Humanising Product Delivery

I’m determined to make a case for what I call “Humanising Product Delivery”. As Product Professionals, we need to consider how we can accept and manage our human imperfections and frailties when we are working through a series of Product Delivery activities.

A Product Delivery process that guides organisations from idea generation through to product launch seems simple and logical, at least on paper. There are steps to follow, activities to complete and key artifacts to produce at every notable point in the process.

At Brainmates we also espouse a step-by-step Product Delivery process, teaching and coaching Product Managers to Innovate, Design and Implement new products and services. We use an eight step process consisting of the following:

  1. Gather and Rank Ideas
  2. Explore the Market
  3. Focus on the Financials
  4. Immerse in the Customer’s World
  5. Define the Product Elements
  6. Build the Product
  7. Prepare Communications and Messaging
  8. Launch the Product

The premise of our process is that, much like a recipe, when followed organisations can successfully launch products with higher success rates and more reliable outcomes. But like any recipe things can go awry. (Yes even ours!)

This is not to say that a process is not required or that the process itself is flawed. A good process is important and guides the teams to the finish line.

But Product Delivery processes are ill equipped to deal with the human issues, of teams interacting and communicating with one another and as a result, things do go wrong. Despite best efforts, products are not launched, not launched on time or not launched with the minimum feature set required by the target market(s) to allow them to be successful.

There are some processes such as Agile that do drive teams to communicate on a regular basis but even Agile is not immune from the wear and tear of emotional human interaction. People are just that, people. We cannot divorce our personal self every time we step into the workplace. There is almost no dichotomy between the personal and the public and so we bring what makes us happy and sad, fearful and brave, relax and controlling, clever and silly to the workplace. This permeates meetings, standups, contract negotiations, presentations and workshops we contribute to, or deliver.

If we acknowledge that people drive Product Delivery, not ‘the’ systems or ‘the’ process, and factor it into our interactions and activities, we’ll find ways to mitigate potential issues that may arise as we work hard to deliver new products and services.

I’m determined to make a case for what I call “Humanising Product Delivery”. We need to consider how we can accept and manage our human imperfections and frailties when we are working through a series of Product Delivery activities.

Here are some suggested ways:

1.Confirm the Product Delivery Process

Before you begin the project, its important to reiterate the Product Delivery process the team will use. The organisation may apply a standard process and the team may assume that the same process will be used during the project. But, any assumptions should be clearly stated. Without stating the assumptions, some members of the team may feel excluded simply by not being ‘in the know’ or may deliver outputs that were either not required or wrong.

Taking the time to walk through the process will enable all team members to understand what’s expected of them and others. It is also an opportunity to change or amend the process to suit the project.

2. Set Some Behavioural Guidelines and Rules

Its always important to start any new projects by gathering as a team and talk about who’s who in the team, Get to know one another on a more personal level. It seems more natural for people to be engaged if they know and even like one another.

To create a more human experience, take the time to articulate the team’s values and what the team stands for. In most cases, Product Delivery teams consist of cross functional team members, some of whom may have never worked together before. Setting out the team’s values early on, aligns individuals and provides insights into what individual team members ‘need’ from the group to perform well. Values that the team may embody are honesty, empathy, creativity and so forth.

Confirm roles and responsibilities to ensure that no duplicate effort is expended for any activities undertaken and that ownership of the decisions that are required at each stage of the Product Delivery process has been made clear. It also provides team members a sense of individual purpose and responsibility.

As part of this process, outline the way the team will communicate each other, how often you’ll meet and what type of information will be shared. You may also want to set out how the team will handle any disagreements, conflicting opinions and views. (A conflict management tool that can be employed is the Pinch Crunch model.) Conflicting opinions are inevitable in every Product Delivery project. It’s a healthy part of the process. It only becomes detrimental to the project’s performance when conflict escalates and logic is discarded.

Setting guidelines and rules essentially creates a safe environment for the group to be able to communicate openly and manage unforeseen issues with ease.

3. Identify Natural Working Styles

A practice that seems to be emerging is to identify individual team members’ natural working style before the project begins.

There are a variety of ways of doing so and we’ve used tools provided by Neuropower.

The reason for determining and acknowledging the various working styles in the team is to help team members understand and appreciate that everyone works differently. Some are detailed orientated and prefer to work alone whilst others enjoy sharing and communicating ideas. If the team is aware of their individual working styles, they can understand why certain team members perform and produce work differently. They are more likely to overlook issues that may have otherwise annoyed them. Without the time wasting friction that sometimes bubbles up during Product Delivery projects, the team is more likely to be focused on reaching the finish line.

4. Actively Listen

This is a tough skill. One that is talked about often, but is not done well by many people, especially when teams are frantically working to deliver key outputs such as Requirements, Wireframes and Prototypes during Product Delivery.

According to Peter Burrow from Neuropower, We all have a need to feel heard and understood. It may sound fluffy, but feeling emotionally connected to those with whom we work not only has a significant impact on our enjoyment of daily life, it can also be a pivotal factor in performance.

One of the first steps towards active listening is to ‘stop talking’. Take a deep breath, relax and remove the personal lens and personal prejudices we bring with us to every discussion.

When we listen effectively we can appreciate a different point of view, learn from our team mates and produce outstanding results. We learn empathy and to be more human.

5. Celebrate Wins

Needless to say we are sometimes engaged in lengthy projects that feel like they will never get to market. This can be exhausting and may sap the morale of a team. It is important to create, smaller milestones that celebrate progress to keep the energy of the team high. A sense of achievement is a good motivating factor.

Through acknowledgement, we can be in a better position to have a practical plan of attack for the most common ways that an individual within that specific Product Delivery window can falter and determine some mitigation strategies or checking mechanisms to keep an eye out for these.

Accepting we make mistakes is not tacit approval for errors or accepting failure as OK but rather it is a nod to the other side of the success coin and by spending sometime thinking about the factors that may cause a problem. It will make for a healthier team and a more confident approach to tackling projects.