are customer-obsessed and bring user insights to inform their product strategy. They are industry experts and can understand where products meet business value. And, PMs are able to see around corners to ensure their product is moving in the right direction. The following examples are mechanisms that enable PMs to plan effectively:

  1. Goal Setting — Every product team should have a clear, defined list of goals or key performance indicators (KPIs). These can be short-term (quarterly) or long-term (annually), but goals are mechanisms for providing product direction and feature prioritization. As a bonus, PMs can also establish tenets, which are guiding principles about their product, business, or customers that enable easier decision-making.
  2. Roadmap Prioritization — A product roadmap is the central source of truth for a product team’s priorities. PMs should partner with their engineering leads to build a comprehensive roadmap, review it regularly, and use it as a planning mechanism for team prioritization.
  3. Sprint Planning — Most product teams operate on two-week sprint cycles, and PM attendance at planning meetings should be mandatory. These meetings are the core mechanism for prioritizing initiatives towards the product vision, so it’s important for PMs to co-lead these with their engineering partners to ensure features are planned appropriately.
  4. Backlog Grooming — Product teams should be consistently adding to their backlog, whether features, bugs, or chores. To ensure the backlog is prioritized for efficient execution, PMs should co-establish grooming sessions with their engineering partners. These mechanisms are used to estimate effort for each backlog story and align the team on upcoming priorities, so that sprint planning can run more smoothly.

Operational Mechanisms

As product teams move from planning to execution, operational mechanisms (particularly meetings) become increasingly important. Product management has a culture of meetings, but it’s important for PMs to prioritize ones with the highest value. Meetings are synchronous, can drive transparency, and can promote knowledge-sharing, but PMs should also supplement meetings with asynchronous communication. The following examples are operational mechanisms that can help PMs drive efficiency across their extended team:

  1. Daily Stand-Ups — Especially as the workforce becomes more distributed, stand-ups are one of the best daily mechanisms for product teams to stay connected. While stand-ups are usually focused on engineering updates, PMs should be mandatory and use stand-ups as opportunities to update their team on customer insights, business metrics, and product announcements. Beyond engineering teams, stand-ups can also be valuable for other stakeholders such as operations, sales, and marketing.
  2. Individual 1:1s — While PMs are constantly interacting with team members and stakeholders in meetings throughout the week, setting aside dedicated time to connect 1:1 is vital to earning trust. PMs can use these 1:1 mechanisms to build relationships, get to know their teammates informally, and offer a safe space to debate issues or ask for help.
  3. Program Reviews — PMs work across multiple teams to move their product/program forward, so joint stakeholder reviews can be an effective mechanism to share information, foster discussion, and host debate. Since these meetings are typically time-expensive and cross-functional, PMs can lead by setting a clear agenda, covering updates across each team, and soliciting feedback from those that typically don’t get as frequent of opportunities to offer their opinions elsewhere.
  4. Email Newsletters — While the above mechanisms are all synchronous, PMs can also use email newsletters as an asynchronous form of sharing information. These newsletters can be biweekly or monthly, and should be used to provide product updates, so that stakeholders don’t have to worry about proactively keeping up themselves.

Auditing Mechanisms

Product development is iterative, and PMs should continuously learn from their peers and customers. PMs need to be well-informed and stay close to their customers. And while talking directly to peers or customers can be insightful, PMs need to also rely on mechanisms where they can introspect and audit consistently. The following examples are auditing mechanisms that PMs can establish for anyone to check in on their product:

  1. Metrics Reviews — PMs should consistently measure the impact of their initiatives against their goals and KPIs. Weekly business reviews can be great mechanisms for PMs to review metrics, audit progress, and deep dive areas of concern. These metrics can be tracked in automated dashboards or pulled manually on a consistent cadence, but PMs should be looking at their metrics regularly to get a pulse on their product’s performance.
  2. Customer Insights Reports — Nothing beats speaking directly with customers, but these sessions can be supplemented with automated reports that provide both positive and negative customer insights. One of the best metrics to track regularly is the Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Score. PMs can look at both the positive and negative detractors of this score, and use its insights to inform product strategy and prioritization.
  3. Kaizen Processes — PMs can occasionally run Kaizen activities that span across all partner teams. These activities are inspection mechanisms focused on eliminating waste and redundancies in operating processes. They also help identify issues and provide insights into product improvement opportunities. PMs should use outcomes of these Kaizen processes to inform their planning mechanisms.
  4. Retrospectives — While sprint planning mechanisms are forward-looking, they should be balanced with retrospectives that review past performance. These mechanisms are focused on areas that went well, didn’t go well, and could be improved. They are usually sprint-focused, but can span across other team activities too. PMs should feel empowered to co-lead these with their engineering partners and document each activity, so the team can audit progress over time.

Techniques to Apply Mechanisms

As PMs operationalize the above mechanisms, they can use various techniques and approaches, whether adjusting their forms of communication, using specific software, or optimizing for certain types of content. The following examples are techniques that PMs can employ when applying their favorite mechanisms:

  1. Synchronous Communication — All-in-one communication platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams offer a step forward in productivity that goes beyond just instant messaging. Product teams can use these platforms to facilitate the mechanisms above, whether sharing information, documenting files, or communicating through dedicated channels and threads. Teams can also use these platforms to set up integrations with Google Calendar, Zoom, and their favorite automated workflows.
  2. Asynchronous Communication — While many believe email is an outdated form of communication, it still serves as a very effective technique to broadcast content for readers to consume asynchronously. PMs should use email to share information, communicate findings, and send long-form documents (e.g. memos, product briefs, etc.).
  3. Writing — Finally, writing is one of the best techniques for PMs to communicate effectively. It can take many forms, whether a memo to sell an idea, documentation to drive team efficiency, or storytelling to drive a product vision for the organization. And, if done consistently, writing can provide structure, depth, and clarity to product management. To learn more, check out my post on The Power of Writing in Product Management.

My name is Zakir Tyebjee, and I publish monthly posts on the realities of product management. Comment below or reach out on LinkedIn if you have new topic suggestions — I can’t promise you I will make you the best PM, but I can promise you I will bring a realistic perspective that inspires you to be a better one 🙌



Zakir Tyebjee
Product School

Product @ Hopin | Former Amazon, Microsoft | Ex-Founder. Publishing stories on all things product management.