Best Practices

How Product Teams Can Make Success a Habit

All product teams want to be successful. They want to drive feature adoption, delight their users, and properly structure their roadmap. However, doing all of these things both consistently and well is a real challenge. As any product manager can tell you, PMs are constantly strapped for time and are usually juggling multiple priorities.

Unfortunately, there’s no “magic bullet” when it comes to success in product. To become high performers, product teams must first become disciplined. And the way to do that is by building good habits.

At last month’s Pendomonium event, Jake Mitchell, lead product designer at DocuSign, and Victoria Lawson, senior product manager at CarMax, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of product pros about the importance of establishing strong team habits. During their presentation, they shared five key habits that can help your product team go from “good” to “great.”

Habit No. 1: Make the Customer a Core Part of Your Team

One of the PM’s many responsibilities is to advocate for the customer. The only way to really do that, and to have a thorough understanding of your customers’ needs and wants, is to communicate with them. Most product teams want to speak with their customers regularly. However, the word “regularly” is pretty nebulous.

In their Pendomonium presentation, Jake and Victoria said that customer communications need to become a true habit. In fact, your team should make customer conversations automated and scheduled. For example, your team might have an automatic email go out to a specific group of customers twice a week.

When it comes to talking to customers, don’t wait — habituate! It’s common for product teams to share data and information with customers only when they have something interesting to note. Instead, Victoria and Jake recommended that customer updates go out automatically, no matter what.

Habit No. 2: Focus on the Opportunity, Not the Solution

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: Fall in love with problems, not solutions.  Of course, this is easier said than done. Whenever a customer or user shares a problem they’re having, the immediate response is usually to come up with a solution. At Pendomonium, Victoria and Jake invented a theoretical business, G’Day Donuts, that was gathering feedback from its customers. Some customer problems they uncovered included:

  • I can’t get to the store.
  • There’s no menu option that meets my dietary needs.
  • I want to get a good deal.

Rather than immediately jumping to the “solution brainstorm” stage, Jake and Victoria recommended prioritizing and sizing the problems first. They suggested that the product team ask themselves how often this problem (or opportunity, depending on your perspective!) occurs and how many customers it affects when it does. Only after “high impact” problems have been identified should your team start coming up with potential solutions to those issues.

Habit No. 3: Organize and Visualize Your Thinking

As Victoria and Jake put it in their presentation, “Your brain is a lousy hard drive.” High-performing product teams don’t let knowledge sit around in people’s heads. Instead, they convert it into living documents that can be shared and accessed at any time.

It’s all well and good for a product team to create a roadmap or maintain a feature delivery calendar. But that’s really just the bare minimum. Truly successful product teams are constantly producing, updating, and refining their most-used artifacts. And they use these documents to clearly define their goals and measure progress against them.

Habit No. 4: Practice Extreme Vigilance Against Bias and Assumptions

Assumptions are sneaky. Typically, you don’t even realize you’ve made them. While the average product team tests their prototypes and validates product decisions through experimentation, great product teams identify and examine their assumptions and biases.

The only way to combat bias and uncover potentially flawed assumptions is to actively search for them. And that starts with awareness of what forms they might take. Jake and Victoria identified confirmation bias and loss-aversion bias as key biases to guard against. However, they already recommended that teams ask themselves the following questions to uncover their hidden assumptions:

  • In order for our hypothesis to be true, [blank] must be true.
  • If [blank] is wrong, we will be dead in the water.

Habit No. 5: Celebrate!

Celebrations are by definition occasional, right? Wrong! Jake from DocuSign and Victoria from CarMax both believe that celebrations can become habits, too. Your product team doesn’t have to only celebrate the big wins. Incremental progress can be just as worthy of praise.

These five habits don’t get solidified in a day, a week, or even a month. Start small and build these up over time. And in the end, you and your team will see the benefits.