What do Product Managers joining a transforming organisation see?

Value, Value, Value! Demonstrate incremental value”. Clarion call is loud and clear.

One of the first things most transforming organisations develop are new agile processes that help them focus on the most valuable things to do. 

More often than not, it will be called a variant of ‘Digital Recommendation Board’. Folks from functional silos collaborate to consider value, estimate costs, weigh risks etc to ‘recommend’ portfolio epics that await decision by a Senior Executive / Board member.

Feel / sound familiar? It is possibly because the process has enough familiarity to current ways of working (/culture) for Portfolio managers (now rebadged as Product Managers in new Org) allowing actual control to be held centrally (/hierarchically.. as before) while introducing elements that appear to be devolved decision making and inclusivity.

What do organisations learn after a year of operating this process? What happens to that process in one year or 18 months?

Best case – probably nothing.
Worst case – regressed to old ways of working.

Why (Not-exhaustive):
1) Folks being transformed are possibly change fatigued from introduction of agile methods, re-invigorating company values, agile organisation changes and we are, intrinsically, not great at pro-active continuous improvement (why fix what’s not broken, right?).

2) Under pressure to show value, Transformation Managers are focussed on measuring their outputs (number of trainings run, number of people ‘transformed’ etc) rather than, ironically, the outcomes (or value) delivered as a result of those efforts.

3) Organisation is not self-aware that changing learned behaviours of Senior leaders are not easy. Even though ‘Product mindset’ encourages devolved decision making for frequent decisions, Senior leaders typically are not comfortable with letting it go and will inevitably make the organisation make decisions at the speed of one brain. The sub-culture of Senior leaders being ‘the-one-throat-to-choke’ for their bosses may be alive.

So, what do new joiner Product Manager into such a large and transforming organisation do?
1) Approach people with empathy: Remember 2 things: 1) You’ve not experienced what it was like before the transformation for the people and 2) You’ve not felt all the anxieties that a change of this scale brings. So, avoid blaming people / processes as you may be alienating people who have invested a lot of effort into transformation and may be, relatively, proud of their new process.

2) Be curious: Seek to understand why things are the way they are through question to understand provenance to inform your views on what the opportunities to improve are. Understand how to make things happen in the new organisation. Build a stakeholder map quickly and figure out who you should spend effort ‘influencing’ and who you could ‘communicate’ changes to.

3) Be resilient: It is tempting to say ‘it is all bad and I know better’ immediately. Those comments will definitely be ‘Shock and Awe’ and that energy will create some immediate action but it may not create enough energy from rest of the ecosystem to change. Change typically needs more hearts & minds to come along with you and this take time. Be resilient with your attitude and patient with your time (& people).

4) Be humble: Be aware that the same methods that have previously worked for you may not yield success again, so don’t just stick with what you know

5) Be a Role Model: As a leader, have a bias for action (eg: show and tell). When you communicate, subtly add/change elements in the template that you think would add value and see if you invoke a reaction of curiosity and reflection from the team (some folks may be aghast at you for tinkering with the template… Be resilient unless the person can meaningfully influence your career trajectory -.-). Naturally, adapt your biases with the feedback you receive. Be mindful of your unconscious biases.

You may notice that all of the above are behavioural recommendations. My biggest learning from the last 20 years is Technology and Digital delivery are, relatively, simple (there are … exceptions). The ‘How to’ adapt culture around the Process and Product have proven to be the most challenging elements of the transformation.

I’m curious: What might you amend or add to the above to-do list for Product Managers?

And while I have you, below is a mental problem – there are at least 2 things ‘unusual’ in the image below. What are they?

About Ravi Jay

Ravi is enthusiastic about all things Agile & Digital in service of building Products that people love to use. Welcomes a good chat on Conversational AI & Gamification. Talk to Ravi on Twitter @ravi_jay1 using #ThinkLookActDigital.

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