Two Things a Product Team Can’t Survive Without

20.01.2017 | 5 min read

The very basis of IT product development is synergy. It is a cooperation between multiple teams (Development/Design/Sales/Marketing), accountable for different KPIs and goals. They can work completely separately, even when housed in the same building. Yet, they can’t coexist without one another. And they achieve better results when working together. And this article is about team cooperation by using Focus and Vision.

Let me explain Focus and Vision first. The easiest way to describe Vision is that it’s a set of company’s goals. What it wants to provide to its users. The Vision doesn’t really have to be complicated: it can be a monetary goal (we want to be worth ten million dollars) or an achievement (we want to be the best video streaming platform in the world). It just has to portray the service well enough that everyone working at the company will understand it.

Focus is the practical application of Vision. It can be applied to every part of the business. For example, whether you want to focus on maintaining the current user base to decrease churn or focus on acquiring new users. Push out new features every sprint or improve the experience of using current ones. Vision makes it very easy for the entire company to align their Focus.

It doesn’t matter whether it is six months or six years down the line, it will always be important to keep the company on the same page.

Prioritisation and focus leaks

Let me preface this by saying: acquiring development debt is an inherent part of growth. During our lifetime, we acquire thousands of developmental debts. We do it in every aspect of our lives. It sounds counterintuitive, yes. But it’s true. If you don’t apply enough focus into learning calculus, you’ll have a harder time learning geometry (mathematical debt). If you overwork yourself, you’ll get very tired (get sleep debt).

Acquiring development debt is an inherent part of growth.

The notion of debt (technological, design and every other) in Product Development isn’t really that much different. Complex computer systems are powered by abandonware – software developed ten to fifteen years ago by developers who went MIA soon after pushing their last commit. Because of the nature of development – starting from scratch and building software
from the ground up – we are in a constant cycle of learning. While new features get implemented, other parts of the application age.

It is fairly easy to prioritise backlog when you apply Vision. If you want to push out new features, let’s switch our Focus here and maintain a manageable debt. If you want to improve existing features, you can Focus on clearing debt and making small changes within the Product. In case we want to Focus on a marketing campaign, we can create landing pages and special features for new users so their experience of using the Product is better.

Let’s exceed our end-of-the year KPIs

Most KPIs in every company are based on the assumption that everyone is doing their best. If there is not enough inbound marketing, the Sales team will not get enough leads. If there is a lot of churn, the Product team will not be able to show that there is an increase of usage of specific features. It is fairly easy to overlook that there are plenty of outside factors when setting up metrics. And it shouldn’t prevent you from setting them up. Goals are made to be met.

The important thing about KPIs is that they set out a course for the entire year. Where do we want our company to grow in the next quarter? What do we want to have less of? What do our investors want?

KPIs should be a byproduct of Vision. They set Focus.

When you sit down and discuss a specific feature, you will be able to talk about its effect on a specific KPI. When you start measuring its impact, you will be able to see how it aligns with your Vision.

Products are living organisms. A change in one part of the service impacts how another performs. An often requested feature might improve your Sales quota. An increase in inbound signups might help with the usage of the application. When setting up Product Roadmaps, it is vital that you spread Focus among all of your KPIs. Cooperation between specific departments in achieving a certain metric will increase the overall performance of your service.

The-long term commitment vs the ASAP of as soon as possible

There are ASAPs that are not really ASAPs. Marketing campaigns usually take at least a couple of days to prepare. Specific, user-requested features are usually gathered in a series of meetings.

There is an inherent trust built into Vision. We, the company, want to achieve the same end goal. We just have different means of achieving it. There are probably a couple different factors that we need to take into account when doing something new. We need to have some meetings that will help us prepare. But we will do it because we need to cooperate.

I have a couple of friends who work in a very Agile environment of ASAP management. Their entire process is based on requests that need to be accomplished within days. There is no long term commitment and no cooperation.

It is very easy to overlook the necessity of cooperation, especially in big companies. People are busy. There is a lot of stress. There is a lack of Focus. Vision doesn’t solve all of that. But it helps. Even if it’s just to ask a question of whether thing A is more important than things BCD that were prepared specifically to accomplish a specific goal.

Can a company work without a Vision?

Yes. I know a lot of companies, some of them successful, that never established a common goal. They are a patchwork of individual cells that rarely interact. And it’s fine.

But it’s always better to have a common goal. The thing that rallies all employees. The thing that prioritizes efforts of multiple departments just so you can get something done. And pretty much every company can achieve much better results if they cooperate.

There isn’t one way to establish Vision. And there are multiple ways of spreading Focus. But there are usually factors that you can take into account when talking about achieving a common goal. And it’s not an ASAP process.

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