Whatever business you work in, the chances are that you will be more successful if you can work together effectively as a team, but curiously enough most firms don’t spend much time on this crucial skill. By all means you may have herded some Indian runner ducks during your last corporate offsite, or damaged your hearing at a team karaoke evening, but does this really bring tangible benefit to the way in which you work together?
Globalization has brought additional challenges to the teamwork landscape, as we attempt to work with colleagues on the other side of the world and in completely different time zones. However, the inability to communicate effectively doesn’t require great geographic distance, as that email you received today from someone whose desk is perhaps just 20 feet away from yours proves. So, how can we improve these processes, maximise the benefit of these interactions, and make technology a tool that helps us, rather than becoming something to hide behind?
Looking at things from the perspective of a product manager within a dispersed team, there are certain things that make working together easier. These are: Clarity, Collaboration and Consistency.
When addressing 'Clarity', a common scenario may be the last minute panic when, usually at around 4pm on a Friday afternoon, it is announced that the senior management team need your full business case projections and budget requests by 9am on Monday morning. There are few things that dampen the morale of a team more, and the curious thing is that it should be so easy to avoid. With a little clarity around what your key dates are as an organization, when budget presentations are due, and what the process should be to ensure that all submissions are suitably polished, it is not difficult to work backwards to create a clear diary of events that need to happen. Being able to publish these key dates in your product management systems, well in advance, ensures that your team are able to plan their work, conduct the extensive research that you would expect them to do, and then prepare rounded, rather than rushed, final documents for your review. As a manager, an additional aspect that brings some certainty to the process is having the ability to track how well each of your team members are progressing towards that deadline, allowing you to give them a timely nudge if you see them falling behind, rather than asking for their final reports and receiving the dreaded response 'What deadline?'
'Collaboration' has become something of a buzzword, but for product managers this is often an essential part of the learning experience. Few firms have formal product management training programmes in place, and it is still the case that many product managers drift into the role with very limited experience or understanding of what the expectations of the role might be. Indeed, a 280 Group survey saw 52% of product managers surveyed respond that their team’s product skills were 'average or worse'. If we accept this as fact, and concentrate on how to work within such confines, then collaboration between team members becomes increasingly important. Where an individual needs some guidance around what is expected from a quarterly presentation to the sales team, how to construct a value proposition statement, or who the best person to speak to in finance about profit margins is, there is no substitute for being able to share that experience and knowledge across the virtual team. Tools have emerged which meet this challenge, such as Salesforce’s embedded Chatter capability, which enables team members to have an immediate conversation with their peers around a specific topic, without having to use the dreaded email box. Supporting this are product management systems which also allow users to share what they are working on with their colleagues, or even potentially delegate tasks to individuals who are better suited to comment on a particular aspect. Such tools ensure an effective information flow and optimisation of available expertise.
Last, but certainly not least, is 'Consistency'. For any organization, which wants to try to help its employees work effectively, laying down a consistent process and judging people on a consistent basis is key. How often have you heard complaints in an organisation that someone has 'moved the goalposts', which is usually followed by some head shaking and a resigned need to start something all over again? Once again, a little foresight and planning can easily ensure that this doesn’t happen. Putting simple workflows in place allows product managers to understand what the expected process is for a particular type of product, which information they are expected to gather, and at what stage this will need to be submitted for review. Ensuring that these are applied across the team evenly also negates much of the earlier issue regarding undertrained staff. If a simple and intuitive process is in place, which a junior product manager can easily follow, then they can be productive, substantially self-managed, and also gain experience whilst in the role.
Product managers have often been criticised in the past for working in their 'ivory towers', but creating a culture within your organisation that encourages effective teamwork will very quickly generate positive results. With these sort of processes in place within the product team itself, the next step is to extend them to interactions with the adjacent areas of sales, operations, technology, legal and finance, which is when your business will function with the transparency and efficiency of an ant farm.