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Product Navigation: Voyage

By Adrienne Tan

Product Management is changing.

Initially, Product Managers were only expected to manage the products that were already in the market (Horizon 1).

Over the last 20 years, Product Managers have moved from managing products to becoming drivers of change, orchestrating development for ideas that are yet to go to market (Horizon 2). This is a direct result of the digital transformation that has given ubiquitous access to internet and mobile services (and much more).

We are now on the cusp of the next evolution of Product Management. This is being driven by the science fiction-like changes that are presenting themselves in our current world. We now live in a world where we co-exist with artificial intelligence, the first self-driving cars, virtualised and distributed workplaces, personal 3D printing machines and so much more. Among these, we are enduring world-changing disruptions in the form of pandemics and conflict that will forever transform our experience.

It is in the face of this change that Product Management must now also embrace “future” products. Largely, the time scales that we use to consider for Horizon 3 initiatives have been compressed to the present day.

To help us frame this journey into an uncertain future, we will be guided by the time-tested rules of nautical voyage planning. The rules of voyage planning allow a ship to set sail on a voyage to a land it’s never seen before and arrive safely at that chosen destination.

The Product Navigation Framework comprises the following steps:

  1. GAZE
  2. APPRAISE
  3. CHART
  4. VOYAGE
  5. MONITOR
  6. ARRIVE

Voyage

Voyage is the fourth step in the Product Navigation Framework. The team leaves Chart and begins Voyage with the Voyage Blueprint and Voyage Plan – a set of principles, the preferred route, and initial provisions. The team departs on the journey with excitement and support from the organisation.

What is it?

Voyage is the most demanding part of our journey, it is where we move closer to our destination. Prepare the team and the organisation for rough seas and uncertainty during this journey. Delivery is not immediate, motivation wanes, unexpected hurdles surface and plans change.

But, there are principles to follow and tasks to undertake. This will keep the team and organisation focused and safe along the way.

Goal

The goal of Voyage is to undertake the journey to the destination and stay alert to the changing environmental, technical and cultural conditions. Key to Voyage is to keep the team and stakeholders motivated so that Voyagers can arrive at the final destination safely and successfully.

How do we Voyage?

  1. Depart – on the journey
  2. Undertake – the tasks to reach each milestone
  3. Motivate – the team throughout the whole voyage

1. Depart

Establish and communicate the departure date to the team and key stakeholders in the organisation. The intent is to depart on the set date but there may be circumstances that may prevent Voyagers from adhering to the date. Essential to departure is that you are adequately provisioned leaving Chart – but be aware that there may never be ‘optimal’ conditions for departure, and Voyagers should not wait forever.

Voyagers should kick off this significant journey formally. This may take the form of a launch to key internal stakeholders or to the whole organisation. Determining who to include in the Voyage Launch is a strategic decision and should not be left to one individual to decide.

Before the departure, consider which stakeholders need to keep track of the journey, these will need regular updates and will be key supporters or detractors during Voyage. When that has been identified, Voyagers will have to communicate the team’s key roles and responsibilities so that stakeholders know who to approach for information.

Decide when the team will chronicle and share the progress of the journey and make available updates to the Voyage Plan. A set of common Q&As that are built and added to across the Voyage can help to ensure that the key stakeholders have information when they need it, and that new stakeholders can be onboarded to the Voyage faster.

2. Undertake

As a first step, Voyagers will create a Voyage Backlog for at least the first two milestones of the journey – or any milestones that need to be started or completed early in Voyage. Again, it may seem counterintuitive to produce a Voyage Backlog when there are so many unknowns, but having one will keep the team focused. View the Backlog as the next layer of scaffolding, shoring up for the journey ahead.

The Voyage Backlog should structure a series of tasks detailing how and when the team will achieve each of the first few milestones using the Preferred Route. These tasks should be sequenced and grouped logically in sprints, prioritised and assigned to the person who will be responsible for completing the task within the timeframe.

Here is an example of a Voyage Backlog:

Our Destination:

Create renewable plastic packaging from re-used waste and non-fossil fuels

First Milestone:

Create a comprehensive action plan for the Voyage

Timeframe:

May 2022 to July 2022

Tasks

When

Priority

Responsible

  • Design internal team structure

Sprint 1

High

Journey Lead

  • Design ways of working & communication plan

Sprint 1

High

Journey Lead

  • Prepare hiring plan for unfilled positions

Sprint 2

High

HR Manager

Second Milestone:  

Secure a partner for the delivery of a renewable plastics formula

Timeframe:  

August 2022 to December 2024

  • Identify a ranked list of institutes & individual experts

Sprint 1

High

Journey Lead

R&D Manager

  • Prepare research plan & interview questions

Sprint 2

High

R&D Manager

  • Prepare NDA and legal requirements

Sprint 2

High

Legal Manager

  • Visit top 10-15 ranked institutes & interview experts

Sprint 3-15

Medium

Journey Lead

R&D Manager

  • Compile comparison of potential partners

Sprint 16

Medium

Journey Lead

R&D Manager

  • Create partnership agreement

Sprint 16

Medium

Legal Manager

  • Approach top ranked partner to secure an exclusive partnership agreement

Sprint 17-18

Medium

R&D Manager

Partner Manager

Voyagers will undertake tasks, update the Backlog and incrementally add more tasks to build out the Backlog as they proceed. During this time, Voyagers will become aware of their ability to perform tasks that are within the scope of their capabilities and within the allocated time. These may be internal challenges or external changes that may prevent task completion or require changes to the Backlog.

Creating rituals as part of Voyage to quickly call out challenges impacting the Preferred Route early on is essential. This allows the team to work together to update their assumptions and course correct. To do this well, Voyagers should design an optimal meeting cadence that supports their ability to do the following:

At a micro level:

  1. Provide an update of their tasks and expose both internal and external challenges that are currently preventing them from completing their tasks.
  2. Review the Voyage Backlog and add or remove tasks.

At a macro level:

  1. Share and log external challenges and threats that may prevent the team from reaching the future destination using the Preferred Route.
  2. Update the Preferred Route with new information and plan any necessary communications to stakeholders.

Being alert to changes, raising them quickly and responding accordingly is key to a successful journey.

3. Motivate

Like any long journey or program, people’s motivation tends to wane especially if there is limited, visible progress.

Voyagers should have already established a strong foundation of trust and psychological safety. This occurred during Chart when the Voyage Blueprint was designed. But, a culture of trust needs to be continually strengthened during the journey and at times, re-established. It’s imperative to continue to ‘speak human to human’, otherwise, there will be team conflict and disruptions that may lead to a failed journey.

Here are some practical ways to keep motivation high during the journey:

 

Emphasise a Culture of Feedback

  • Start with self. We need to recognise our own defensive patterns and observe situations that challenge our emotions.
  • Model our own behaviour by being curious about any opposition faced during the journey, inviting people in rather than avoiding what they have to say. It is useful to view opposition as an opportunity to learn and to make the process more robust.
  • Enable the team to call out the elephant in the room. Do this during meetings and get-togethers. It’s important to address some of the emotional challenges Voyagers are facing or will face.
  • Actively surface mis-alignment and conflicting perspectives, rather than push forward with a status update without digging in deeper. This is uncomfortable, but glossing over issues with general status updates will close down feedback.
  • Help the team to separate the issue from the team member or the group that has raised the issue. Voyagers will also need to be open to learning from resistors. They will need to recognise that they may often become a ‘lightning rod’ for other people’s frustrations, fears and uncertainties.
  • Coach the team to ‘read the room’ to get some perspective on how people are responding to the journey’s progress.
  • Design and run surveys to ask for feedback on the team’s health.
  • Remember that feedback for poor performance or attitude should be delivered immediately, kindly and privately rather than delayed until there is a formal meeting or performance review.

 

Promote the Destination

 

Voyaging is the opportunity for Product Managers to grapple and solve real challenges to create a meaningful future. As the Voyage advances, the team will deeply Monitor its progress over the course of this journey to ensure that benefits for both the organisation, the market and customers ensues.

Bring your team to LTP DIGITAL 2022 | APAC on May 18, 2022, for an immersive, one-day product conference where we will unveil this new framework and watch them bring back a new toolkit to drive greater outcomes for your organisation.

In the coming weeks, we will explore each of the Six Phases in the Product Navigation: How to Chart a Course to an Uncertain Future in the countdown to LTP DIGITAL 2022 | APAC.