Secrets of the world’s most successful product organisations

To get your company to a place where product teams thrive, you need to empower your people with the mindset, environment and frameworks to change as they learn and discover new things.

Spotify is now 11 years old with a $16 billion valuation and 140 million+ users in 59 markets. The company’s rapid ascent is largely attributed to it’s forward thinking product culture (see here, here and here). But if you want to create exceptional digital products, it’s not enough to just act like Spotify – you can’t just build a digital culture overnight.

The truth is that there is no ‘Spotify model’ – it’s just that the company equips its people with the mindset, environment and frameworks to change as they learn and discover new things. A high functioning product organisation creates an environment where people feel empowered to continuously fail, learn and improve in the face of change. Here are the main principles that we think will help get you there:

Be more human

Focus on people, because they still run the world. Think deeply not just about your customers, but also your employees, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders. One way to do this is to train your people to put the mindsets, skillsets and tools of Design Thinking and Lean Startup into practice. When put in action, these approaches give your people an incredibly powerful way of solving complex problems for and with people.

Let data inform your decisions, but make sure you give equal weight to the human, emotional insights that come from your customers and staff.

And make sure to a step back to think about motivation. Ask: what makes your people do what they do? How can I make sure that my organisation aligns with their motivations?

Encourage cross-pollination with internal communities and diverse teams

Building internal communities is the best way to to share learning, skills, best practices and avoid duplication. Remove the barriers that prevent your staff from communicating easily and comfortably with each other.

If you want to go a step further, focus on creating diverse, cross-functional teams. They’re better equipped to join dots in unique ways (an essential part of the creative process) and create novel, out of the box solutions to complex problems.

Foster autonomy – it’s crucial for innovation

Trust > control. When you trust your people to do their best work rather than trying to control everything, they’ll tackle problems in novel ways you could never imagine.

Experimentation grounded in human-centred design drives innovation. Customers have come to expect products that meet their individual needs, and it’s your responsibility to ensure your teams are equipped and empowered to understand and build to serve your customers’ needs.

To create the time, space and an environment for experimentation, you need to nurture freedom and autonomy. Make sure your teams focus on learning through recovery from failure, and discourage failure avoidance.

Every time you don’t get the expected results, your teams should be asking:

  • What did we learn?
  • What will we change? (and NOT whose fault it was)

When setting up projects, ask:

  • What’s our hypothesis?
  • How will we know when we have succeeded? How will we know when we have failed?

After each project, ask:

  • What did we learn?
  • What will we keep? What will we dump?
  • What will we try next?

Finally, make sure you’re always celebrating your small wins and seeking constructive feedback. Think about starting demo hours, regular syncs and retrospectives to embed these practices in your business.

Create alignment – it’s the secret sauce for autonomy

As a leader you should focus on creating alignment around problems and articulating why those problems need to be solved. This will allow your team to focus on how to work with each other to figure out the best solution.

Alignment is the secret sauce for autonomy – Stephen Bungay (2010)

You need to balance autonomy with accountability

While autonomy is important for creativity and engagement, it can also be a double edged sword. Too much autonomy can lead to chaos and inefficiency.

It comes down to balance. When exploring the unknown, you need to give people a certain level of freedom to innovate. But you also need to balance that with accountability to make sure your teams realise the outcomes you intended, or learn from their experiments and keep moving forward towards delivering real value through their products.

Frameworks to manage this balance already exist. Think about embracing Agileif done right and under the right conditions, this single change can supercharge your teams’ productivity.

Be deliberate about creating a healthy culture

A healthy culture aligns people on purpose, enables learning, creates ownership, and leads to engaged employees. No-one has time for politics, fear and/or egos, but they exist. Ensure that your internal frameworks for culture encourage transparency to solve for this.

Healthy culture can also help heal broken processes. If people feel a sense of ownership around the company’s vision and feel empowered to tackle problems (both internal and external), they will work out how to solve those problems themselves.

Remember, the most successful product organisations create an environment where people feel empowered to continuously fail, learn and improve in the face of change.

We hope some of this resonated with you. What do you think works/doesn’t work when setting product teams up for success? Keep the discussion going on Twitter @FusionLabsAU and @GulatiParth

Spotify has published its product and engineering way of work as videos in 2 parts: Part 1 Part 2

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