Building bridges not walls

It’s been a week of interesting conversations about some of the challenges we face as a team in our organisational culture. I feel like I’m at a point where I understand why things are the way they are and know that I can’t change or prevent the difficult situations that the Product Managers have to face in their work.

I have some thoughts about what I can do to help create a positive environment that gives the Product Managers something supportive to come back to when they have to face those difficult situations. We’ve talked about being ourselves in our role as a Product Manager and not succumbing to the pressures to be ‘a certain kind of Product Manager’, about how the behaviour we model becomes expectations for others, that team diversity is a good thing and that we should appreciate our differences.

There is a lot more I intend to do over time to improve team health as I think it’s really important for people to feel positively about their work and workplace. No one should have to dread going to work or be worried about it being a negative environment.

Measuring skills

I did some work on my ‘Skills inventory for product managers’. Essentially it’s a list of ten broad skills that PM’s need, that can be measured on a scale of 1 to 10. Normally I wouldn’t think of ‘skills’ in such a narrow way but this has a very particular aim, so it seems like the right tool for the job. I want to help them understand where they are now and where we want them to get to in order to deliver on the new value proposition that we are developing, and develop them further into strong ‘T’ shaped Product Managers that a broad spread of skills across the team.

Something else I’ve been thinking about is the ‘hard and soft skills’ dichotomy, which I don’t thinks makes much sense. Maybe it mirrors an objective vs subjective dichotomy that separates the skills and says we can define and measure the hard/objective skills but that we can’t define the soft/subjective skills because they are subjective and so open to opinion and varied interpretations. If I had to go with hard and soft, just because it’s a bit more known for people, then perhaps I’d frame it as the hard skills are ‘what’ we need to do, and the soft skills are ‘how’ we do it.

I’d prefer to think more about situational skills that demonstrate responses to obvious, complicated and complex situations. It seems much harder to understand progress and more vague to talk about, but if I can find ways to do so then I think it might be more useful.

Seeing work

We set up a wall of the office to use to show some of the things we’re working on. It seems to have had some positive feedback from the project managers and stakeholders who realise that visualising some of our work in this way is a good thing. I think it gives the higher-ups a bit of confidence that we have some control over of process for getting work from an idea to being implemented.

Discover, define, develop, deliver

The best thing about it is the discussions it drives about how we define things. One of those discussions was around whether a project should be considered done or not because the work that project was supposed to do was consumed into a different project, so the work was done but the project wasn’t. Listening to conversations like that gives me hope that people are open to questioning and improving our processes.

Team of the future

Marty Cagan (if you don’t know the name, he’s kind of a big deal in Product) posted an article calling out the difference between what he calls Feature Teams and Empowered Product Teams. It’s interesting for us as an example ‘what good looks like’ and where we want to get to in the future with us working as an empowered product team, focused on and measured by outcomes not outputs, and taking our responsibility for value and viability seriously so that we deliver the best for our customers.

Product of our future

Progress on the new product we’re working on has slowed recently, so I clarified the next few steps for the Product Managers working on it. There are various aspects of work going on at the same time, some more obvious and explicit than others. The obvious work is in defining the capabilities of the product, researching customer personas, wireframing pages, etc. The less obvious work is in changing the way we work, and more so in communicating the change.

We talked about how we shift the thinking of our stakeholders to accept our new ways of working and get away from fantasy artifacts like ‘strategies’ and ‘plans’. We need to increase working with stakeholders in positive ways because they are intelligent experienced human beings and their involvement will make the product better, and make landing it within the organisation easier.