It’s been a another busy week of managing products, UAT testing, meeting stakeholders, coaching the team around future direction and on current OKR’s, coming up with a training package, and developing our process.

My busy calendar
My calendar for this week

Over the few weeks I’ve been here I’ve been observing some patterns that suggested there was some uncertainty around the future of the product function and teams, and this week it was confirmed to me. I feel like this is an exciting time for the Product team. If any team should be able to embrace uncertainty, understand the problem to solve, and demonstrate the value, it should be a Product team. Whatever happens, there is no future where we’ll be working in the same way as we do now. So, I’ve been doing some coaching with the team on shifting their understanding and implementation of their role from facilitating the delivery of features on a product they are responsible for to understanding customer problems and how solving them adds value to the business.

It’s a leveling-up that they are going to resist to begin with, partly because I’m ‘the new guy coming in with all these new ideas that will never work here’, and partly because they are embedded in the current way of working. I’ve no doubt that they can change, and that they want to as they don’t enjoy the way they are currently working. They seem to feel that they is pressure on them to be busy and work the way they do but when I ask them where that pressure comes from they don’t have a coherent answer, which tells me that the pressure is implicit and can be shifted from being dragged along to leading the way.

There is no standard for Standards

I’ve had lots of chats about innovation and problems to solve across the organisation. One of the key issues around data consistency seems to be that there is no standard for Standards. Standards are written by different organisations, on different timescales, with different lifecycles, all of which makes it next to impossible to give customers a consistent experience. There are three ways we could approach dealing with this; 1) write a standard for Standards and gain consensus with all the authoring organisations, 2) get good at handling variation in data, or 3) choose to only use the Standards that meet the requirements we set.

This third approach will definitely be the simplest and quickest approach, and the one I’m going to explore first. It means understanding the data attributes that we hold for Standards, selecting those that are universally available for all the Standards and then being disciplined with ourselves that we’re only going to make available those Standards that meet those requirements. Currently we take the approach of surfacing all this complexity to our customers, complexity that they aren’t interested in. So, we need to move to delivering the value our customer want to extract from Standards rather than the Standard themselves.

How do you sell something no one wants?

We have an interesting, and uniquely not-for-profit I think, supply and demand problem. We create a vast number of Standards that no one wants to buy. It doesn’t mean there is no value in creating them, but it does mean it’s impossible to monetize the entire supply of Standards. This too takes our thinking more in the direction of delivering value to our customers rather than providing all of the Standards (or even all of the information in all of the Standards). It enables us to make better, more commercially focused, decisions about which Standards we offer to customers, and it helps us think more clearly about how to evolve towards being a platform business able to offer value at all sizes and scales rather than a pipeline business that essentially says to customers, ‘this is what we make, take it or leave it’.

Start small (businesses)

The majority of our customers are large business, those with people who’s role is specifically about ensuring they comply with Standards because of regulation and auditing. But 97% of businesses in the UK and small and micro businesses, those that could benefit from using Standards to improve how they work and utilize their use of Standards to generate more business.

This should also be a good opportunity to learn whether people pay for fragments of Standards, and interpretations of the Standards to enable us to monetize just the parts that are helpful to small businesses.

This seems like a good opportunity to work through our entire product process and see if we can identify a new market with a problem that we can fix. I’ve picked a small segment of the small and micro business market; builders, and now i need to understand if there is an appetite from them to be able to improve how they work, and demonstrate to their customers that they follow standards as a way of showing quality I their work, and so get more business.

Driving together

There seems to be some tension between product managers and project managers. Even though they work together almost every day, it seems like they don’t really understand each other, how each other works, or why they use the tools and techniques that they do. There is some work for me to do in the translation between product and project and I’ve been looking for metaphors and tools to foster some harmony between product, project, development, business analysis, testing, and infrastructure.

The metaphor I’ve been thinking about is that of driving a rally car. The car is the piece of work that we have to get from start to finish, the Product Manager is the navigator who is responsible for the direction the car goes in, the Project Manager is the driver and is responsible for the speed the work goes (and maybe the devs, testers, etc. are the mechanics but I don’t want labour the metaphor too much).

I also had a quick look at collaborative working tools like Microsoft Planner and Teams. If Planner had @ mentions so that people could be tagged in conversations that it would be the best option, but as it doesn’t I don’t think it’s going to help communicate expectations and improve visibility (from the reduced number of emails that people aren’t included on and don’t have time to read). Teams has good chat functionality, and could be organised by projects, but doesn’t have the Tasks and Dates functionality. Maybe I need to look at Trello again, or some other tools.

Modelling good behaviour

I’ve seen quite a few examples this week of negative behaviour, from snide comments to people not feeling like they could say no, to people feeling that they should work longer hours in response to some criticism. It has made me double my efforts to model good behaviour myself through being as inclusive in decision-making as I can, having a smile and being generally positive, telling jokes, and coaching people in ways to deal with the negativity of others. I’m not sure my efforts to create a nice atmosphere are going to change much but I’m certain that I don’t want to be part of the problem.