Pledge To Executives
Note: As a company moves from top-down, command and control models of leadership to pushing decisions down to empowered product teams, there are some important changes to how the product leaders and product teams need to interact with executives, and it’s important that product teams realize this requires changes on both sides of the equation. This is a follow-up article to Pledge to Stakeholders and Pledge To Customers.
Moving to the product model often requires significant cultural change, especially when moving from top-down, command and control styles of leadership.
Mostly when we discuss the necessary changes, we focus on the changes needed within the product and technology organization. However, an important aspect of transformation is changing the dynamics and interactions between the senior executives and the product organization.
It’s true that many product leaders and product teams would like to think this is as easy as saying “please just back off and give the product teams space to do their work.”
Unfortunately, there are very real needs that executives have in order to responsibly and effectively run the company.
And in order to push decisions down to product teams, those product teams need to understand the strategic context, much of which comes from the executives.
So, in contrast to reducing the level of interaction, product teams need frequent, high-quality engagement.
What we’re really talking about is the nature of these interactions.
We hope to interact in ways that provide the executives the information they need to run the business, yet empowers the product leaders and the product teams to do the work they are capable of.
We’ve found there are a set of techniques which can help encourage constructive and effective interactions between the executives, and the product leaders and product teams.
One of the central ideas behind the product model is to push decisions down to the product leader or product team that is in the best position to come up with the best answer – normally that’s the people working directly with the enabling technology, and directly with the users and customers.
But teams can only make good decisions when they are provided the necessary strategic context. So, it’s critical for executives to share the broader context – the business strategy, financial parameters, regulatory developments, industry trends, and strategic partnerships.
Product teams depend on the executives to share as much of the relevant strategic context as possible so they have the information to make good decisions.
And executives depend on product leaders and product teams to share openly and honestly the data and reasoning used to make their decisions.
Product teams understand that what matters is results. Whenever possible, product teams expect to be accountable to outcomes rather than output.
But this only works if the product teams are given a problem to solve (rather than a particular potential solution to build) and then empowered to come up with a solution that works.
In order to come up with the best solution they can, product teams depend on executives to provide as many degrees of freedom to solve the problems they’re assigned as possible.
Product teams then pledge to take responsibility for coming up with a solution to the problem, and make best efforts to solve for the customers, solve for the business, and solve for the technology.
Product teams realize that the executives have the broadest access to data, and the best understanding of the wider business context. Yet the product teams have access to the enabling technologies, and to the actual users and customers interacting with the products every day.
Product teams realize that at times there will be differences of opinion. In the old models, contrarian or counter-intuitive ideas are not explored and innovation rarely happens. In the product model, it is very often these counter-intuitive insights that power real innovation. If something is important, we coach product teams on how to run tests quickly and responsibly to collect the necessary evidence, or even proof.
The product teams depend on executives to allow for and ideally encourage teams to explore alternative approaches when they believe that’s necessary to succeed.
If a product team is proposing an approach with associated risk, the product team pledges to responsibly run product discovery tests in order to collect the necessary evidence, and then share those findings.
The product teams understand that there will be times when an executive needs to know a specific date for a specific deliverable. The product teams pledge to treat these promises as high-integrity commitments.
The product teams understand the damage that is done to an organization when promises are made and then not kept.
Product teams ask that only the product team that will be responsible for delivering on a promise be the one to make that promise, and they not be asked to make a promise or deliver on a commitment where they don’t know what is involved and what would be required to succeed.
Further, product teams depend on high-integrity commitments being the exception and not the rule, as the time and effort in making and then delivering on a high-integrity commitment can be significant.
But once a promise is made by a product team, they pledge to then take these high-integrity commitments seriously, and do everything within their power to deliver on their promises.
As Steve Jobs famously said: “Focus is saying no to the hundreds of other good ideas.”
So much of an effective product organization depends on real focus.
The product teams understand that the world changes, there will always be new prospective customers, new opportunities, and new threats, but depend on the executives to strive to stay focused, at least on a quarterly basis.
Product teams realize that surprises are sometimes unavoidable, but they also know they must try hard to minimize them. This means that if there’s anything even potentially sensitive, the product manager is expected to recognize this, and to show and discuss with the impacted stakeholder or executive before the solution is built.
One of the worst forms of waste is when a product team builds a product quality, scalable implementation of some capability, and then finds out afterwards that there is some reason why this is not an acceptable solution.
Similarly, if an executive reviews a prototype during discovery, and doesn’t raise any major issues, but once the product is built and in production decides that something is now a serious problem, then this is likewise very wasteful and frustrating to the organization.
The product teams pledge to preview any potentially risky solution with the relevant executives prior to building.
Regardless of the cause, when something gets built but then is deemed to have a serious problem, it is reason to have a post-mortem discussion to see how that type of waste can be avoided going forward.
The product teams understand that empowerment depends on a degree of trust, and they pledge to work to earn that trust.
Likewise, the product leaders and product teams are trusting that the executives are leading the company in a positive direction.
Neither expects the other to be perfect, but they each recognize that they depend on the other, and pledge best efforts to help each other succeed.