Throwing it over the wall

How what we say can change a team’s mental models and behaviour in a product development team

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Very often it is unclear to a product team who is really in charge of budgets, how the fiscal planning will effect the project and if a change in strategic priorities may derail the product development. Add external vendors as team members, and you have all the ingredients for a stalled development process, or one that is really two different processes that may not even co-exist in the same time frame.

The impact of all of this on a creative process, already high in unpredictable outcomes, means that there are team members nervous about what the outcome will be and under great pressure to deliver. When under stress, miscommunication occurs and often it involves a vocabulary that harms clarity and can even create a different working habit.

The handover

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When a team is not unified on the task in hand and you know that different participants will be busy working on different tasks you encounter the issue of ‘the handover’. The ‘handover’ is often talked about as if one part is complete and the recipient will carry on to do their part. The problem is they may feel detached from the process (and the work) and start making decisions that have an influence on the quality of the product. It is also highly like in an iterative design process the definition of done is a source of constant debate.

Without meaning to, the language used can actually suggest that we wash our hands of a part of the project once a person’s work is ‘done’. Every member of a team needs to be interested in what is made, how it is performing in the real world and how the team can improve it. ‘Handing over’ implies an individual’s responsibilities have ended. In collaborative team work, the collective’s responsibility means we never ‘hand over.’

It’s a simple phrase but it actually represents a waterfall point of view of how projects are running. There needs to be dialogue alongside deliverables. The backlog being a framework for discussion where the goals are talked about openly. Everybody needs to feel ownership over the product in order to put the right amount of effort into every detail.

We can have good ideas, and great design but the customer experience is realised in the final delivery. It can stand or fall in the code. So we need to ensure that the team composition represents the critical aspects of a product from the very start.

If we look at DevOps as a way to run modern product development then we need to all be in-sync as a product team to deliver the customer experiences we have envisaged from the very start of the product’s lifecycle.

The launch

How many launch parties are there to celebrate that deadlines have been met and that the team needs to party? But the launch is not the remarkable event. What happens post-launch matters most to the customer and to a business. It is only in the live environment that we learn what we need to from customers so we can improve the product.

A product or service’s launch does not mean the work is finished. It is just the start. Monitoring and measuring against agreed upon success criteria is the only way to ensure that we make a quality product.

And it is hard work. The launch party is a faded memory by the time the data is coming in for the next round of improvements to be worked on. There are plenty who think that launching a product is the biggest hurdle. But the hardest work is to optimise and see the product be a vehicle for company success.

Our job on a product team is to remind the business of this and help them reach their goals. Rather than ‘launching’ we are ‘releasing’ and continuous learning needs to occur with the right mindset present in the business.

Being Partners

Very often it will need a Product Manager to lead this mindset change but the team must take collective responsibility. When working with our clients at NoA we try our best to do that on their behalf, to be aware of the challenges they face so we can be prepared for any situations that may occur.

We are serious about being a partner in the working relationship. It is a relationship that is beneficial to those we work with, through the process we undertake, the personalities we have on our teams and the skills they possess.

However, it is the words we use and the behaviours we exhibit that are critical in forming trust and ensuring we speak the same way about the same things. Only then can we combine to realise true value of how a process and the best people can make truly innovative products that will create real change in organisations.

Thanks for inputs from Billy Maddocks and Marianne Dale in the writing of this article.