The world seems to be changing faster than ever, and there’s no reason to believe it will slow down anytime soon. The pandemic has compounded this sense of constant flux, with customer priorities shifting overnight. Against this backdrop, product teams need to constantly evolve their development work without losing focus or feeling they need to react to every small change in the market.
This requires team leads to throw out their old playbooks and develop a new strategy that allows them to deliver continuous innovation without creating chaos for their teams or losing sight of their north star. Road maps are shrinking from years to months, and are now being created with the understanding that they may become outdated or redundant at any time.
Building and maintaining an organization that can not only survive but thrive in these conditions is a daunting task. It requires a structured, programmatic approach that also supports agility and adaptability. Those requirements may feel at odds, but they actually are not. Here are five tactics to help your product strategy evolve with the times.
Keep That “Day One” Mentality
It’s important to keep the soul of your product top of mind. It helps to retain a “day one” mentality which means constantly reminding yourself why you started in the first place and what problem you set out to solve. That founding problem statement should serve as your guiding light, especially through times of rapid growth and change.
Customer requests are, of course, a high priority and should always be thoughtfully considered. But ask yourself if the request is aligned with that day one problem you set out to solve. If it’s not, work with the customer to identify the underlying issue they’re really trying to solve for versus focusing on the symptom they’re experiencing.
Cultivate a Culture That Thrives on Change Without Succumbing to Chaos
It takes a combination of strong organizational capability and the right culture to build a team that can thrive on ambiguity. Strong organizational capability is achieved through talent, architecture and execution skills.
Great product teams build an architecture that supports iteration and are able to execute toward their north star in small, rapid steps. Team leaders should build a culture that takes failure in stride and learns from it to improve each subsequent iteration in the product journey.
Change is inevitable, but chaos is avoidable. Leaders must create an environment that feels psychologically safe and supportive, so that team members feel confident in changing priorities and making rapid decisions.
Build an “Innovation Factory” or a System that Reduces the Potential for Chaos
Innovation and agility require well-planned foundational resources. Following are the key steps that can help put these building blocks in place.
- Think of velocity as a part of your product. Teams should be broken into small groups to autonomously drive the product forward, but in such a way that the overall experience feels seamless to end users.
- Democratize the product concept phase by creating conditions for a large number of ideas. Everyone involved should be inspired to contribute, including employees, partners and customers.
- Create a system for product development excellence. Fully automate your product development life cycle by approaching developer infrastructure as if it were a service, with clear service-level objectives within a CI/CD framework. Digitize each step in the product concept, development and deployment journey, with a focus on measurement, learning and iteration in every phase. Ask who and how many people are building versus approving at each stage and ruthlessly optimize and automate where possible.
Bring a Service Mindset to Everything you Do
If you’re building a SaaS product, as many startups today are, you’re no longer delivering a product in the traditional sense. You’re delivering a service, and you’re responsible for the entire experience from start to finish. This means you’re in full control over when to release new features and how you measure user engagement. You can see where the friction points are, and where customers are delighted. We have a philosophy at my company of “less input, more output”—simplicity is the name of the game, where the output and value your service creates for customers is the only measure that matters.
The outcomes required may change as customer priorities evolve and new requirements flow in, but adapting quickly and effectively should just be a matter of (re)connecting well-built services within your platform to prioritize and address those changes. Leverage the cloud ecosystem in a way that allows you to safely bet on other players and partners who are moving as quickly as you are. Focus on making sure your foundation is strong; one that can provide a service at scale even as the outcomes customers want change over time. This allows you to stay laser-focused on the task at hand: Maximizing value for users.
Incorporate Users in the Product Development Cycle and Learn as you Go
The cloud has transformed the way organizations build products and integrate feedback. The entire life cycle is digitized and measured. Product teams can move at a much higher velocity and in smaller increments, with the ability to make near-real-time adjustments along the way. But the greatest advantage a cloud environment offers is that we can now include users in the entire product life cycle, every step of the way. It gives us the ability to measure outcomes quickly and take action on the information that immediately benefits customers.
It sounds counterintuitive, but product teams can prepare for the unknown. There’s no way to see what’s over the horizon, but with the right people, processes and tools in place, there’s no reason that uncertainty should derail you. There has never been a more exciting time to be an innovator or a builder. Meet the uncertainty ahead with open arms and a strategic eye.