4 top tips to keep your product development team happy and productive
By Natalie Yan-Chatonsky, Innovation Manager, Cuscal
Cuscal was one of the proud sponsors of the biggest product management conference in Australia, Leading the Product this year. One of the many highlights was Kara DeFrias’ guide for product leaders wanting to nurture their extended product development teams.
As product leaders developing new products, our plates are full enough with customer validation, defining minimum viable products (MVP), business case justification, stakeholder engagements, product advocacy presentations, prioritising backlogs, marketing and channel planning. It is sad but true, that with large product development projects, product team needs can easily get neglected – people can get burnt out and leave.
Kara shared four powerful tips to ensure we will never overlook the needs of the people working tirelessly on our products and how we can create a healthy, thriving and happy work environment for them. These tips resonated with me particularly, as I realised they were exactly what I was trying to follow as I worked on the innovation, design and development phases of the New Payments Platform (NPP) product at Cuscal.
Our dedicated, cross-functional team is seven times larger than when we started and I’m looking to best practice in product leadership to help keep the team happy and healthy until the launch and beyond. Here are Kara’s tips and how I’m trying to apply them at Cuscal:
1. Empower the team
As I have previously said, product managers lead through influence not through authority. To create great products we need to empathise, not just with our customers, but also with the members of our cross-functional product delivery team. This is so we can understand their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. As long as the team knows what the Product goals and overarching vision are, we need to step back and trust and believe in them to make it happen.
As product leaders we need to make sure the extended team is clear on why we are building the product and the benefits that are going to be delivered to the business and clients. Following this, a big part of our role is creating a common understanding of how we collaborate with each other in a supportive way to get the best results for our internal and external stakeholders.
Earlier this year, I established the ‘NPP Rockstar’ framework at Cuscal, which was based on the values shared by our cross-functional team. By identifying the most important principles the team wants to work and live by each team-member understands how the wider group aspires to make a meaningful contribution to the working lives of our banking client users and their end-customers.
2. Rally around the cause
Kara talked about the importance of ensuring that people in the team are clear about what success looks like. Members of the audience laughed rather uncomfortably with her when she talked about product leaders wading in the weeds when they really should create a vision that’s rooted in emotion, which the rest of the team will buy into and align their focus with.
At the most recent Cuscal NPP Town Hall meeting (where we get the whole team together), our NPP Rockstars mapped out their team’s journey to launch, marking out the small, medium and large milestones along the way. Given our team is so diverse, I also invited them to suggest how they wanted to celebrate each of their milestones. These small to significant milestones won’t necessarily be captured in a project plan, but it will certainly be mapped in a visual and motivating way. The celebration and acknowledgement along the way will help drive personal job satisfaction and team accomplishment.
To kick things off, the product design and development team I work with had a lovely bonding lunch together. It really helped everyone in a newly formed team to get to know each other and also celebrate our first sprint!
3. Be humble
As product managers, we need to be advocates in many ways. We channel the voice of the customer when talking to our stakeholders and we promote product benefits when talking to our target markets. The more experienced you become as a product manager, the better you become at advocating to anyone, no matter who you are talking to.
Kara suggests that you should give yourself permission not to know everything. If you invest time into getting to know each of the team-members’ individual strengths, weaknesses, passions and career aspirations, you can rely on different people to bring their perspectives and knowledge to the table. This diversity of thinking and approach will ensure that your market and product planning will be more thorough and robust.
On a large-scale product development such as our NPP Solution for over 30 financial institutions, one person simply cannot know everything. The business sponsor for our NPP Solution, Nathan Churchward is one of the few incredibly gifted payments gurus that I have the pleasure of working with. While we all aspire to be an all-in-one industry subject matter experts, great product and people leaders, the incredibly admirable trait that we love about Nathan is that he is incredibly humble.
4. Give away the glory
One of my favourite quotes from Kara was that ‘I don’t shine if you don’t shine’. In the same way that product professionals are the advocates for the products we lead, product leaders should help their team members to enter the limelight and be acknowledged for their personal contribution to the team’s overall success. Every great product has a great team behind it. It should always be the team that gets the glory.
In the NPP client engagement and launch planning initiatives we bring in various parts of the functional areas so that everyone can be part of the journey with our clients.
If you are interested in joining Cuscal’s product management team at a pivotal point in the payments industry, please contact our People and Culture Team.