I was talking with someone about the challenges of taking a team from a competent but disorganized set of different functions to an integrated whole that is delivering value directly to customers.
For a product company, this means that your product development (R&D), marketing, sales, and service functions are all working together with the same intent toward the same goals. But there is an order in which this can be best approached:
Establish a shared vocabulary – If your teams are using different words for concepts within your product, for customer problems, or for market gaps, your plans to respond will be equally disconnected.
Begin by stepping back, starting with the real customers and the real product you have today, and wherever possible, use the terminology of the customer to describe problems they have and solutions that your product offers.
Understand your current challenges & opportunities – Top of mind for each function will be many improvements your company could make today to make that function’s job easier or more effective.
Write them down and internalize the expert opinions of your functional teams, then set them aside.
Create a future product vision – Much ink has been spent describing viable methods for creating a product vision—which at a product company, is the company vision—so I won’t rehash them here.
Suffice to say, you need to know your market and where it’s headed, you should understand your customers at an operational and an emotional level, and you should combine your company’s unique advantages into the description of a possible future that is motivating, constraining, and clarifying for the members of your team.
Draft & prioritize roadmaps based on leverage – Look back at your list of ideas for improvements & efficiency, then add to that list with new ideas from your team, whether for your product or your operations, inspired from your product vision.
Combine the lists and look for the highest-leverage potential changes: those that will grow and improve your business most with the smallest investment of capital and effort. Execute on only those items that align with your vision and give you leverage, with intense focus. Then ship them.
Learn from customers & prospects – Don’t forget about feedback loops! Especially in a complex system like a product company trying to create, sell, service & maintain products, it is critical for your whole team to understand how your customers are doing with your product, and what might be next.
You can improve your understanding of where your market is going by understanding your prospects’ problems and emotions as well. Learn from them and use it as input to your next iteration on your vision.
You should be able to repeat this process from Step 2 with refinement in place of creation at the various steps, but your practice should be a repeated one.
This certainly falls into one of those “simple but difficult” categories of work in life, and that’s where excellent leadership will deliver better, faster more sustainable results that can lead to compounding success for your business.