Product Obstacles: Prep Ahead to Avoid Future Pain
Say you know what product you're building and why. Before entering the labyrinth that is the how, think through all of the teams and processes that will be needed. What known or unknown product obstacles could you potentially face and how would you overcome them?
As you continue full speed ahead upon the path towards your product launch, it’s easy to be swayed by the inertia of product obstacles. You start to think through the shortest paths to launch and follow them wherever they may lead. This approach will not only increase short term gratification, but also the risk of future pain. Take a moment to think through the stakeholders, processes, and product updates required to achieve the north star vision. Although you cannot avoid obstacles altogether, this advanced preparation will help you avoid common pitfalls and sustain your team’s trust as a result.
Map Out Stakeholders and Communication Plan in case of Product Obstacles
The stakeholders that will play a role in the product launch will likely span those external and internal to the organization. The research you conducted during the gathering product feedback phase, will provide the list of impacted customers and corresponding customer-facing teams. Depending on your organization’s structure and the product components in scope, you may also need to work with multiple Engineering teams to develop the required enhancements. List the customers impacted, teams involved, and points of contact within each.
Next, consider how you will communicate with each of the stakeholder groups and points of contact. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to communicate with each yourself. For example, customer-facing teams can act as liaisons to customers. With that said, what will be your approach to updating each group? Are there standing meetings scheduled where you interface with some of these groups already and, if not, are there others you can occasionally join to stay in sync? Alternatively, emails, internal Wikis, and messaging platforms such as Slack could be another approach. Regardless of the forum used, it’s critical to keep key stakeholder groups informed so that you can learn about and deal with issues or product obstacles ahead of time.
Understand Stakeholder Group Processes
Through the product development and launch process, you will rely on multiple teams to collaboratively execute. Each team, however, will have its own unique culture and process. Conduct high-level research into how each team operates so that you can build these intricacies into the plan. As an example, impacted customers may have specific production development and release cycles that they must follow. Thus they will need to weigh adopting your enhanced product against a backlog of other priorities. By working closely with your customer-facing teams, you can gain a better understanding of each customer’s processes. Facilitate this discovery process by drafting external stakeholder communications for your customer-facing teams to send to clients. This will help uncover external dependencies early on and avoid the future pain of having to delay releases because these were not considered.
Also, what are the internal product development and release cycles that need to be considered? Hypothetically, the three Engineering teams that are essential for implementation will each follow different software development methodologies and rituals. This will not only impact your overall product release schedule but also how you navigate the path forward. For example, as developers commit their code there could be reviewers and approvers that you had not factored into the stakeholder communication plan. Have product overview, feedback received and decisions taken documented so that you can easily share with others as needed. Better yet, identify overlooked stakeholders ahead of time to uncover potential objections or necessary refinements that will steer you off course for launch.
Follow the North Star
Above all, stay connected to the core value the product launch will provide. This will keep you motivated through potential challenges and product obstacles that arise. Additionally, it will help guide you and your team through the build process. What functionality is needed to deliver upon the product’s core value proposition? How are the product iterations tracking towards the end goal? Schedule checkpoints along the way to assess progress and directional alignment to the North Star. Knowing sooner will save you pain that will only get exponentially worse over time. Especially if the current build is diverging off course. Raise the alarm to the appropriate Engineering teams and investigate the adjustments necessary, including any implications to the timeline. Finally, continue to keep your stakeholder groups up to date as this helps them help you manage expectations accordingly.