No Obstacles: Building Your Product-Centered Delivery Culture by Jordan Brown

By Katsiaryna Drozhzha on January 4th, 2018.

Many companies understand the value of becoming a holistic, design-driven, product-centric organization. However, there are many obstacles to transforming the organization towards Product Centricity — the greatest of these, is CULTURE. Creating Product and Design fluency should be a grassroots endeavor — one that fosters a culture where people are fluent evangelists of Design and Product principles. In this PRODUCTIZED talk, Jordan Brown outlines a playbook of cultural development, helping leaders and teams to identify opportunities to LIVE by these principles, their application and the benefits of their comprehension and use.

Product Evolution is a Long-term Endeavor

At its core, the product interest is very simple. The Platonic ideal of it is really just a system by which we understand the space, the market and the customer needs. We imagine interventions and potential solutions for them, we run our ideas through some validation process and we take these learning filter through our matrix all over again. Seems to be easy.

But the problem is that in the course of trying to build the right things in the right way, we are evolving that process across the entire organization’s culture. On the one hand, that is what people in a small group can easily pick up ad do. On the other hand, how do you manage this cycle when your organization is very large, or very new, or very “behind” in terms of product thinking? Here, it is important to think of product evolution as of a long-term endeavor.

Why sharing the product ownership is important

A lot of organizations have a very truncated product creation process, where marketing, design and engineering teams are doing their work they’ve been hired to do every day, but without any collaboration with each other.

Unless the organization creates a work culture that is driving towards a vision where everyone shares an ownership of the product, it cannot become holistic.

The evolution starts only when we identify the areas of high value that can start transforming individual teams and give them a greater understanding and comprehension of product centricity. Take your teams, create new thought leaders within these teams, start blending the areas of your business to make sure that marketing, engineering and product are working much closer with each other.

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What you can get out of this process is simply: more effectiveness. You are taking customers information from marketing and putting it into play in terms of how you are shaping your product much faster and easier. As a product manager, you want to reach the complete holistic cycle by sharing the pieces of product ownership and collaborative division of skills and knowledge among all the teams.

Product Centricity as The Culture of Design

As a product consultant, Jordan saw a lot of product people rushing into the lean product for delivering “values with fewer waves.” More effectively and more quickly.

What usually companies do is they send their PMs for trainings and conferences to bring all these new information to their product development, without regarding other professionals within the organization. Even though they might have interesting and different ideas of what the product should look like, these people are usually given little access to product thinking process. That is the moment when frustration and failure happen with little reflection on the core problem. Fundamentally, this problem of doing the product centricity comes from lack of understanding the problem of organizational culture.

Source: SlideShare

Jordan Brown suggests to view the product centricity as the culture of design. Before making a broad long organizational change that is going to be successful, it is important to start with the cultural change within your teams.

First and foremost, the cultural change should be a human endeavor, not just a tool that you grabbed from the shelf and can immediately plug into your business.

When talking about culture, Jordan implies few characteristics: the values that shape the decision-making process; the behaviors that people have; the norms, or patterns that PMs are operating by; internal communication; organization; and politics.

How can we start a grassroots changing culture that is going to facilitate a long-term holistic challenge? On stage of PRODUCTIZED, Jordan explained how the three fundamental characteristics (values, behaviors and norms) can be put into practice in any organization.

Look Into Values

WHY > WHAT+HOW.

Why? is prioritized before What? and How? This principle suggests the following thinking:

“We are outcome focused, we care and we are first to talk about the purpose driving our mission. The methods, the tools and the techniques we use will come later.”

An illustrative example can be a company that has a low checkout conversion. The wrong approach to it would be:

“well, we need to implement Paypal checkout!”

But you want to start in the problem space, that is why you need to understand customers’ prospective first. So the right question to ask should be:

“Do we know what our customers want to accomplish? How’s that going?”

OUTCOMES > OUTPUTS.

In an holistic organization, outcomes are prioritized over outputs. Many teams put too much focus on numbers, but eventually, what do all these numbers mean? The example could be:

“What do we accomplish in this sprint?”

Wrong answer: “Our velocity went up! We completed 10 more stories than last week!”

Correct answer: “We delivered this business value, and average cart value went up 10%”

BOUNDARIES VS CONSTRAINTS.

As a product leader, the question you should ask yourself is: “how do we measure boundaries against the constraints?” A core part of being product centric is the fact that you have core teams and each individual has autonomy within that team. Thus, everybody has an ability to determine what is the best course of action for the tasks to perform.

For the question “are we working effectively?”, the probable wrong answer would be: “all stories need to be written, in Jira, in this format” As opposed to saying: “We have both a digital and a physical backlog, Devs understand stories and Cycle time is low.”

Your team needs to pick the method that works best for them.

BETTER > PERFECT.

The next step of designing your culture, should be prioritization of better over perfect. It is a very simple conflict, but the one that derails teams the most. There is a misconception that if we are not doing something in the exact ideal way, then we are doing it wrong. The perfect example could be those organizations that don’t have experience of user testing.

“Can we validate this with real users?”

Wrong answer: “We can’t do user testing- we don’t have external access to staging set up.”

Correct answer: “Marketing got us in contact with 5 user’s and we are doing screen sharing over Skype.”

Do the best you can with the infrastructure you have at place.

Behaviors Are Really Important

The process of designing the features and the product itself is the same type of behaviorial set you should use as a team.

In the organizational behavior patterns, we go through the process of discovery (researching customer needs), prioritization ( selecting the best place to invest), prototyping through validation, measurement of the results of gained experience, and scaling the successful ones to the higher and greater successes.

How are you using the same design process in your team? How do you use the same design process to make your story more valuable?

From the earliest stages of product development, make sure that you get the people in your team understanding these ideas.

The maturity growth of your company directly depends on how comfortable your team is and how far they can develop the product together.

Norms

NOTHING IS ABSOLUTE, EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE.

That is something that is worth reminding ourselves in product is that once we put together all these huge strategy, we cannot grow being too attached to certain things

Iterative design is hypothesis driven — we discover new truth, things, change, and so we do. We try new things. If some things stops being useful, it’s gone. Everything in service of the outcomes. Nothing for it’s own sake.

Everyone is a Product owner and everyone is a designer. There are so many engineers and developers who don’t even get offered the chance to participate in sketching or guerilla marketing research because they are supposed to be coding and because that is their way of being productive. But if the engineers have a better understanding of a “user”, won’t they also have a better understanding how to craft a better product?

DESIGN WITH THE USER.

Think of yourself as of a user, think of your the entire team as a user.

As much as is reasonable and possible, the continuous design of the product will be a collaborative endeavour. As much as is reasonable + possible the user is involved — or the best proxy we can muster. Everyone takes part in “How might we…”

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MEASURE EVERYTHING.

Are our Retros useful? Is this Feature valuable? What is most painful about Dev to release? How well are we dealing with Tech Dept?

You create the matrix. Your team determines what they believe is valuable to themselves.

AUTONOMOUS + ACCOUNTABLE.

As a product leader, you are giving your team boundaries and some free space that they could operate within them. At the same time, you need to be accountable. Everything we do is in service of the outcome.

We own the outcome and as much as is reasonable and possible, the what and how of that is totally up to us (Boundaries vs Constraints). That said, we are accountable for our choices — they are made intentionally, backed by reason, logged and transparent.

Your Product Is Your Freedom

The way of doing products fundamentally gives people freedom, it gives people autonomy, it gives people ownership. By creating grassroots culture at your company where people develop an understanding and appreciation for these concepts, you are also freeing them into a more democratic space. A space where everybody has a voice, everybody has a say.

Let’s have more discussion about what we are creating, because this is how we can give people more freedom.

A LiveSketch of Jordan’s talk by Live Sketching

Access Jordan’s PRODUCTIZED presentation below:

Jordan is a Senior Product Strategist at ThoughtWorks — a global consultancy dedicated to revolutionizing software design. Jordan works with organizations and leaders to understand their space in the market, align around ambitious visions, identify opportunities, and work with their teams to deliver on an opportunity’s value. Broadly, he facilitates and enables big groups of people to identify the right thing to do, and then do it in the best way possible.

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About the Author

Katsiaryna works at Productized as a content strategist. After spending some years traveling the world, she moved to Lisbon to discover the secrets of Western Europe. In her “free time” she enjoys surfing the waves of the Portuguese coast.

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