As product management evolves, so do the teams around it. With product leading the way in all aspects of an organization, the effects have also shifted product operations and project management. These changes bring a question to the forefront: Why are we doing things the way we’re always doing them? Contentsquare Product Leader Danny Carvajal shares his answer and demystifies the role of product excellence and enablement.

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On Product Excellence as a Force Multiplier

The role of product excellence and enablement can mean something different for each organization, but for Danny, it is less command and control and more about mitigating risks and giving teams the best tools to do their best work.

“For me, I really think of product operations as being a force multiplier. This is really the focus. The theme that I’m pointing at with art with, at least within our team is, you really don’t want product operations, your team, to be a bloated organization that the way that it scales with the organization is to hire, hire, hire at the same rate and the same pace as the organization. That’s going back to the one plus one equals three. We’ve got to find a way to keep a lean team to drive the right levels of tooling and practices to make the organization more effective and more efficient. … We have one person who leads our product operations, we’ll call it practice. She’s then supported by a few other program managers we have on the team, as well, who are obviously guiding their respective product lines. But we’re all tackling different product operations initiatives. …

I think everybody understands what product management is, and there’s no dispute about what they do. For us in product operations, it’s about how do we enable them?”

On Helping Create Strategy and Roadmaps

Danny explores how the product excellence team and the product lead collaborate to create strategies and roadmaps for their organization’s products. This relationship is a constant evolution, as roles and industries change. 

“It’s a very complementary relationship in the sense that we’re supporting the product leaders to develop those strategies and roadmaps. We’re not the ones doing that work. It’s the product leaders’ responsibility, and I don’t think anybody’s going to dispute that. What we can do is we can facilitate, going back to strategy, what are OKRs? How do you get alignment on the OKRs, that were going after the goals that we’re going after? How do those goals relate to the goals of the different functions and teams that we have across the organization, making sure from top-down and bottoms up alignment that that exercise is happening? That is super-critical to that part of it? 

The other piece, which is kind of I bucket into this strategy piece of our product teams, is do we have a shared vision at the organization level, but even also at the different products and product team levels? What are the core values of the team? … What’s the mission and the vision of the team? What are the different strategies and how are we going to actually execute now on those missions and vision? Us coming in as facilitators in that conversation really helps them formulate that strategy a little bit easier and a little bit faster than what they might have otherwise done by themselves. …

Speaking a little bit about roadmaps, roadmaps are a pretty loaded term. I think lots of companies have different expectations from roadmaps. One of the things that I have noticed is some people expect roadmaps to be released plans with detailed feature lists and specific dates in time. And for me, that’s not a roadmap, that’s a release plan. I think of a roadmap as being a strategic artifact that allows a product leader to go out and communicate their intent and their direction for their products to stakeholders of all different types: customers, internal stakeholders, sales team members, the engineering team, you name it. There are certainly varying degrees of fidelity that you have in those. 

A lot of what we’ve been focused on lately is shifting the organization to think more about outcome-based roadmaps as opposed to purely output-based roadmaps. We think about the difference between the two of those, outputs are really just the features and the stories and the epics and the things that we’re delivering to customers, to the product, and outcomes or the actual value that we’re creating for the customers, what specific problems are we hoping to solve? In some cases, we might not know what specific feature is that we’re going to deliver to solve that problem and deliver that outcome because we’re going to do a lot of experimentation and discovery to get there. In the meantime, what we can provide the stakeholders is the outcome that we’re trying to arrive at the problem that we’re trying to solve and that’s going to be our focus at this particular time.”

On Measuring Success For A Product Excellence Team

Once you have a team in place, certainly you want to measure its success, right? This is an important aspect of managing a product, even if that product is the product team itself.

“I think it’s really hard for a product operations team. On one hand, you can certainly survey the hell out of the organization and the people that you support to measure the team’s success since really our product is the product teams themselves. That’s our product. That’s what we see as our product and the people we support. That’s one way to gauge satisfaction, employee satisfaction. We have a regular, semi-annual pulse survey that goes out to the teams and asks them, do you have all of the skills that you need to be able to do your job effectively? Do you have all the right tools to be successful? Do you have the right access to information for non-product stakeholders? 

Those are all different ways and certainly metrics that we were looking at to measure our success, but a lot of those things are also lagging indicators for us that we have to wait six months to see if it’s actually making any impact. Then at that, it’s also really difficult to pinpoint whether something that we did was actually what drove that improvement. …

The questions I ask: Are we reducing friction in the company? Are we helping product teams accelerate the time to market and getting them the tools and the practices and giving them and fostering them the environment that they need to deliver the best product and the experience to the customers that we want? Are we fostering strong collaboration? Do we have a healthy culture? Do we have healthy teams? These are all things that I feel are very tricky to measure. …

One kind of tactical thing we could look at is, and we actually did this past year as we’re promoting strong product practices and specifically discovery, is asking product managers and monitoring how many customer interviews are they running in a quarter. Turns out, it was actually far less than what we had thought, and it was under the number that we would have liked. So that was one way and through our practices and pillars, we actually stood up a product feedback and research program, which is helping to connect our product managers directly with our customers. This is hugely valuable, it takes a lot of time for PMs to go out and do the outreach and all of that. So we’ve kind of facilitated and drawn that connection. …

These are all really difficult things to measure for product operations and kind of see in a dashboard in the same way that you might easily be able to monitor product analytics and KPIs and weekly active users and all of this. … Certainly, we’ll find new ways to measure success especially as this discipline evolves, and more and more teams start to adopt it.”

About the speaker
The Editorial Desk at Products That Count Products That Count, Editor Administrator

Products that Count is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that helps everyone build great products. It celebrates product excellence through coveted Awards that inspire 500,000+ product managers and honor great products and the professionals responsible for their success. It accelerates the career and rise to the C-suite of >30% of all Product Managers globally by providing exceptional programming – including award-winning podcasts and popular newsletters – for free. It acts as a trusted advisor to all CPOs at Fortune 1000, and publishes key insights from innovative companies, like Capgemini, SoFi, and Amplitude, that turn product success into business success.

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