Product Management, Engineering, and Marketing are the center points of the interdisciplinary product team. Product Management establishes the vision for exactly what we should make, Engineering/Development designs and builds it, and Marketing figures out how to get customers to buy it.
But maintaining alignment of these disciplines throughout a new product or enhancement initiative is difficult. Afterall, they each live in different departments with different leaders, and each also has its own perspective about customers that also impacts alignment. Product tends to focus on the user, Engineering on technical gatekeepers, and Marketing on buyers. It’s like the old adage about 3 blind men all describing an elephant differently based upon what part of the animal they touched. We say “interdisciplinary”, but we effectively work in silos.
Leverage four tools to keep interdisciplinary efforts aligned on delivering a valuable end-to-end customer experience: Product Trios, shared Granular Personas, Value-centric Journey Maps, and the Vision Press Release.
Putting it into Action
Use Product Trios to Assure Interdisciplinary Insight and Decision Making
An increasing number of organizations are formalizing Product Trios as a product management structure to ensure interdisciplinary participation and decision-making throughout product initiatives. The trio consists of the Product Manager, the initiative’s Lead Engineer, and the Product Marketing Lead for the initiative. These three are assigned at the start of the initiative and work as a team throughout the process. Each are privy to all project information from the get-go and must participate/ concur in decisions made. Obviously, each maintains their focus within discipline, but the structure assures that everyone understands the premises and assumptions on which decisions are made and will naturally contribute their own insights and perspectives. The result is increased agility and proactivity.
Establish a Single Set of Granular Personas Used by All
Two things limit the value of personas as typically implemented. First, personas too often lack depth and clarity. They provide only general details about the types of people to be served such as broad demographics and a course view of goals. Approaches such as the Jobs-to-be-Done model can be used to peel the persona onion further to include details about the various functional, social, and emotional jobs that personas are trying to accomplish, the pains they face, and the outcomes they hope to achieve. These and other significant factors can be measured and scaled for clarity to transform the superficial persona into one that elicits key insights. I’ll address the Granular Persona further in a subsequent article.
The second thing that typically limits the value of personas is that a single, common and complete set of personas are not utilized by all. For example, Product Managers tend to create and focus on User personas, spending little time on the Buyer, while Marketing focuses on Buyers and only cares about the messaging slant they might employ for Users. Even worse, each group may create their own versions of each persona yielding different personas to represent the very same people. One discipline uses their version while the next discipline uses something rather different. Obviously, these disciplines are destined to get out of sync as each aim at differently defined targets. Again, think about that elephant analogy. A single, shared set of granular personas promotes clarity and alignment.
Develop Value-centric Journey Maps of both Current and Future State
As with personas, journey maps are a commonly used tool, or rather, a commonly misused tool. Again, there are two common difficulties that arise. First, journey maps must be made to represent the high value parts of each person’s journey, not just some generalized view of things. Obviously, user and buyer journeys differ completely, even when the user is the buyer. But so do the journeys of various types of users and various types of buyers. And it’s not just the journey we want to understand in any case- it’s the value-generating parts that count. We must demarcate the turning points of differing personas to highlight the valuable problems and opportunities that each of their particular paths take. There are structural issues with most journey maps too, but that is a discussion for another article.
The second issue with journey maps is the importance of constructing both current and future state versions. The current state journey map shows what happens now and highlights the opportunities to make an impact. The future state version shows how that opportunity will be acted upon. In fact, future state journey maps are a far more effective tool for describing the product path than are roadmaps. Roadmaps explain how the product will change. Future state journey maps tell what customer outcomes will be produced by product changes. Value-centric Journey Maps that describe both current and future states accomplish what maps are meant to do- tell us where we are and where we are going. Again, the result is clarity and alignment.
Start Initiatives with a Vision Press Release
In a prior article I described the Vision Press Release as a key tool to crystalize objectives and align the entire organization around the product initiative. This technique comes from Amazon’s “Working Backwards” approach to new products. In practice it is incredibly clarifying for all and establishes tangible, and almost visceral outcomes to aim for. For details about the structure of (what I call) the Vision Press Release, see my prior article here: [link]
Clarity, alignment, and agility are necessary for product success. Fortunately, leaders can install a few core structures and tools that get the disciplines out of their silos and naturally create that clarity, alignment and, in turn, agility.