This is the beginning of Part III of the book, about Tools, I’ll talk about the tools I’ve been using in my almost 30 years of product development leadership career and passing them to other leaders so they can use them with their teams. The tools I’ll talk about include vision, strategy, objectives, metrics, relationships, hiring, feedback, and ceremonies.
You will notice that the tools that I’ll comment on here are not software such as spreadsheets, presentations, documents, Slack, JIRA, Confluence, etc. These apps are normally very useful, but they are only a vehicle for documentation, communication, and metrification of the tools that we will see in the following chapters.
Vision, strategy, objectives, and team structure
All of these items are, in addition to very important concepts, essential tools for any head of product. In all the opportunities that I started as head of product, these were the first topics that I dealt with, always starting with a product vision and then moving on to the themes of strategy, objectives, and team structure. This is also my first focus when I start any advisory work. I try to understand what’s the vision, strategy, objectives, and team structure. If any of these elements is missing, I help people in the company to create them.
I have already explained what they are and how to create each of these items in their respective part I chapters, so I will just do a quick review of these tools.
As I explained in the chapter Product vision, to make the product vision, it is necessary to be clear about the company’s objectives with the product, as well as to deeply understand the problems and needs that customers have and that will be solved by the product. The 6 steps to build a product vision are to obtain strategic objectives of the company, gain an understanding of the problems and needs of customers, design the first version of the vision, iterate and refine, communicate and review.
I usually document and communicate the product vision in a presentation. If necessary, I put some theoretical introduction explaining the concepts of platform and marketplace. In every presentation I make, I usually present the product vision as an introductory topic to set the context and to make it clear to everyone.
Strategy and objectives
The product strategy is nothing more than the path you will take to reach your product vision. To create your product strategy you need to have a good understanding of your market, that is, the competitors, the potential and accessible market, the growth of that market, if there are disruptors, and how it is regulated. You also need to understand your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A SWOT analysis can help. With this information in hand, you define what you and your team will do to achieve the product vision, what goals you need to achieve, and what metrics will tell you that you are achieving those goals. OKRs are a great tool for working on your goals and metrics.
There are some books and courses talking about how to define and use OKRs. So I’m not going to go into too much detail here. In a very succinct way, you define together with the team some objectives for a period – usually a quarter or a year – and define which metrics you will use to show that the objective is being reached.
I usually document the OKRs in spreadsheets, which I use to follow the evolution every week with leaders of my product development team, and also present and discuss the OKRs with other leaders and areas of the company. The following is an example:
Note that every week the KRs are updated. Each team leader updates their KRs with their teams every Monday, and then leaders and heads of product go through the KRs to see how they are doing and if there are any impediments where energy can be put in to remove. I like to do it on Monday because it helps the team organize the work of the week. The weekly cadence is essential to help the team review performance at least weekly and make adjustments if necessary. If the cadence is higher (biweekly or monthly), valuable opportunities to correct problems and remove impediments are lost.
The column T0 indicates the initial value of the metric. The responsible column has the name of the person who is responsible for that KR and who will lead the effort to make it happen. And the support column lists the people or areas that will help the person in charge.
It is worth remembering that the closer to the company objectives and business metrics the OKRs are, the better it will be for the team, as they will be working to help the company with its objectives and results.
In the chapter Team Structure I said that product development teams are organized into minimal teams, also called squads, composed of engineers, product designers, and product managers. It is important to keep the team as lean as possible to help your productivity. These minimum teams are grouped into product teams called product tribes.
There are 4 ways to organize product teams: by product or functionality, by type of user, by journey or by objective. You can also use two different types of organization to create a hybrid organization. There are also the structural tribes, which create the necessary structure for the product tribes to perform. Teams that make up the structural tribes are SRE / DevOps, Data, Architecture / Tools / Foundation, Design Ops, Information Security, Internal Systems, Sales Engineering and Professional Services.
To help organize the team, I usually use a simple spreadsheet template like the following:
This worksheet contains the team structure and the people who are part of it. Note that we are not documenting functional leadership, but the leadership of each team. In the example, we have John as GPM leader of PM Lucy and PD/UX Patricia, Mary as GPM leader of PD Rafa and Sandra as leader of the structural teams of SRE / IT, Data and Peter, who leads the engineering of 2 squads of the tribe A and tribe B squad.
An important point is that it is not enough to just create these elements and then not use them. These tools are useful the more you use them. I use OKR worksheet at least every week. Whenever I have the opportunity I talk about Vision and strategy. Whenever I talk with my leaders about hiring or changes in the team, I use the team structure spreadsheet I showed above.
- Vision, strategy, objectives and team structure are, in addition to very important concepts, essential tools for any product head.
- For vision and strategy, a presentation with a few slides is sufficient. For OKR and team structure, spreadsheets do the trick.
- More important than the software you use to document Vision, strategy, objectives and team structure is what you do with these tools. I use OKR worksheet at least every week. Whenever I have the opportunity I talk about Vision and strategy. Whenever I talk with my leaders about hiring or changes in the team, I use the team structure spreadsheet I showed above.
In the next chapter, we’ll look at how to measure and increase the productivity of a product development team.
Digital Product Management Books
Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success, solve its user’s problems and achieve the company objectives? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:
- Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
- Product Management: How to increase the chances of success of your digital product
- Leading Product Development: The art and science of managing product teams