Everyone is thinking and working in their own realm without looking left or right. No one is talking to each other – even in the same department. Sounds familiar to you?
Typically – based on my perceptions throughout the years – the product manager, and maybe the lead designer or developer, sit in one office and the rest of team (the management, developers, sales force, accountants, support, etc.) in another. This eliminates by default an open communication and collaboration environment with other parts of the company. Thanks to your heavenly sovereignty. This fact seems more and more changing.
The sales guy sells anyway
The sales force is a really valuable source of information. They are in the front line talking to the customers. They’re gathering the needs and wishes of a customer. Do they tell the product people? Be honest. If there is not the right person, no culture and no proper processes implemented, it’s not going to happen. They focus on their sales goals and sell anyway. Why not. It’s their job.
It’ll made it even more worse when e.g. the product is sold by the sales force like sweets without having all relevant product information. When they don’t know about its features in detail, the general capabilities or the weakness of the product – it turns ugly. With a lack of information the sales have to sell on base assumptions and this leads sooner or later to wrong expectations (not only on customer site).
The customer service colleague, is the one who’s get crushed from his “AAA+++” customer day by day, because the customer detected a new bug, or something is still missing functionality the sales man sold him in the first sales presentation. No offense! Now imagine a workaround is created by a developer and is available to meet the customers wishes for now, but no one beside this person has a clue and wasn’t informed about this fact. “Ups! Really? There is a possibility to satisfy the customer?”. Sad. Isn’t it?
Secondly the customer service is another valuable resource of information. The customer service is often in touch with your customers and gather valuable feedback you can use to shape your product or to rank the topics you’re working on in the product development. You’ve a communication process in place to collect the feedback and tell it the product guys?
The two-ways communication
Sometimes it’s very difficult for an employee to make feature proposals, formulate requirements or – no matter which role (s)he has – to communicate them and feel part of a team at all. Even today, where individualism is becoming more and more strong and counts a bit more than collaboration. The people in a company often feels like their reaction is not appreciated and their response is not quite as valuable as the input from those in the “product” office. You’ve to start a two-ways communication channel and invite everyone to tell their ideas, wishes, problems and needs.
Agile methods can help and are not only reserved for “development people”. You need to change your culture. Processes and tools are helpful, but if they’re not including and considering a minimum of one stakeholder from each department and customer segment its – in my humble opinion – not ideal.
Why? There is more than the technological or product view-point. The range goes from “How and what to sell…” (Sales) via “Is it working correctly that way?” (Service) to “I need that to automatically write a proper invoice to bill…” (Accountant). Whatever.
Simplified? It’s all about communication …
The product guy – in my opinion – has to be a really good communicator. He is a mediator between the stakeholders, manage their expectations and handle all relevant information around the product.
Ignoring the product stakeholders and the market, not listening or provide information to them, is a bad idea. It leads to essential wrong requirement engineering and a questionable prioritization. Furthermore this leads to a lack of knowledge and later on to loose spreaded and wrong information. “BAM! Houston we have a problem!”.
As a good product manager you listen to your stakeholders and any comment related to the product. You should know the market, the product, the product line, the tweaks and shortcuts, and the competition extremely well and work from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. Furthermore you are responsible to start and live the “culture” and the processes to offer and share information’s related to your product throughout the organization.
Having not a bi-directional communication culture between the product manager and the stakeholders (e.g. customers and internal departments e.g. sales, service,…) leads into the perfect chaos.
As a good product manager you are a mediator, a communicator – you have to become the “Manager of Expectations”. Orchestration and focus on the business essentials is key, but the communication is still the baseline of success. Simple, isn’t it?
If there is some time within the next few weeks I’ll write some more about this topic.