January comes with a rush of big ideas and grand plans for the year ahead. This is a time to lay the groundwork for success to ensure your vision for the year becomes a reality. For many firms, one thing that may come into review is the role and alignment of the product function vis-à-vis company strategy.
Product is often at the core of how to best align the organization as product sits at the intersection of what’s possible and what is viable in the market. But product is hardly a set-it-and-forget-it function. It’s one that must be tweaked and shaped to ensure it is aligned internally, with the company’s processes and externally, with broader marketplace trends. It demands a regular review, and never more importantly than at the start of a new year.
To road test your product function and ensure it’s ready to meet the year ahead, consider the following questions:
Do we have the right product leadership in place?
We recently worked with a retailer whose business had shifted significantly from in person to online, and to 70/30 product and services to a 90/10 mix. The result was that their original Product leader who was a retail digital expert was too focused on transformation at a time when the “future” had already arrived. Upon reviewing its product leadership, the organization determined it needed a digital native e-commerce product leader for the next phase of growth. This scenario is likely true across many organizations. In the last year organizations may have shifted their offering from services to product, or from B2C to B2B, a mix of the two, or from a single product to multiple product portfolio. Whatever the change, it’s important to be aware of the current state of the product offering relative to previous years. What has changed? And does this mean leadership must also evolve?
Are Product and Engineering aligned?
No two technology organizations are the same. Whether you have Product and Engineering reporting into one leader or they are two separate organizations it is important there be alignment. Autonomy for each organization is important and should facilitate enough creative abrasion to improve the overall product. However, as companies scale, senior leadership is often brought in to think about further growth and commercialization. These C-suites leaders might be disconnected from the core of the needs of a technology organization and might not have the technical chops to serve as an arbitrator. The reality is that technology is becoming both more technical and more commoditized at the same time, which means that the weighting of these two functions and how they work in coordination is constantly in flux. Check in to see that these two critical functions have the right processes and leadership to co-create.
Are Product and Corporate Strategy aligned?
The pressure to achieve the needs of the organization’s corporate strategy while maintaining nimble to the needs of the user from a product perspective are at times at odds. A viable product is the foundation of an early-stage organization and the iterative nature of customer and user demands and updates to the product often serve as center stage of a strategy. As products mature the pressure of a GTM strategy emerges. Clients find themselves in this race to continuously build, iterate, and launch updates. Clients have shared the tension to be nimble while taking a step back to analyze the market. Hiring a product strategy leader that reports to both the CSO and CPO can be a valuable way to ensure alignment and drive innovation.
Does the C-Suite have visibility in to the Product Roadmap?
Oftentimes as organizations scale quickly, the product function can move into reactive mode. However, this is a good time of year to take a step back and ensure that the full C-suite not only has visibility into but also has fluency in the product roadmap. The product leaders that help scale a product function are often most energized by organizing the group, building the team, and running iterative product cycles- they may find themselves less energized by the ongoing efforts of road mapping and engaging the C-suite in the process. We recently worked with a software company that had a combined product and engineering function, but as the organization scaled and product found market stability, the C-suite realized they had little visibility into the roadmap. For their next phase of growth, what would be needed is not as much a builder, but more of a broker product leader that could help engage with the C-Suite and build a transparent and collaborative product process.
Product has the ability to launch an organization into new markets and new levels of success. But it can only deliver when set up for success from an organizational design, scope, and talent standpoint. The product function can be the lynchpin to transformative growth and sustaining competitive advantage. A New Year’s tune up will help ensure it’s ready to fulfill its promise.