Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why teams are slow or fail? - My personal thoughts

I read this recent article by SVPG (click here for the article). I really liked it but wanted to also share my thoughts on what slows the team down
  • Unnecessary Changes - Change happens. We know that not every product manager can anticipate the whim of every customer or sales person. But unnecessary changes or churn can cause a lot of challenges to getting team to really form, focus, and finish! I've seen companies constantly move developers in and out of teams like musical chairs. I've seen product managers bend to the whim of sales winds and drive their teams nuts with constant changes or lack of clarity or depth in requirements. Change happens, but keeping the team focused on the "why" and solving that problem will result in much faster delivery of true customer impact.
  • Lack of customer empathy which causes a lack of urgency - I have seen a lot of teams (especially development), not really feel connected to the customer or to challenges of support, etc. As a result, they lose that drive to fix an urgent issue, simply because they don't know the challenges it causes. There are a couple of quick fixes. Ask your product manager to truly be the voice of the customer, share the data, share the stats, record a customer interview about an issue and play it back for the team. I've heard of other companies asking folks in product development to spend an hour a month listening to support calls, etc. As a product manager myself, I typically use the release or sprint boundary to share the "why" and get the team on board with the work in front of them. Don't forget to follow-up with the team afterwards. Nothing improves morale more than hearing the words of a thankful customer or see a graph of support volume dropping off after a fix!
  • Poor Team Composition - Although this one is listed last, it is by far the most important. In my career there have been several instances where someone on the team just didn't fit in or get along well with the team. In one instance, we had a developer who was super smart, but very loud and it was his way or the highway. Eventually management wised up and he took the highway. In another team, we had a experienced team member, but he was always so negative. It took so much time and energy from me to constantly keep him engaged and not drag down the whole team. Thinking about who should be on a team and what they bring is a critical success factor for the team and for their ability to deliver results quickly.

Thoughts? Did I miss something?

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Startup and Development Process - New Tips!

Blog Post #2 Revisited - The Startup and Development Process
As a company grows from 10 people to 50 and then to 200, processes have to adapt and complexity grows. The reality is that product managers can get sucked into the whirlwind of trying and figuring out the best development process. Should you be agile? What about this form of agile or that form of agile, sprint lengths, etc. It's very easy to get sucked into this whirlwind of decision making at the expense of other duties.

The Problem
As a company grows rapidly, job responsibilities start to shift to newly hired specialists. Where once you were part project manager, part developer, part QA are now in your natural state as the roles get filled in with other "experts". The challenge comes from the fact that expectations and responsibility change at different paces, thus resulting in the need for process to overcome confusion. As a product manager who sits in the middle of many processes and departments (marketing, finance, sales, technology, etc.) you often have to fill in the gaps cause by the separation.

Companies really struggle at this stage in their development as the folks that have been there since the beginning often times don't agree that there is a problem or struggle with all the change and sometimes see very little benefit (or even some slow downs).

  • Remember that process serves a purpose - Think about the goal you want to accomplish and make that the center of your discussion. Once you get to shared vision regarding your goal, then the discussion can shift into the best way to achieve that goal. 
  • It's about people and not process - Just because you have a process hammer, doesn't mean that everything is a process nail :). Don't forget the people element in changing your process. Impacts to morale can be real! Celebrate the wins and acknowledge the learnings. Be inclusive with the change! 
  • Slow and steady wins the race - Change in how things are done can be jarring and there is always that urge to go faster! Take one change at a time and realize that your team is going through an adjustment period. Take note of what is working and what isn't and adjust accordingly. The key to being slow and steady is to ensure that you set and agree upon expectations ahead of time. Happiness is the difference between expectations and reality.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where I have been?

So it has been a year since I last posted something on this blog and during this year a lot has changed in my professional life. Let's see I started a job, almost left that job, been promoted, taken on new projects and have been managing a small team. There are times when I reflect back and feel regret, times when I wished I would have zigged rather than zagged.

In all of this, I have learned some things I'd like to share:
  1. Believe in yourself. If you don't no one will believe that you are capable of great things
  2. You can't get caught up in items beyond your control, you have to be honest and polite to everyone. 
  3. When you see an opportunity to learn, run to it, don't walk. Embrace learning.
  4. Reflect - Take a moment every day, every week whatever to just reflect. Jot down a note of what went well and what could have gone better.
  5. Giving is better than receiving - Always look to help others grow. It is through their growth that you will grow.
  6. Always seek feedback - It will help you learn (See #3)
Thanks for reading. Feedback? Are there any lessons you have learned lately that you would like to share?