Last year, a financial technology (Fintech) company found itself in a quandary. The product management team was stuck using an ad-hoc approach to get new products and enhancements to market. Amidst its nearly 100 product managers, the product leadership team admitted they didn’t know what type of framework process to adopt and use. They asked if I could help. Shortly after, a second, company in a different industry sector asked the same. Naturally, I said yes, and realized that these companies would have to take very different paths to solve the same problem.
The projects caused me to pause and reflect. How do technology companies get off track, and why is it so hard to course correct? At what stage should the company begin to use a more formalized approach to get software from idea to market? What outcomes can leadership expect if they make this investment?
The problem for most software companies is how to maintain the initial speed and agility they needed to survive before success was achieved. Leadership will implement business processes to manage cost, risk and to maintain compliance. These processes usually come at the expense of speed and agility. It is not that processes are inherently slow; learning to coordinate with an emphasis on documentation and reporting saps the agility of a team.
I believe frameworks are different; they serve as a wireframe or blueprint to guide a company, and help anchor a company in solid business practices. For a software or high technology company, frameworks are even more crucial as they serve as great tool to establish a common language and clarify the handoffs between functions in what is a complicated and highly collaborative process. They also define accountability and responsibility.
So how does a company select and adopt the best framework?
As these two companies discovered, selecting the right framework is the result of good self-assessment and matching the organization’s goals and the philosophy of the framework.
Some critical questions to consider:
- What is your primary business model (B-to-B or B-to-C)?
- Is your culture sales driven, technology driven or customer driven?
- Does your offer have a high service component?
- How important are traditional channels to sell your solution?
The best product management frameworks are expressions of common sense. They define critical tasks or actions that when followed will improve team interaction and communication. They also emphasize key performance indicators and metrics that gauge team effective and overall product health. Most importantly, they reduce the overhead of some processes by stressing that teams provide “just-enough-documentation.”
The frustration with implementing many of the leading product management frameworks is that the concepts are taught in concrete “black and white” terms. However, many of the concepts can only be successfully adopted in gray with significant modifications.
Whether a software company is driven by product excellence, technology dominance, customer intimacy, or flawless sales execution, implementing a standard framework across the product team is an investment that almost always provides a solid payback.
So how do you choose the right framework for your team? Complete an in-depth self-assessment of your business model and your product management team. Fund a small short-term pilot and then adjust. Be willing to play in the gray.
How do you adopt concrete framework concepts in your company? Check back next week, and we’ll cover that in our next post.