I have worked in a variety of organizations across different industries, helping my teams or my clients build successful products. From Cisco to Capital One, from my startup Goozex.com to clients I have advised, from private organizations to the military, I have found three common elements that successful teams must have to deliver great products. These elements are the three pillars of a strong customer focus, a culture of agility, and an empowered team.
I believe that these three pillars are what sustain every successful team in building great products. Organizations and teams that keep their customer needs in focus, foster a culture of agility, and empower their teams to make the right decisions, are more likely to set the conditions for great products to come alive.
Maintaining a customer focus defines the product manager’s attitude of seeking and incorporating the customer’s input into his or her decisions at every step in the product development cycle. This should not be relegated to the Discovery phase, but rather should be an essential activity throughout the development and launch of a product.
Asking for customer feedback at every step allows the manager to identify needs and define the proper solution. Customers buy a solution to their needs in the form of a customer experience, and only by maintaining the focus on their needs you can build the right product.
To compete in today’s market, companies need to be nimble, fast, and able to adapt to changing conditions. Like the wooden model built by the architect prior to Michelangelo, which had taken over seven years to complete only to discover that the customer was no longer interested in that plan, companies cannot afford to spend a long time planning and building a product that is perfect in every single detail. By the time they are done, the market has likely either found something else, or has changed.
Companies need to keep the cost of change, and the associated risk, as low as possible, while building the best solution to the customer’s needs. Agile allows you to break product development in small iterations and to incorporate customer feedback at each step. But adopting Agile methods is not enough if the underlying culture does not support a culture of agility. By building an ethos of transparency, inspection, and adaptation, companies can use short development cycles and adjust their plans quickly to match the customer needs. Agility needs to span all phases of development, from ideation to launch. Cross-functional teams can build products in small increments, proceeding from idea to launch in a matter of weeks rather than months and learning from their customers quickly. They can adapt based on the learning, and prepare for the next iteration.
Employing agility across the full product development cycle allows companies to develop their 5D Vision, which is a foundation for a culture of agility.
Empowerment is about trusting your employees to make the right decisions. Leaders need to act as servant leaders toward their teams. By delegating decision-making authority and giving employees the context and resources to make decisions, leaders foster an environment where better solutions are created, and team morale is increased. Empowerment is at all levels in the product organization, from the leaders to the developers, to the customers.
Read more in the book Deliver Great Products That Customers Love