In June 2021, I was presented with an opportunity that would come to signify one of the most rewarding and fulfilling collaborations of my professional career. It was an email from Frank Maene, managing partner at Volta Venture, who had reached out to me on behalf of Thomas, the CEO of Nodalview. Thomas was in the process of building and strengthening his product team, and needed a head of product to help lead the charge.
At the time, I had already decided to pivot my career and become a product coach, with the intention of launching a consulting firm. Although I could not take on the role of head of product at Nodalview, I was still intrigued by the opportunity to potentially help them in some capacity. I agreed to meet with Thomas and discuss how I may be able to assist in the formation and development of Nodalview's product organization.
After our meeting, it was determined that I could be of great value to Nodalview as a part-time coach, helping to structure and streamline their product organization. Fast forward, Nodalview and dualoop have been working together for more than 12 months now and have seen some truly remarkable results. Together with 3 senior consultants, we have transformed a monolithic team into three autonomous squads, established dedicated product design functions, implemented a comprehensive & actionable design system, fostered a strong product culture throughout the entire organization, and empowered the product team to become true agents of change.
However, it must be acknowledged that the journey has not always been smooth sailing. I have certainly encountered my fair share of challenges and obstacles along the way, but these experiences have also served as valuable learning opportunities. In this post, I want to share some of my key takeaways from this experience and express my gratitude to the Nodalview team, who have been nothing short of participative, supportive, and inspiring throughout our collaboration.
11 key takeaways
1. Leadership support is key
The success of any transformation is intrinsically linked to the level of support and trust you’ll get from the organisation's leadership. The product team might be at the centre of the transformation, but it will inevitably have an impact on every single department.
💡 Tip: If you don’t have the full support and commitment of the CEO and the entire leadership team, you should first work on this before doing anything else.
2. Transformation takes time
To effectively manage and oversee the transformation of an organization, it is essential to remember that change takes time. To mitigate impatience, identify and target low-hanging fruit that can serve as quick wins, while allowing time to focus on more complex issues.
💡 Tip: To keep track of progress, maintain a comprehensive backlog of all necessary changes, and schedule regular reviews to ensure that the pace of transformation is appropriate.
3. It’s about people
Each organization is unique in its culture and people. To determine the most effective approach, it is important to take the time to observe current practices, interactions between stakeholders, and individual behaviours. You’ll then certainly spend a lot of time advocating for the changes you want to bring and get your key stakeholders on board. You may have to hold strong and have a certain level of confidence to face the storms you’ll go through.
💡 Tip: To stay informed and on track, schedule regular one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders and team members to assess progress and ensure that changes are being implemented at the right time and pace.
🎁 Bonus: My favourite book on the matter is: “Never split the difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it” by Chris Voss
4. Perfection is unattainable
While there are many industry leaders and experts (such as Marty Cagan, Teresa Torres, and Melissa Perri) whose work can serve as inspiration, it is important to remember that the goal should be to strive for continuous improvement rather than perfection. A clear vision for the end goal is important, but it is also necessary to be realistic about the current situation and identify the necessary steps to reach that goal.
💡 Tip: To ensure everyone is on the same page, organize workshops and brainstorming sessions to validate the perception of the most important improvements and manage expectations about what is possible within a given time frame.
5. Trade-offs are inevitable
In the process of transforming an organization, there will be times when difficult decisions must be made, and trade-offs must be accepted to continue making progress. It is important to remember that an organization is a living system and that product management is just one aspect of it.
💡 Tip: Remember that transforming an organization takes time, and that short-term business considerations may take precedence over long-term changes.
6. Prioritization is key
There will always be opportunities for improvement, but not all changes are created equal in terms of importance and impact. To truly transform an organization, carefully select the initiatives that will have the greatest impact. While sometimes frustrating, prioritizing efforts is crucial for achieving long-term success.
💡 Tip: When uncertain, consider the long-term impact of your short-term actions. Prioritizing your efforts is key to maximizing your impact in the long run.
7. Communicate Effectively
Communication is crucial in any collaboration, and it is vital in the process of transforming an organization. Ensuring that all stakeholders are informed of progress and any changes being made is vital to the success of the transformation.
💡 Tip: Regularly schedule team meetings, progress updates, and make sure everyone is on the same page. Use different channels and types of communication to adapt to your stakeholders (synchronous and asynchronous, text and video, etc.).
8. Celebrate Success
Every achievement, no matter how small, should be recognized and celebrated. It is important to acknowledge the team's hard work and dedication and keep morale high throughout the transformation process.
💡 Tip: Organize frequent activities and celebrate milestones together.
9. Keep a Record
Keeping a journal or record of the transformation process can be incredibly valuable. It allows you to track progress, reflect on successes and challenges, and refer back to key decisions and moments throughout the journey.
💡 Tip: Take regular notes, track the progress of your initiatives and use them as a guide for future references.
10. Avoid Getting Caught Up in Operations
While it is important to focus on day-to-day operations, it is equally important not to get bogged down in them as a product coach. Keep your focus on the long-term goals and objectives of the transformation.
💡 Tip: Set clear expectations with everyone and regularly review them to ensure they are aligned with the transformation goals and your organisation's needs.
11. The Journey Continues
Remember that the process of transforming an organization is never truly complete. It is an ongoing journey, and there will always be opportunities for further growth and improvement. Stay adaptable, open-minded and continue to strive for excellence. Yet, it’s also important to know when to leave and how to empower the teams to continue on the journey without you.
💡 Tip: Regularly assess the progress and make necessary adjustments to keep the transformation on track.
In a recent series of articles, Marty Cagan and Lea Hickman discuss what they believe to be essential for a company to effectively and successfully transform. They stress that the support of senior leadership is crucial for the success of the transformation. Without this support, the rest of the company is unlikely to commit fully to the changes that need to be made. They also emphasize that to be successful, the company must understand and change the role of technology from a necessary cost to a core enabler of the business. This shift in mindset impacts how technology is funded, how teams are staffed, and whether technology is considered a core competency or something that can be outsourced.
Additionally, they highlight the importance of understanding the impact of the transformation beyond the product organization. Product management, product design, and engineering may be at the center of this transformation, but the impact necessarily goes far beyond these areas. It's not uncommon to find that fundamental changes to finance, human resources, sales, marketing, customer service/success, and business operations are also necessary.
Marty and Lea also stress the importance of strong product leaders, specifically those who leads product management, product design, and engineering. These leaders are responsible and accountable for everything that follows, and they must have the necessary skills and experience to build and lead a strong product organization. They also mention that true product managers are essential for empowered product teams and must have a deep understanding of the customers and dynamics of the business.
Furthermore, the authors emphasized the importance of empowered engineers in driving consistent innovation. They state that effective transformation is all about enabling and encouraging truly empowered engineers. However, outsourcing engineers can hinder this empowerment, and it's important to ensure that the engineers are in-house and have the necessary autonomy to drive innovation. They also note that putting engineers on a pedestal is unnecessary, but they need a strong understanding of the customers and the business dynamics to make effective decisions.
Overall, their article series provides valuable insight into the necessary steps for a company to transform its product development process successfully. From the importance of senior leadership support to the fundamental role of technology to the need for strong product leaders and empowered engineers, the authors provide a comprehensive guide to achieving effective and meaningful transformation.
In conclusion, product management transformation is a complex and challenging process but can also be incredibly rewarding. The key takeaways from my experience at Nodalview include the importance of leadership support, the need for patience and a clear vision, the central role of people and culture, the pursuit of continuous improvement rather than perfection, and the importance of making trade-offs, prioritizing efforts, and effective communication. These insights align with the thoughts of industry leaders such as Marty Cagan and Lea Hickman, who have emphasized the importance of strong product leaders, a focus on technology as a core enabler, and the need to understand the impact of transformation beyond the product organization. Ultimately, a successful transformation requires a strategic mindset, a clear vision, a willingness to adapt, and the patience and perseverance to navigate the inevitable challenges and obstacles along the way.