Enabling teams to achieve awesome outcomes
As a senior leader, there will come a time when you start to notice areas for improvement within your product teams or departments. If you’re feeling like velocity or quality could be improved, then the first thing to do is pause, and think about how you can lead the change that is needed. As a leader, you are a fundamental enabler that can help individuals and teams do awesome things, build awesome products and make a remarkable difference for your organisation. This blog post will outline how vision, goals and empowerment are the key ingredients for high-impact product delivery.
So, what do product delivery teams need?
In order to function effectively, there are a few key fundamentals that you’ll want to make sure your product delivery team is working from:
A vision to get behind
With a strong vision, you’ll ensure your product delivery teams are working towards the same destination. As an essential part of any organisation, vision is often set by CEOs, C-Suite Execs or Founders, but can also be set by Heads of Product and Design, Engineering Leads and Team Leads. As you move down the hierarchy of the organisation, your team’s vision should naturally be inspired by the purpose, vision, and mission of the broader organisation. This will ensure alignment across teams and keep everyone focused on the same north star.
A vision creates a tangible target for what you hope to achieve. It defines your end game and serves as a reminder to your teams of what you’re working towards. The tangible target will motivate your product delivery teams, giving them a sense of purpose and will provide the context they need for the software they create.
There are plenty of online tools to facilitate the creation or evolution of a vision. Atlassian’s tool is simple and straightforward and can be adapted for teams and organisations of all shapes and sizes.
Importantly, everyone should deeply understand the vision. Articulate your vision well and demonstrate how you’re working towards it through your actions and decisions. This will help your team forge a deep understanding and connection to the vision.
Goals to focus attention
Giving product delivery teams an overarching goal will help them create their own supporting goals, which might include day-to-day success metrics or milestones that need to be accomplished. Your teams will tune the way they work in pursuit of those goals so you want them focusing in the right direction.
There are various methodologies for goal-setting. Google sets goals using OKRs and a cascading goals framework. When I first heard about OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) it fundamentally changed the way I think about goals. Implementing a cascading goals framework that is flexible and transparent is a crucial step for any successful business.
A good goals framework will work wonders for aligning your teams to your organisation’s vision. A tool which can help with this alignment is a ‘strategy wall’. A strategy wall visually links product delivery with business strategy. It should include your values, purpose, vision and mission as well as your current year topline goals. That will keep the essence and targets of your organisation front and centre whenever reviews and decisions about strategy are being undertaken. The strategy wall will show how you intend to implement business strategy through a number of strategic priorities, and their objectives, key results and initiatives. Your team’s activities should have clear visibility on the wall. Depending on your situation, product delivery activities could reside at any level on the strategy wall.
Implementing a strategy wall can be as lo-fi or sophisticated as you like. The main thing is that it should be highly visible and easy to change as the strategy evolves. Some organisations use slide decks for their goals, but these are rarely looked at and can be tricky to communicate change. I have implemented highly effective lo-fi strategy walls with index cards and post-it notes, as well as with digital tools such as Mural or Miro – see the diagram below as an example.
Review the initiatives on the strategy wall fortnightly, and iterate on its design to make sure it keeps working for you through the various phases of your team or company’s growth. Expect fairly radical change every year or so as well as lots of fine-tuning in the early phases, if this is something new for you.
A culture of empowerment
Once your vision and goals are set and articulated well, your product delivery teams can get on with the job of working towards those goals. Your efforts are likely to be needed in achieving and maintaining organisational alignment. With the right leaders and people in place in your teams, you’ll be able to create space for them to figure out how they’ll achieve those goals. It’s a great way to build trust between you and your teams. With that trust in place, you’ll feel comfortable taking your eye off the details knowing your team has your back. You’ll have more time and energy to focus on the more strategic aspects of your role and your team will be far more effective knowing how the work they do contributes to the overall vision, knowing that they have the autonomy to get things done any way they want.
Provide frameworks for reviewing progress at a cadence appropriate for the work being done. Have fortnightly reviews of the initiatives on the strategy wall to keep across detailed progress. Undertake reviews of the strategic priorities every quarter or so.
Know that mistakes will be made along the way, and that’s okay. When teams are empowered to make decisions, and you encourage reflection and provide a safe environment to experiment and learn, you will soon have those teams humming and evolving their approach to their work. Creating and actively nurturing a culture of continuous improvement takes time. A culture where team members feel comfortable to speak up, take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other will produce better outcomes. It’s the number one finding from Google’s research into what makes an effective team.
High-impact delivery teams love to deliver.
Delivery teams get enjoyment from getting things done and achieving outcomes that matter. To get the most from your product delivery team, empower them with a clear vision, clarity on goals and a culture of continuous improvement. With these fundamentals in place, your teams will work to their strengths and you and your organisation will be rewarded.