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Common product management process problems and how to solve themCommon product management process problems and how to solve themCommon product management process problems and how to solve them

Common product management process problems and how to solve them

When it comes to successful product teams, there are many things to take into consideration - from skills and capabilities through to culture, relationships and process.

We believe that there are 7 key pillars to product team excellence and this is the first in a 7-part series that will take you through each of them, starting with Product Process.

What do we mean by Product Process?

Product Process can be thought of as the repeatable steps a team goes through to bring solutions to market. We tend to think of the process as broken up into 4 key areas: Goal-setting, discovery, delivery and lifecycle management. All are continuous processes that come into play at different stages of product development and all rely on teams being well-versed in the practices that sit behind them.

When it comes to Product Process, teams and businesses often face challenges when trying to get it right. When you’re working in a constantly evolving environment, your processes also need to evolve as your teams grow and change. It can also be hard to define product processes and put them into practice  as much of their success depends on how people and teams interpret them.

It can be challenging to spot the symptoms of a team that isn’t performing at its best, and even more challenging to know how to solve for these.

Let’s take a look at each key area of Product Process, why it’s important, where things can go wrong and some practical tips to improve your teams’ ways of working.

Goal-setting

What is goal-setting?

When we think about goal-setting, we can define it as the process of setting objectives and measurable outcomes for product teams to focus on achieving in a given time period. Goals can be set quarterly, annually or more granularly per discovery or delivery phase.

Whether you opt for OKRs, SMART or something else, goals should always be aligned to the product strategy, focused on outcomes that provide value to the business and have clear success metrics to track against.

Why is goal-setting important?

Setting the right goals is important for ensuring that product teams are continually delivering impact and value towards your longer-term vision and strategy.

Goal-setting exercises are not only an opportunity to agree what the team will be working towards, but also what is out of scope, helping to bring clarity and focus to product teams’ work.

Having clear goals also gives product teams a purpose and sense of accountability for their work, as well as ensuring that they have the space to validate the best problems and opportunities to solve for.

Where things can go wrong with goal-setting

There are many pitfalls when it comes to goal-setting, but some of the most common relate to lack of collaboration, alignment and data input as well as not understanding the difference between outputs and outcomes. Here are some of the ways that things can go wrong when it comes to goal-setting:

  • Not aligning goals to the wider business and / or product strategy
  • Not getting buy-in or collaborating with your team’s stakeholders
  • Not making goals SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based)
  • Mistaking outputs for outcomes
  • Setting goals and forgetting them
  • Setting too many goals for each team
  • Setting goals that are not based on evidence or data
  • Not having the necessary processes in place to maintain and track progress towards your goals

Practical tips for success with goal-setting

  1. Ensure goals are aligned with vision & strategy. When running goal-setting workshops or activities, keep a visual reminder of your product vision and key pillars of your strategy to ensure that any goals that get agreed on tie back to your longer-term aims.
  2. Use data to define product goals. You are likely to have a vast pool of existing knowledge about your customers from existing feedback, research, behavioral data, etc so make sure you include this information in your goal-setting discussions to figure out what the biggest problems or needs are to solve next.
  3. Harness the collective knowledge of your teams and stakeholders. Make goal-setting a collaborative exercise where both product team members and stakeholders pool their knowledge on customer and business needs to help form the right goals.

Discovery

What is discovery?

The goal of discovery is to validate and prioritize opportunities according to the greatest impact, aligned to product vision, strategy and goals.

The discovery process has many parts including user research, drawing insights from data, ideation and experimentation through prototyping and live testing. The results of this process should then feed into the delivery track of work where validated items can be worked on.

Why is discovery important?

Without product discovery, it is very difficult to know which opportunities to invest in that will add value and have impact for your customers and the business.

Many companies take a “solution-first” approach - building any solution means investment of time, money and effort. Good product discovery practices help to increase the confidence of delivering the right things and reduce the risk of delivering something that no customer wants to buy or use.

Giving product teams space and accountability to find the right solutions to customer and business problems is also very empowering and can aid morale and collaborative ways of working.

Where can things go wrong with product discovery?

The main way things can go wrong here is for there to be an absence of product discovery altogether! That often looks like product teams just delivering what stakeholders or leadership asks them to, without taking the time to validate the ideas and opportunities first. If product teams are doing discovery work, these are some of the common pitfalls to look out for:

  • Good discovery practices are not understood by the product teams
  • Discovery is run in a silo by User Researchers and / or Product Designers
  • The importance / value of discovery is not understood by the wider business
  • Teams jump to solutions and don’t explore the problem space
  • Not starting a discovery phase with a goal or outcome
  • Lack of collaboration both within the product teams and with stakeholders
  • Spending too long on discovery or experimentation
  • Discovery and delivery happen separately
  • Product teams don’t speak to their customers!

Practical tips for success with product discovery

  1. Speak to your customers regularly! Make speaking to your customers a regular part of your product teams’ work. Having conversations with customers once a week will ensure a continuous loop of learning and iterating.
  2. Start with a discovery goal. Making sure you have an end goal in mind when starting a phase of discovery work will ensure that teams stay on track. For example, setting a learning goal to find out more about a particular customer need.
  3. Collaborate at the right moments. Bringing stakeholders along for the discovery journey can be very enlightening - they don’t need to be at every meeting, but consider having them join in for things like user interviews and ideation sessions. Also ensure that a Product Manager, a Product Designer and a Lead Developer per team work together to lead the efforts around product discovery.

Delivery

What is product delivery?

When it comes to delivery, we like to think of this as releasing solutions in the shortest time possible that add value and align with the product and business strategy

Once the hard work of product discovery is done, your product teams are ready to start putting working software in customers’ hands. Like discovery, delivery is a continuous process rather than a one time exercise, to ensure that you have a steady stream of value being added.

Why is product delivery important?

There are 2 main reasons why delivery is important to get right - the first is all about realizing value to customers and ultimately to your business. It’s also important to note that delivery isn't a one-time exercise. Continuously improving your products and services will ensure that you can retain customer engagement, revenue and other important measurables over time.

The second reason is more around maintaining the performance of your products and services. Delivery isn’t always just about putting a new shiny thing out into the world, sometimes it’s about making sure that bugs get fixed, tech debt gets resolved and your products continue to run smoothly. Less glamorous, we know, but important nonetheless!

Where can things go wrong with product delivery?

As with the Discovery process, there are also some pitfalls to watch out for when it comes to delivery. Here are some of the most common ones to look out for:

  • Delivery happens without a discovery process
  • Only delivering what stakeholders are asking for (instead of what will add customer and business value)
  • Not clearly defining delivery work
  • Lack of collaboration or siloed working between disciplines
  • Lack of collaboration with stakeholders - e.g. Marketing / Legal / etc
  • Not managing cross-team dependencies
  • Lack of prioritization of work or a lack of alignment with goals and strategy
  • Too many cross-team dependencies
  • Not communicating progress or results

Practical tips for success with product delivery

  1. Ensure that delivery work is clearly prioritized. Before any development work begins, it’s important that product teams understand what it is that they are taking forward from the Discovery process into delivery and why. Considering the team objective, OKR and levels of confidence and risk on items from Discovery can all help with this process.
  2. Collaborate with the wider business. Delivery can involve a much wider set of people so ensuring that product teams have access to people in Legal, Sales, Marketing and Privacy / GDPR teams will help make sure that people in those teams can have the right input and have the necessary information to hand to do their jobs also.
  3. Communicate progress. Ensure that product teams have regular updates and demos scheduled to show and discuss Delivery work with stakeholders. There should also be ample opportunities for teams to get support and input from the key people involved in their work.

Product lifecycle management

What is product lifecycle management?

There are 3 core elements to consider when thinking about lifecycle management - evaluating, optimizing, and sunsetting parts of your product or portfolio. All of these processes occur after an initial release of a product or feature has happened.

Evaluation is all about monitoring data for performance on live products or features - this could be for engagement, retention, revenue or other key indicators.

Optimizing is what you then do with the information from evaluation - this could be iterating on a live product or feature to add further value, for example.

Sunsetting is what happens when a product or feature is at the end of its tenure and you need a plan in place to close it down.

Why is product lifecycle management important?

Evaluation and optimizing are important parts of the lifecycle management process because they help ensure that product teams are continuously maximizing value to your customers and the business.

Monitoring data and customer feedback all contribute to the ability to iterate on products and features, as well as ensuring that they are not draining time, effort or money in a negative way for the business. If you realize that you are no longer receiving return on investment on your products, then a decision can be made to close them down and a plan put in place for customers and stakeholders.

Where can things go wrong with product lifecycle management?

The pitfalls of lifecycle management range cover a number of things, including issues with monitoring and performance as well as communication when it’s time to sunset a product or feature. Here are some of the most common ways that things can go wrong:

  • Doing a single release of a product or feature and then moving onto the next thing
  • Not monitoring the performance of products or features that get released
  • Not having a cadence and criteria for reviewing older or unmanaged products or features
  • Not having a communication plan in place when products or features are going to be retired

Practical tips for success with product lifecycle management

  1. Manage expectations around product lifecycle. Helping stakeholders to understand that a product release is not just one big bang and you’re done, but an opportunity for continuous improvement and why can help product teams to move quickly and make progress. Consider running sessions to help educate people around the business and look for opportunities to collaborate.
  2. Ensure data monitoring is built into ways of working. Setting regular cadences for monitoring and reporting on key data as well as getting dashboards set up can help with evaluating the performance of live products so that opportunities for iteration can be captured.
  3. Set criteria for evaluating live products and a cadence for review. As well as ensuring data and performance of products are monitored, it can also be useful to have a semi-regular health check on your existing products where you can review things like cost to maintain vs. engagement and revenue-generated.

In summary

Overall, there is a lot to consider when thinking about the product process - and the many ways things can go wrong! Hopefully we have provided some useful tips here to help you on your journey as a product leader.

If you would like to work with our expert product coaches on improving your product team’s performance, book a call to have a chat and see how we can help.

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Monica Viggars
Monica Viggars

Monica has worked at many large organisations including The Guardian and Microsoft. Notable achievements as a PM include leading the habit-forming and loyalty strategy across The Guardian's digital platforms which resulted in a number of products being launched which increased user visit frequency and engagement.

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