How to Help Your Product Development Team Run Better

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Developing and launching a new product or service takes a high degree of collaboration and curiosity. The people on your team have to be driven to determine why each product aspect will appeal to users. But a development team that can successfully launch products or services also needs direction and vision.

As a product manager, it’s important to ensure that the work is shaped by a solid process. Your team will know what they’re moving toward by creating and sticking to a series of clearly defined steps. Thrown into that mix is the need to establish feedback loops, fix what’s not working, and develop your team’s skills.

While leading an efficient and effective product development team is full of complexity, managers can learn to do it better. Here’s how.

Define the Problem or Opportunity

To keep software projects organized and bring development teams together, you have to clearly define the problem or opportunity. The team needs to know what the objective is and what’s driving the development of a new solution. This could be an unmet market need that your competitors and organization are missing. Or it could be an opportunity to expand a current product or service based on consumer feedback.

A clear definition of the reason for developing something new contains two components. The first is your vision or strategy. Spell out where the company is headed with this new project and how it fits into its long-term goals. Second, define the team’s and product launch’s goals and the ways you’ll measure them. Relate those individual objectives and key performance indicators back to the overall vision.

Step Into Your Customer’s Shoes

One of the reasons 95% of product launches fail is that developers rely too much on market segmentation tactics. Companies miss the mark by thinking about matching a product or service with demographic or lifestyle categories. They’re not approaching product development from the consumer’s perspective and considering how products and services can solve their problems.

With an overreliance on market segmentation, organizations end up trying to find customers for their existing products. Instead, product development teams and companies should rethink the process. Study the customers first and then develop products and services for them. As the late Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School advised, think about product development from a “jobs-to-be-done” perspective.

A consumer doesn’t buy something because they earn $75K a year, have two kids, and live in the suburbs. They purchase and use products or services because it helps them accomplish something. Get into the minds of your consumers and determine the why behind the need to complete a job. Then think about how a product or service can help them do that.

Set Milestones

Although each member on a product development team needs to complete individual work, they shouldn’t be left to become islands. Before your team starts moving through the various stages of creating a new product or service, establish milestones. Each team member should have a clear picture of what’s expected of them during each stage. Likewise, the group needs to understand when they’ll be coming together to discuss their progress and work.

For instance, you could establish that the group will present their individual ideas by the end of the first month. The presentations will happen in the first team meeting. Then a discussion and evaluation of each idea will occur in a second meeting.

In the second meeting, the team will select the top three ideas. They’ll further refine them for final selection by the end of the project’s second month. The selected idea will then move to the development and testing stage.

Establish Regular Check-Ins

For some, weekly check-ins might seem like overkill. But they can help team leads and peers get a sense of the progress everyone is making. Weekly check-ins are also an opportunity to learn what obstacles co-workers are running into and where they might need assistance. It’s easier to catch and correct a problem before it delays a major milestone.

A missed deadline is an inconvenient time to discover a fire that needs to be put out. Having to devote energy away from other tasks to solve an issue puts the project’s on-time completion at risk.

Questions raised and feedback solicited at shorter, regularly scheduled meetings can prevent problems, redirect ideas, and keep progress on track. If in-person meetings are too much, your team can use collaboration tools to post their weekly updates.

Create a Learning and Mentoring Culture

Research on the effects of organizational culture on new product developments suggests that various dimensions directly influence success or failure. These dimensions include whether the culture is process- or results-oriented, the degree of collectivism versus individualism, and power distance. Failure may stem from cultures that promote results over process, individual versus group achievements, and command-and-control power structures.

Success is more likely to result from a culture that’s built on the principles of rewarding the learning process and mentoring others. Part of learning means being aware that mistakes are not only a possibility, but something to be embraced. By making mistakes along the way, team members will learn what doesn’t work and develop new skills to overcome any shortcomings.

When team members know they won’t be punished for errors, they’ll be less likely to try to hide them. By leveraging the learning opportunities these mini-failures present, the team can position itself for ultimate product development success.

Conclusion

Leading a product development team can be challenging given the high failure rate of new product and service launches. Staying on track is even more difficult without an established process everyone sticks to. Despite complications and ambiguities, new product development processes can be created and refined to support success.

Sometimes victory may look like a market’s swift adoption of a new product or service. Other times it will involve learning why consumers didn’t find a solution useful. But by establishing objectives, learning from customers’ perspectives, and promoting communication, you can elevate your team’s performance and outcomes.

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