Are you communicating enough with your team?
Here is episode 12 in the CPO Rising Series. Autodesk EVP of AEC Amy Bunszel sits down with Products That Count CPO Renée Niemi. Amy shares tips on shifting the culture, structuring the organization, and setting priorities. For Amy, this story begins with embracing overcommunication. And considering how wide-ranging this discussion is (not to mention authoritative), communication is clearly one of Amy’s strengths.
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On embracing overcommunication
Shifting the culture and setting priorities are important, but to do anything as a product leader, communication is paramount. For Amy, this means embracing overcommunication.
She says, “From my early days as a sort of frontline product manager, my ability to communicate at different levels was really important. I could speak to the customer in language that was relevant for them. I could speak to the software developers in language that was relevant for them. And then also I could talk to executives. So being able to really tell the story in a way that’s meaningful to each audience was really important. And it’s something that I’ve continued to hone over the years.
“I’ve always overcommunicated. When people don’t understand why you’re asking them to do something, they really have a hard time. And from my very early days as a product manager, to my days as an executive now, if we’re not overcommunicating and repeating the why, and the customer outcome, and the why now, teams don’t feel empowered. They’re not really able to do their best work. So I feel like anytime we ‘under-do’ that, occasionally, accidentally, we see something that isn’t meeting the needs of what we’re trying to build for the customer. And so it’s something I have to remind myself, remind my teams, that when we’re bored saying it, you’ve got to keep going out there and saying it even more.”
On shifting the culture
The Chief Product Officer is often in charge of shifting the culture within an organization. Leading that kind of change can be a difficult task. Amy feels that success in this area begins with a proper Northstar vision. In other words, a top-level goal that the whole organization works towards together, in all their projects.
As Amy explains, “I feel very strongly that if you have a Northstar that people can get behind and are excited about and passionate about – your team, but also your customers – you will get through massive amounts of change much better. There’s always going to be some disruption. Nobody enjoys disruption. But if people know that where you’re going, you have their best interest in mind, and they can really rally behind that vision and that Northstar, it is so much easier. It’s still going to be challenging, but it is so much easier.”
As an example, Amy describes a time, over a decade ago, of leading her Autodesk teams from waterfall to agile. She says, “Often when I drive change, I try to think about all the different constituencies. What are they going to gain from this? And really help give them a ‘why’ that’s more contextual to them. You can take that even further down to particular roles.”
Amy continues, “One of the things we had to do right away was make sure people understood that we were not going to do textbook agile. We needed to convince some of our most respected architects, program managers, product managers, user experience people, that this was the way to go. And then let them help influence how we built the process for ourselves. And then they helped us evangelize and repeat. And now the team would never go back.”
Another key task of the CPO is setting priorities. This effort can be quite difficult, since PMs are not known for a shortage of great ideas.
Amy explains, “We could have twice as many resources and still not have enough to do all the great things the team wants to do. Every day we live this. We have a pretty good strategy process at Autodesk where every year, we look at the three- to five-year horizon. Then we review that with leadership and with the board. And then we back up from that. We look at the one year horizon. And that is a collaborative effort between product organization, sales and marketing teams. Lots and lots of data goes into that looking at the install phase. Or should we grow in new markets or new countries? Should we do new use cases and new personas?
“Out of that falls a lot of the product initiatives, and these are broad. They’re things like keep investing in the architects, you know, and then so then the person who you know, who’s the product manager on that part of the product, they can go and then make the trade offs themselves around what we’re going to do for architects.”