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4 Signs your Product-Led Journey will be a Success

By Andi Mastrosavas
Signs your Product Led Transformation will be a success

Transformation, much like innovation, isn’t linear. It doesn’t follow a neat path or a series of steps to be taken. It is a process of incrementally changing behaviours.

Think about the first commercial flights. Airlines didn’t have to teach people how the jet engine worked or what was required to be a pilot. They had to change consumer behaviour. They had to convince consumers to buy a plane ticket instead of taking a boat or train to their destination. They had to change the way people were boarded, seated, and likely how they dressed and packed for their trip.

So too with your product led transformation. It will be a process of changing behaviours. To succeed you will need to change the behaviours of the various teams in your organisation, your counterparts, the leaders, and yes, your own behaviours too.

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” – Peter Senge.

Changes in behaviour will break long-formed habits. These entrenched habits create the environment for approaches that aren’t product led. Breaking those habits will lead to a shift in mindset towards product thinking. As you navigate that paradigm shift, it will eventually become a practice, and that practice will influence the culture, and ultimately the entire organisation.

Simply put, it takes time.

Tell-Tales

There are some signs along the way that you are on track and some clues that indicate when you are not.

Is your founder or CEO still authorising pet projects that don’t serve customer needs? Does your sales team sell software capabilities that don’t exist, which then forces you to build them? Are your technology teams building solutions and expecting you to find problems they solve? If you answered yes to any or all of these, then you need to hit the pause button on your transformation and try a new approach of evangelising and getting buy-in. The entire organisation needs to support the process for it to succeed. Assuming you can get them on board, let’s dig into some of the details.

Connect the Strategy, Roadmap & Metric Dots

So you have a solid product vision, strategy, and goals.They are well-socialized and understood, and teams talk about them regularly. You think you are well on your way. Then the teams present their roadmaps and it isn’t clear how the initiatives visualized are supportive of the broader vision. Instead, they read like a sequence of solutions to be implemented rather than problems to solve with measurable outcomes that map to the strategic goals.

As the teams start to execute, they celebrate their releases, the successful delivery of the solutions on their roadmap, sharing these project management metrics broadly. There is little to no data on product usage being discussed and product metrics are either ill-defined or not mapped to the product strategy, and aren’t being shared. In the absence of a plan on how to capture product data, analyse it, derive insights, and make it visible across the organisation, it isn’t surprising that the teams share outputs over outcomes.

Defaulting to delivery outputs over impact and outcomes is a clear sign that your product-led transformation is off-track.

Roadmaps should convey the desired outcomes of business objectives. Make sure whenever you discuss a roadmap item, whether managing up or down, you communicate the outcome it is intended to impact. Define the key product metrics that will drive those outcomes, measure them, and share the learnings. By shifting the focus you will shift the thinking.

Beware the Catch-all Product Title

In an effort to become more product-led, the role of product in your organisation has been clearly defined and the capabilities therein documented and shared. Product folks start to feel empowered to drive outcomes for customers and benefits for the business. Over time more people start getting moved into product roles to undertake strategic initiatives. More investment in product can only be a good thing, right? The answer is yes, but only if you’re recruiting and onboarding effective product people.

Product folks already come from varied backgrounds, so no one really notices or flags how widely differentiated the product skills have become. The person who was previously a project manager seems heavily focussed on schedules and release timings, but no one minds because they get stuff done. The person who was a data analyst is preoccupied with quantitative reporting and spends zero time talking to customers, but numbers are highly valued in the organisation. The marketing specialist who was previously  tasked with channel management struggles writing user stories. Without a clear set of methods, processes, and standards indicating what is and isn’t product to onboard product team members, fragmentation in practice is inevitable.

Not everyone is a product manager and not every role should morph into one. When you find product titles becoming a catch-all for a range of disparate activities, it’s a good indicator that your product led transformation has slid off the track.

Develop a recruitment process that assesses product capabilities broadly. Create onboarding for product team members that ramps them up to the desired methods and processes to succeed. Be explicit in the product management framework and activities. Consistency will align your transformation around a good product practice.

Observe the Lexicon

 Standards, conventions, and methods being shared across the product team are good signs that your product-led organisation is on its way. But the product team can’t do it alone. These transformations require buy-in, support, and behavioral changes more broadly if they are to succeed and deliver value in the long run. One of the key clues that transformational change is occurring is subtle changes in the language used across the organisation. When you start to hear other folks outside of product using vocabulary that supports modern product management practices, you know you are starting to make an impact.

I previously introduced a product-led transformation at a virtual reality company that had its roots in cinematic visual effects. Content production is inherently waterfall in nature, aimed at entertaining an audience not creating value for customers. The very notion of an MVP is anathema to the high production quality required before a theatrical release. The idea of shipping something half-baked to measure and learn, was a chasm almost too wide to cross.

Eventually, I overheard a very traditional creative director say to someone on the UX team that they had some rough character sketches they wanted to get in front of users for feedback. The technical art team, who historically held the philosophy that the highest level of fidelity was always the best, warmed to the concept of validating that assumption with users and were receptive to contrary findings. I knew the transformation was taking root.

Address Resistance 

As your transformation progresses, you will experience resistance. It can be tempting to just push forward in the face of strong headwinds. As the saying goes, kites rise highest against the wind, not with it. But ignoring resistance doesn’t make it go away, and can exacerbate if left unaddressed. At the heart of most resistance is fear.

Take the time to understand what is driving the resistance. Listen and observe emotions with empathy. Some folks are genuinely afraid of the unknown, while others very tangibly fear losing their jobs. Leaders tend to fear losing power or control or remain skeptical, concerned that the transformation will create additional burdens for their organisation.

Support the teams through the transition of change. People will need to let go of the old before they can embrace the new. Communicate the purpose of the transformation and the benefits it will deliver in the future. Make that future relatable through storytelling. Then give them a guide for how to get there, and create opportunities for early success. And, most importantly, recognize progress and celebrate it openly.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

Learn how to create the perfect timeline for your Product-Led transformation.