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Shifting from Digital Project Delivery to Product Development

This post was originally published on April 8, 2019 to the Rogers Digital blog when I was still working as a Senior Manager at Rogers Communications. I’ve since moved on to a new opportunity at Nuance Communications, but I thought this was worthy for republishing here to kick-off product management theme blog posts. Enjoy.

It’s an exciting time to work at Rogers Digital. As Lisa mention in her inaugural blog post, we’ve been quietly building a new digital team that’s passionate about solving our customers’ biggest issues.

A key function that we’ve introduced to Digital is Product Management, including a new role: Product Owner (or PO, for short).

This has forced us to stop talking about what’s in- or out-of-scope to deliver a project, and be careful that we don’t simply avoid doing something by labelling it “scope creep” as something that “isn’t part of our Minimum Viable Product”. In a project world, anything that isn’t delivered as part of the project may never be delivered (and often never is), and this has led many business leaders to take a “fit it in while you can!” approach to additional scope. Instead, we’ve defined products for which we rigorously prioritize, and regularly debate the order of, an ever-growing list of enhancements to improve our customer’ experience.

Here are just a few of the things we’ve learned must be considered when introducing Product Management to a traditionally project-drive culture:

  • First, define your products and product components – An ill-defined product portfolio sets anyone with a “Product Owner” title up for failure out of the gate. POs will grow resentful of leadership if their area of focus keeps changing and they don’t understand (and agree with) associated KPIs.
  • Fund your products – A well-defined product portfolio will allow some flexibility in how you allocate capital as well as provide checks and balances. It is important that you empower your Product Owners and give them the resources they need to the deliver the results (targets) you’ve agreed to. Without funding for PO initiatives, either to work with an in-house product development team or with external partners dedicated to their product, there will be a lack of accountability, not to mention the sense of accomplishment and pride, for your POs.
  • Assign one Product Owner per product (or product component) – Depending on the size and complexity of your products you may need different Product Owners to oversee different components. No matter how you slice it, the PO should be the single point of contact for your development and operational teams. If you have multiple POs working on a single product, designate a Chief Product Owner (CPO) as the decision maker and ensure that other teams understand this responsibility.
  • Let your Product Owners take risks and fail quickly – Big, cross-functional projects can fail horribly with a single missed requirement, but products generally don’t. POs are masters at finding the balance between what your customers want and what your customers need, and the best products (and Product teams) thrive by taking calculated risks, making mistakes early, and learning from them, in order to continuously improve their products.
  • Establish the right governance forums – Try to stay out of your POs hair day today and let them do their job! Executives often like to drop “checkpoint” or “alignment” meetings into people’s calendars to “deep dive” into… something. It’s best to avoid ad hoc meetings because they often lack structure and cause anxiety within your team. Instead, define governance forums that work for you and your executive team so that managers and executives are kept abreast of your progress in a way that is structured and lets POs keep their momentum.
  • Re-define Project Management and ensure roles and responsibilities are understood by all teams – Depending on your development methodologies (e.g. Scrum, Waterfall, etc.) you’ll need to re-define how Project Managers work with each of your teams. Unless you’re a start-up, it’s likely that your Digital team has employed Project Managers for many years, and once you introduce Product Manager, Scrum Masters, and other newfangled titles into the mix, roles and responsibilities quickly get diluted. Come together, build a RACI together (it can be fun, really!), and educate teams on new and evolved roles and responsibilities in order to get everyone on the same page.
  • Finally, clearly define the Product Management career path within your organization – I can’t reiterate this enough, but who wants to take a dead-end job? Often times, especially in larger organizations, POs are told they’ll be the “CEO of your product”. Sounds impressive, but if you’re the CEO, where do you go next? POs need to understand how they can grow within the Product organization, and clearly defining a path from PO to increasingly senior roles, such as Chief Product Owner, Group Product Manager, and Director of Product Management, give your POs something to work towards within your company. The last thing you want is for your superstar POs to leave for bigger roles at your competitors!

The role of Product Management and responsibilities of Product Owners and Product Managers differs from company to company (and often from one business unit to the next within the same company). From the perspective of a Digital team within a large telecommunications company, it can be challenging to define product ownership because of the complexity of our business and overlapping, complex technical systems.

We’ve made great progress as a team and we’re ramping up our velocity in 2019! We’re always on the lookout for good Product Owners and Product Managers, so if you’re interested in joining the team it would be great to see you at our next Open House!