The 6 Key Ingredients for Good Product Collaboration

By KATHRYN SHEPHERD-KING

At Brainmates, we’ve taken the time to learn and understand what is required for product teams to collaborate effectively to create awesome products.

Every organisation wants to ensure they’re creating value for both their customers and their business, and the way a product team can do that is by finding the right balance of efficiency, efficacy and effectiveness.

Here are the six key ingredients for finding a balance that creates the conditions for good product collaboration.

1. A Shared Vision and Strategy

The most important thing about your vision and strategy is that you’re collaborating with more than just ‘product people’. If you’re just working within your own silo, you’re not doing it right. You can’t have an effective strategy if you don’t have company-wide alignment.

For effective cross-functional collaboration, all parties need to know the answers to the following questions:

  • What are we focused on?
  • Where are we going?
  • How will we reach that destination?
  • What guardrails are in place?
  • How do we align our teams around the objectives?

Your vision and strategy should provide the answers to these questions – setting out what you are going to do, while also clarifying what you’re not doing and what you have to stop doing.

How you will get people to stop what they’re doing and change their projects requires just as much planning as the rest of your strategy. You can’t just slam on the breaks. You will need to plan the way you will stop, and the key to that is getting everyone to understand the ‘why’.

If you can surface the rationale of ‘why’ – whether that be revenue objectives, customer feedback, or other business drivers – more people will get on board, making alignment much easier.

An effective strategy should also include details on the key actions you need to take, what the impact of those actions is likely to be, and the timeliness of those actions.

Once you have a plan with actions, dates and milestones, it’s also important to report your progress to your organisation. Celebrate achieving your milestones the same way you would celebrate delivering something new.

2. The Right Capabilities and Structures

What does success look like to your organisation?

How will you measure that and then align your teams around it?

Aligning your organisation around those key areas you want to focus on, empowering them within that and allowing them to drive within those different areas.

By understanding what you require and structuring your capabilities into fit-for-purpose teams, you’ll set yourself up to achieve your desired outcomes.

Aligning your organisation around those key areas you want to focus on might mean you’ll need to take another look at your investment profile, how you move resources around, and how you group people together to get the highest-performing team.

Getting the right team together isn’t as simple as naming a role and going straight to market, as different people will bring different skills and experiences to the table.

You need to look at individual and team performance holistically and avoid a situation where you might have a massive concentration of one set of skills but have very little of another.

3. Systems and Tools for Scaling

When your organisation starts to scale and is looking at multiple products – or multiple teams contributing to the one product – you really can’t do it without some process or systemisation.

You’ll need some level of consistency – both from a way of operating so you can move your capability around as necessary, and so you can align your whole organisation.

Consider how many versions of just one planning document your team might go through in a week. Without a system to keep track of the latest version, quality control and consistency goes out the window.

The more you can use tools that help you do that, the better.

If you can take all the different data sources like customer feedback, analytics and business results, and then pull them in and attach them to your core product work, you’ll have a powerful system.

4. An Operating Calendar and Cadence

While we can get lost in daily stand-ups and showcases, we need to ensure we have a broader operating cadence – where the product work fits into the business context and planning cycle. Think budgeting, board meetings, and investor days.

Can you communicate what you’re trying to achieve from your product? Have you expressed the key outcomes you’re trying to accomplish throughout the year, and what return on investment you’re delivering?

If you’re unable to have those conversations at the right time, you’re missing the boat.

With a clear cadence with a clear purpose, you won’t have to constantly think about the fifty different people you need to talk to as you’ll engage with the rest of your organisation at the right time, take them on the journey with you, and get the key inputs to deliver what the business needs from product.

An operating calendar also helps you know the ‘what’ and ‘when’ that you’ll need to prepare for. You’ll think ahead and set yourself up for success instead of constantly firefighting.

5. Great Leadership

Leadership can be tiring. It’s an ongoing practice, something you can’t stop and start, or you will seriously disrupt your teams.

But leaders ultimately need to serve as the north star for their team – knowing where they are heading and what culture they want to drive through the team.

Leaders need to know the answers to the following questions:

  • What are your practices and systems?
  • How do you want your people to operate?
  • How are you empowering them?
  • What guardrails have you got in place?

Having these answers will enable you to lead by example and support your team in their work. Without these answers, you’ll have people going in all different directions.

Leadership is also about balance.

A product leader needs to know how to get their hands dirty and make product, and know when they should lean in to demonstrate the core practices and good behaviours required. But a product leader should also know when to lean back to provide the long-term direction towards Horizon 2 or 3 of your product, and navigate the relationships with the executive level of your organisation and your stakeholders.

6. Explicit Values and Behaviours

If you’re not showing the right values and modelling the right behaviours – and actually looking at how you collaborate with and support others – then your team will follow that same behaviour.

Your values underpin everything else, and leaders need to be clear about what’s acceptable behaviour by demonstrating the values of the team and the business. This applies to your work as well.

Also, be clear about what amazing looks like. Push your teams to be amazing and work out how to support them to do that.

If you can lead by example and bring others along the journey, then drive that through cross-functional teams, that’s when you really have the recipe for success.

If you want to improve the quality of product collaboration within your organisation, Brainmates can help you find the right balance of these six ingredients. We’ve partnered with hundreds of organisations to solve their product challenges, and can help you drive business value with products customers love.

Talk to Brainmates today.

About The Author

Kathryn Shepherd-King

General Manager, Brainmates Professional Services

Kath is a senior product leader with over 20 years of experience in product management, digital, marketing, customer experience and transformation. Kath is passionate about building high-performing product teams, and works with both scale-ups and enterprises to design, build and mature their product practices to deliver customer and business outcomes.

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