The short-term, project team model can’t stand up to the rapidly shifting requirements of the new digital market. The speed of change is happening so fast that entire business models and product strategies are being turned upside down overnight. Consider the possible impacts that ChatGPT has on your own business. Now imagine what new businesses will evolve from this. The unimaginable is right around the corner, where Star Wars’ C3PO’s limitless intelligence or Terminator’s T-800’s utility will become a reality. After all, Tesla’s plant is already over 75% automated, fully automated coffee shops are popping up around the world, and fully driverless taxis can be found in San Francisco. What is next?
With increasingly complex and unpredictable market landscapes (and customer needs and expectations), companies require all-hands-on-deck to deliver exceptional customer experiences — and to understand how to get these experiences to market quickly, with minimal waste. That’s why it’s essential for everyone involved in developing and launching a product, like product owners, the product teams (architects, designers, quality professionals, and developers), planners, business analysts, and marketers to understand the product lifecycle, and how to develop a better empathy for customer needs. Everyone, from the executive team to individual contributors, must understand the right way to set goals for products in the digital-first landscape. And yet, few people outside of the product management team, especially in traditional organizations, seem to know how to set the goals that create market-leading products.
Most importantly, Product experts are essential to creating broader, market-driving strategies to keep up with the pace of change. Learn what a project to product transformation is and what it means to become a product-driven company, what a one-team model for creating successful products looks like, as well as the four knowledge areas necessary to bring game-changing products to market faster.
The Product Balancing Act
Good products must be feasible, economically viable, and desirable. This is a high bar — and most product ideas fail, at least initially. This failure is caused in part by the disconnect between the teams who participate in a product launch. Without a shared understanding, a product can fail to meet the needs of its end customers. It can be marketed badly by a team who was not involved in its creation, or it can be abandoned quickly by consumers who find their feedback is not being considered by the development team. Examples of product failures are legion, but they are avoidable. A shared product mindset, including an understanding of how to manage products in an agile way, can help to create the one-team mindset that is required to deliver market-winning products.
The One-Team Model for Creating Successful Products
Anyone involved in discovering, defining, and delivering compelling products and services needs to understand not just the product lifecycle, but the key methods and skills required to bring products to market in an effective, agile way. Fostering the team mentality that creates winning strategy and execution is not just a matter of developing a winning culture, but also creating shared context on methods, status, and goals.
For the core product team, including developers and software architects, designers, and quality professionals, understanding the foundations of product management is critical for them to create the best digital product possible. This team should understand the methods product managers use to accelerate product adoption in the market, in order to build towards the most desirable features for the product. More than just acting on a product vision, they should understand how to create one (and ideally, in an agile company, they should be involved in its creation). Finally, they should understand how to build and assess a product strategy, and identify when the work of their team becomes misaligned with the vision and strategy.
Product owners and project managers should also have these skills, as well as the ability to understand how to balance the constraints of the business with the needs of the customer. To shepherd a great product to market, the people in these roles should understand how to set agile goals and gather data in a way that supports those goals — rather than tracking everything, tracking what matters most to customers and best supports the business.
Finally, the marketing team in a top-performing agile company is involved from product inception through product delivery, and beyond. Knowing the goals and the outcomes of the product build helps them create a powerful narrative for the product that most closely aligns with customer needs. Understanding these needs, and communicating them to the product team during the build, can help to create market-leading products that open new lines of business for the company. Finally, understanding the characteristics of their target users will ensure the product gets into the right hands, in large numbers.
Projects are the Past — Products are the Future
Waterfall project planning assumes all products will succeed in-market. In reality, success requires the ability to pivot when a product isn’t working — and it’s impossible to know how customers will feel about a product until it’s in-market. Working as a product team to experiment towards the right product/solution fit for the market is the best (and the only) way to generate sustainable business value. The balancing act is critical in understanding where to put effort, which product ideas to fund, and how to separate the winning ideas from the losers with effective data collection.
As Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Kim write in Accelerate, “In larger companies, it’s still common to see months spent on budgeting analysis and requirements gathering before work starts; to see work batched into big projects with infrequent releases; and for customer feedback to be treated as an afterthought.”
The traditional Waterfall project team has some strengths, as well as a lot of baggage. These teams, with members cobbled together from different departments, bring with them competing priorities that will distract their focus on the project. They are given a fixed scope of work, a timeline and budget to complete their project, but with no ownership over the outcomes and little insight into the goals of the finished product.
This is a recipe for disaster. In the project model, as so often happens, there’s no room for pivoting or adjusting if a competitor releases a similar (and possibly better) product. There’s also little room to apply learnings from project teams in other divisions of their organization when they find success with a product, or even a better method of crafting features. The work is set — and setbacks, when they inevitably happen, become scope creep that delays the product or creates mistakes and bugs that the customer will ultimately have to deal with.
“In a complex environment, following a plan produces the product you intended — just not the product you need.” – Jim Highsmith
A Project to Product Transformation
So what does it take to deliver compelling products and services to the market? Organizations need a project to product transformation.
This is a major problem for businesses as the threat of disruption looms for every industry. Today, consumers are more empowered than ever. They have more freedom than ever to choose products produced and available to buy from all over the globe, and their expectations for user experience and time-to-market have become astronomical for traditional brands competing against digital-first companies. In this environment, brands must offer products that solve the right problem for the right consumer — at the right time and the right price.
The product model is one where a dedicated team, including the product creators like engineers, designers, and product management, partners with marketing, business analysts, and all other stakeholders, form a unit that is driven to create momentum by focusing on the highest-value, near-term outcomes… You may call this “quick wins” to achieve product-market fit for a specific set of customers or market segment. The key is not to try and deliver every feature at once but rather to complete what is only necessary at first and iterate over time. To start this transition, companies can begin with customer-focused experiments. For digital-first and agile companies, minimum viable products (MVPs) are the best way to iterate towards building world-class products that achieve market success. They launch this MVP in the market quickly, and use hypothesis-driven methods to test, learn and adapt as customer feedback rolls in. Instead of a big-bang launch, this small product becomes bigger as the team validates customer outcomes and adds features that create a positive impact on the product experience and the company’s bottom line.
Get Winning Products to Market Faster
The traditional Waterfall model holds that customer research and focus groups are the best way to understand customer needs. It also presumes that the “requirements” are well understood and that there is absolute confidence that the end product is EXACTLY what the customer is willing to purchase. While this may be somewhat true in specific situations, we know that this approach fails at responding to change as it largely ignores the need to adapt to changes in the market, customer needs, consumer needs, and technology. Its weakness in adapting to change makes the Waterfall model perform poorly in situations where the requirements may need to adapt before a product goes to market.
For this reason, it’s essential to reject the overly detailed and elaborate planning cycles in favor of shorter, quickly testable experiments. This is why so many companies are choosing a project to product transformation. The product team, which, as noted, includes everyone involved in the product lifecycle, is one where information flows freely, and is not siloed by department. The teams receiving customer feedback, like marketing and customer success, are communicating directly with the product team to ensure the right features are being built, and issues are addressed. The product teams, in turn, are keeping the marketing team and related functions up-to-date on their work so that the information on what’s coming can flow back to the customer and up to the leadership team, generating excitement from buyers and support from executives.
As Forsgren, Humble and Kim note in Accelerate, “The ability to work and deliver in small batches is especially important because it enables teams to integrate user research into product development and delivery.”
Foundational Knowledge for Product Teams
There are 4 knowledge areas necessary for creating successful products. These are outlined in our new Product Management Foundations for Agile course that creates shared context for all team members in the frameworks, principles, and methods that improve value co-creation, shorten time to market, and reduce risk in the experimentation cycle. Game-changing products can be successfully brought to market faster by creating clarity in the following areas:
- A product vision
- Agile product planning, delivery, and performance metrics
- Customer behaviors and needs
- The ability to forecast and accelerate product adoption
In this highly competitive marketplace, it is imperative that everyone involved in serving customers, including marketers, product owners, project managers and planners, business analysts, and those product teams directly involved in creating products like architects, designers, and developers, have a ready answer to the question about bringing compelling products to market — and have the knowledge and tools to do just that.
The key is a project to product transformation. With our Product Management Foundations for Agile course, a positive, team-based culture and a shared mindset, teams can learn to work in an Agile way to deliver products that push the boundaries of innovation and reward companies’ bottom lines.
Understanding Product Portfolios
After learning the foundations of Product, acquiring Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) skills is the next step for change agents who want to see what can be improved across the whole organization, not just a single silo in the product pipeline. This is to increase the system’s ability to increase flow efficiency and effectiveness across the enterprise.
Implementing LPM requires shifting from a project to product organizational structure. Learn how to make a project to product transformation happen with our LPM certification course, and uncover opportunities to increase collaboration and improve decision-making, delegation, reporting, and other practices required of a modern agile organization. LPM provides product leadership with better ways to fund, deliver, and get feedback on their product portfolio. Ultimately, it enables customer centricity and Business Agility to help companies launch winning products at light speed.
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