The product discipline is very often completely different from organization to organization. Not only can Product be run individually across different organizations, but significant differences can be found within individual companies. This is driven by various factors; how a company was founded, its values, the life-cycle of the product or company as a whole, how teams are organizationally structured. This variation in Product across teams can sometimes be great for new ideas and innovation, but it can cause a few significant problems:
Problem 1: Detrimental Misalignment Between Product Teams
If each product team is running its own blend of waterfall-agile-scrum-Kanban, this will reduce the number of opportunities there are for positive cross-team alignment. Depending on the companies’ release cadence, differences in product thinking or team structure, this divergence can completely eliminate efficiencies that would be possible through more coordinated releases or by having in-sync Product methodologies.
Like any larger sized tech company going through an agile transformation, Vistaprint faced tremendous challenges as it looked to move from waterfall to agile. During this transition I saw multiple teams working on the same project split in half between waterfall methodologies and agile principles. While overall the organization still delivered tremendous value to the customer during this time, the pace was significantly slower during the transformation than after. At the end of the day, I was happy to see the company transition fully to agile; one big step towards complete Product alignment.
Problem 2: Difficulties Bringing in Outside Talent
Product culture can be an incredibly powerful driver of how attractive a company is for both product managers with significant experience, as well as other roles in the scrum team; engineers, scrum masters, designers, etc. If a company is known as behind or slow in terms of product or how scrum teams are equipped, this will negatively impact how experienced Product people think about that company as an employment prospect. For example,I’ve always recognized that Spotify is seen as a leader in Product strategy and thought, without actually knowing any Product Managers that work there. To me, this makes it quite an attractive employment prospect. I personally saw big differences in recruiting efforts between Vistaprint and our parent company Cimpress. Cimpress was a much earlier adopter of a Product centric mindset, making sure to equip their Product teams for autonomous success with full scrum teams. While Vistaprint eventually got there, the organization had a frequent attraction to sharing resources across teams that lead to a less attractive Product organization.
Problem 3: Difficulties Developing New Product People Internally
Difficulty will rear its head when someone who has limited or no product experience wants to try it out. No one ever really starts in Product, but it can be a very alluring career track. These days keeping employees happy and challenged needs to be a core focus for organizations. Career changes are frequent in tech with people making a change every 1 to 3 years. Enabling people from other parts of the organization to move into strategic high powered roles like Product Management is a great way to approach this problem. Of course the more unique or confusing your Product structure or mindset is, the harder it will be to on-board new PMs and get them ramped up to a level where they are effective.
Developing a strong Product Mindset in itself is a great challenge for any agile organization. Stay tuned for tips and tricks I’ve seen people do to strengthen their organizations Product Mindset. Want to know when my next article comes out? Email me!
Problem 4: Misalignment Means Less Value to the Customer
Running a product org that is misaligned can of course, lead to inefficient scrum teams. Scrum was developed as a system to attack complex software problems in a scalable way. When teams or processes depart from what has been tested and proven, that team will stop producing as much great work. When throughput breaks down in a scrum team, this results in great ideas getting stale, less alignment across the organization, and of course less value delivered to the end customer.
By aligning how product managers and product owners work across a company, teams can have more predictable throughput, improve how cross-team conflicts and dependencies are handled, and directly facilitate the sharing of key learnings that different PMs will have as they go about their own PM journeys. Of course a lot of this is not possible without executive team buy-in across the board, but by leading the charge as a unified Product group, you will have a significantly easier time gaining traction.
But Ben, HOW DO I DO THIS WITH ONE KEY ACTION LIKE YOUR ARTICLE TITLE SAYS?!
Ah reader, of course the one key action you can take to drive alignment in your product organization is to create a Product Management Guild.
What is a Product Management Guild?
A Product Management Guild is a bi-weekly or monthly gathering of product managers to talk about anything but the day to day work everyone’s teams are focused on. Most people call this a Product Management Guild. Some companies also call them Chapters or Centers of Excellence.
A Product Management Guild is Great for:
Creating a safe space for everyone to get better at the craft of Product Management
Depending on the size of your company, meeting new Product people you haven’t met before
Getting to know other Product Managers on a professional or even personal level
Gaining exposure with senior leadership
Understanding more about a team or part of the business you’re less familiar with
Bringing in outside talent and ideas to the organization
Coming up with excuses to get free food
A Product Management Guild is not:
A place to focus on the day to day work everyone’s teams are doing (feel free to get into heated debates about why or why not to prioritize specific initiatives after or before the meeting)
An exclusive club where only “true” product managers are allowed
After the Vistaprint Product Management Guild was established and word spread throughout the organization, people came to me asking if different groups could join. An example was VCS (Vistaprint Corporate Solutions) who at the time was an independent business unit from the core Vistaprint product lines but had recently transitioned to agile. I had two immediate thoughts:
Why are people coming to ask me to join? Ideally I would have set clearer expectations that I am not the leader for this guild and we should all be stewards for its success (more to come in my next article)
Why should we ever prevent anyone who is interested from joining? How else will we keep attendance up, ensure new ideas thrive, and keep excitement high around building a great community
Ben, this is awesome, but I have no idea where to start.
Well reader, I’m glad you brought this up!
I’ve published my complete guide for starting your own product management guild. Check it out here!
A note on corona: These are challenging times. I personally have found myself professionally impacted by this pandemic. Faced with Nordstrom store closures, Trunk Club and Nordstrom made the very difficult decision to furlough a significant portion of its workforce. Unfortunately, I was selected for furlough while in the on-boarding process at Trunk Club but have since been asked to return to work. If you are still lucky enough to be employed, don’t let working from home stop you from creating something as great as a product management guild. It’s during these strange times that the need for even more connection and collaboration is at its greatest.
About the author: Ben Staples has over 7 years of product management and product marketing eCommerce experience. He is currently employed (on furlough) at Trunk Club as a Senior Product Manager responsible for driving engagement through the Trunk Club Native App. Previously, Ben was a Product Manager at Vistaprint and founded the Vistaprint Product Management guild with over 40 members.
Questions, comments, concerns? I do product management consulting! Interested in finding out more? Want to get notified when my next product article comes out? Email me!