December 19, 2017

Scaling Collaboration as a Product Manager

Gaurav Hardikar

Collaboration can come in many flavors. We may call it Slack, Hipchat, Google Drive, Office 365 or Quip at work, but it is so much more than the technology we use to communicate. It defines the nature of communication across all departments and ultimately influences how (and I would bet how effectively) you and your team build product.

Take the following scenario – you are building a product for a new vertical, and you are working with an entirely new team to build an MVP by a specific date. There are challenges for collaboration, likely different in nature if the company is a startup vs. a medium-size or larger company.

A primary concern I always have in these situations is that I want to build a team environment where collaboration is fundamental to the team. The last thing I want is for me to be the only conduit for communication and collaboration. Through my experiences, I’ve found that there are methods that you can apply to all stages of a company to build a living framework to collaborate as a team effectively.

In a previous life, I was a consultant at Accenture Strategy, and I took many lessons I learned there into my current role in Product. One that I held on to is the notion of people, process, and technology. This framework is straightforward- it posits that there is a triangle among people, process, and technology, and if any one of these changes it will impact the other. So let’s take an example. If you are implementing a technology (say Slack) as a core collaboration tool in your team, this means that processes will need to appropriately change for people to actually use this in your intended manner.

I use processes loosely here, as, in my experience, this means establishing the environment where teams feel comfortable and ready to collaborate. Previously I had pushed the idea of empowering each member and how EQ can drive leadership in a team.

Collaboration is another effect of the methods talked about in driving ownership throughout the team, but the one framework that I think holds true across all is this notion of people/process/technology to always ground yourself in understanding what will be needed to implement this environment in your team.

Let me give you an example of my own. In my teams at Trulia, ZillowGroup, and at Shopkick I’ve placed people first. What I mean by that is that I start with the people part of the triangle, and try to understand how I can empower each leader to a) make their own decisions b) share and be transparent with the rest of the team and c) encourage others to do the same. This latter part is the process I am trying to implement within my team. Once you have the people and process, the technology is just the conduit to do this effectively. I’ve personally found it relatively doesn’t matter if you’re using Slack vs. Hipchat, but more on how the team dynamics have formed (I will admit that this changes when working with remote teams).

Within my team today, it’s gotten to the point (and I’m so happy it has) where I trust that my design and engineering partners can make the right call on smaller product decisions if I am out-of-pocket. Contrary to what you may think, this is a sign of health within the team, when trust is paramount, and team members can share responsibilities as needed. When I am releasing new features, this allows team members to move forward and just check in with me after to make sure they did not miss anything. It is after all, about building the product most efficiently as a team—not who does it. I can think of countless projects where this has held true, and it brings me back to how to embed a growth mindset within your team.

Effective collaboration does not have a one-stop, one-way solution. There will be different flavors that work for each team given that teams are full of dynamic individuals, not static machines. What I can promise though, is that establishing this environment within your team will allow it to function as a living, breathing ecosystem that has no single point of failure.

About the Author

Gaurav HardikarGaurav Hardikar is Director of Product Management at Shopkick, an omni-channel commerce and loyalty product that rewards users for their daily shopping habits. In his B2B2C role, he focuses on three main “consumers” – the users, Shopkick clients, and Shopkick as a business. This materializes in product ownership of all ad products, revenue, and the kicks earned side of the user journey. This means Gaurav is always thinking about how users can get “kicks” or rewards for purchasing specific items at everyday stores, as well as how each of these kick earning opportunities generate revenue for Shopkick and deliver ROI for brand and retail clients. With a background in Accenture Strategy, Trulia, and Zillow Group, Gaurav is passionate about delivering bottom-line growth while building consumer products that delight its users.

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