Many people think technical knowledge is the most important quality in a product management team. That’s what I thought when I came to product management with a background in engineering.
In the five years I’ve spent at Amplitude, I’ve worked with hundreds of product development teams. What I’ve learned from them is that technical insight alone won’t make them or their product great. Product managers have to extend beyond just their role and create a cohesive product development team.
In the past few years, the tech industry has over indexed on technical skills and neglected the soft skills required for excellent product development. Collaboration and customer empathy, in particular, are fundamental. Your product is unlikely to be successful if your org can’t leverage your team’s different personalities and perspective. Your product is unlikely to be liked if you can’t put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
For that reason, collaborative skills are not just critical in product management—they’re just as important, if not more so, than technical skills. Collaboration isn’t just key in getting the best performance out of your product development team; it’s also vital to “closing the loop” and delivering a product that meets the users’ needs. Going further still, collaboration relies on empathy, and being empathetic to your customers is essential to building strong relationships that can scale and endure over time.
Get Buy-In and Diversity of Perspective from Stakeholders
Product development is all about maximizing stakeholder relationships. Your stakeholders are the people in and outside of your company who have a role in shaping your product and making it the best it can be. Stakeholders can include designers, engineers, analysts, product marketers, and the customers themselves.
Get All Your Stakeholders in the Same Room
Your team should engage relevant stakeholders at each product development phase to get a diverse set of views on the problem and solution. Different backgrounds will lead to different ways of appraising a situation and solution. It’s a product development team’s job to look to the future and predict the features and packages that will be a success. In order to do this effectively, you need to look at the problem from many different angles. Having a diversity of perspective in the room means you’ll get more inputs to determine the best output. The impact shows: Companies with higher-than-average diversity and employee engagement outperform their below-average competitors by 46-58%.
To get your various stakeholders’ input on your product, you need to empower them to have a point of view. Every stakeholder should hear from customers first-hand. This way, they’re forming their own perspectives and you’re increasing their sense of ownership over the problem. Having multiple stakeholders in the room also makes your customers feel heard; they know their feedback is meaningful when multiple people are engaged in the discussion.
Give Your Team the Right Tools
Set your product development team up for success by equipping them with the right tools. Improve your team’s ability to understand your customers at scale by leveraging product analytics. This empowers everyone to be curious about user behavior and explore the customer journey. With a platform like Amplitude, you can find the answers to questions like, “Did our customer watch their first showl?” or, “Do users from campaign A retain better than campaign B?” and, “Which experiences drive users to purchase?” Also, make sure your teams have reliable tools for knowledge sharing, like Atlassian or Tettra. Tettra is a great all-purpose wiki. Atlassian, meanwhile, is very effective for agile software development teams.
Create a Storytelling Culture
Stories inspire change and motivate action. In the business context, they also help people retain information. As a product leader, you should base knowledge-sharing on powerful stories with data that is shared in a concise and clear way.
A storytelling culture allows your team to learn from one another in a memorable and meaningful way. These learnings will shape your product narrative; storytelling cements problems, solutions, successes, and failures so people factor in their learnings when they approach the next problem.
You can use a tool like Notebooks from Amplitude to build a strong narrative around the work’s value and the value of the work that you’re driving for your customers. These narratives will then shape the go-to-market strategy that your product marketing team creates.
Here’s an example of what this looks like. In a storytelling culture, your product development team will:
- Liaise with the product marketing team three to six months out from your product launch and share stories about how the new product will drive value for customers
- Discuss the relationship between your release and your North Star metric to ensure you’re progressing your product strategy
- Get the product marketing team involved in the ideation phase so they can share their customer and market insights
- Involve the product marketing team in customer feedback sessions so they can help craft the story of your change
By using a storytelling culture to explain the purpose and value of a new product feature, your product development team has a greater sense of who they’re building for, and your product marketing team has a greater sense of the problem and solution, which they can use to drive go-to-market strategy.
Facilitate as Much Collaboration as Possible
Cross-functional team meetings are excellent for securing diversity of perspective and encouraging collaboration. Are your engineers stuck on a problem they can’t wrap their heads around? Well, then, have your PM invite a designer or two to the next engineering team meeting. That alternative voice might provide the stroke of inspiration they need.
When you’re ideating on your solution, have a representation from your key internal stakeholders in the room: product, design, engineering, product marketing, and customer success People with contrasting backgrounds will understand and identify problems differently. Giving them all space to contribute is fundamental for coming out on the other side with a rounded product that drives impact.
Making room for all your stakeholders is also crucial for getting them to buy into your project roadmap. Facilitating collaboration between different stakeholders on your team will make each one feel they have some ownership over the problem and the potential solution.
Motivate Your Product Team to Work on the Problem
Your product team is one of your main stakeholder sets. Motivating them is one of the critical soft competencies required for collaborative product management. Teams that share motivation will collaborate more effectively.
The first step toward inspiring motivation is showing your product team how their work relates to your company’s larger objectives. That’s where the North Star metric comes in.
A North Star metric is a great alignment tool. It’s the one metric that best signals whether you’re creating long-term, sustainable customer growth. For example, a networking platform might use “number of posts engaged with every day” as their North Star. For an ecommerce app, it might be “purchases per month.”
With your North Star in mind, your teams know what they are optimizing for and where they are making tradeoffs. Encourage team members to focus on their opportunities in increasing that figure. You can even break it down into corresponding input metrics for breadth, depth, frequency, and efficiency. Here’s a hypothetical example for UberEats:
North Star: Total monthly items received on time
- Breadth: # of users placing orders each month
- Depth: # of items within orders
- Frequency: # of orders completed
- Efficiency: % of items delivered within time
Then, each pod or scrum team can own improving one of those input metrics. As engineers, designers, analysts, or testers, how are they specifically helping to improve that metric? This is great for showing your team the impact they’re making. At Amplitude, we’re passionate about letting engineers, analysts, designers, marketers, and customer success managers understand the impact of their work. It helps build a greater sense of autonomy and ownership.
The one shared metric also encourages employees to collaborate with other team members. By finding out how their colleagues are approaching problems, their own solutions will improve.
Collaboration is at its best when teams share a common goal and a common language. With that in mind, make sure your terminology—buyer personas, milestones, product features—is standardized across your product team. A shared vocabulary reduces opportunities for misunderstanding and will ease collaboration.
Build Meaningful Solutions for Customers with Product Analytics
The real end goal of product management is customer delight—the happiness of a user who has a solution precisely tailored to their pain points. You can’t make that happen without consulting your customers themselves.
It begins and ends with product analytics. Looking at analytics is a way to collaborate with your customers in a loose sense, because you see what they’re doing, and you also see what they need. Every time you answer a question with product analytics, it’s like you’ve asked the question to all of your customers and received an answer in 10 seconds. Bringing these analytics into your product management prompts the creation of a collaborative loop. In this loop, you’re building solutions based on what you’re observing about customers and the feedback they’re giving you.
Those signals take the form of critical metrics, such as:
You can also devise methods of collecting qualitative feedback. Identify interesting cohorts of customers to interview based on their experiences with your product. Run some exploratory analysis and then create questions based on your quantitative observations, and send a survey out to your user base. With that data in hand, you can “close the loop” by figuring out whether your development plan worked in giving your customers a product they love. You can feed these responses back to your product development team.
There is no more important collaborator than a customer. Great product teams must see the business-customer relationship as a collaborative back-and-forth to build a better product. With the input from your customers, your product is better positioned to continually drive value for customers.
There’s No “I” in Product Management
People assume product teams only create quantifiable value. This makes sense—they are responsible for quantifiable impact, greater productivity, and more engaged customers.
But the best product teams create unquantifiable value as well. They do that by bringing out the best in their teammate. You can’t break down an intense feeling of motivation among a product team into metrics. You can’t determine the impact of an increased sense of ownership and autonomy. You can’t quantify the benefits of having a strong, coherent product narrative shared among your organization.
Great collaborators bring more perspectives to the table and encourage more knowledge sharing. It’s about building the muscle of learning together and working together so that you never run out of your great ideas, and you never run out of value for your customers
Continue your learning about product management with the “Product Instrumentation Success” series.