No, I don’t mean that they are all eco-warriors, climate activists, tree-huggers or sandal-wearers (although I suspect many are of a greenish-hue, methodically sorting out the rubbish into the correct bins every week and buying their friends goats for Christmas). I am not referring to the general environment.
I mean the specific environment that is required to continually develop excellent products. For creating products is a truly collaborative, creative endeavour that simply won’t happen if the environment isn’t right. That’s why many large businesses struggle in this area.
What I mean by ‘environment’ in this situation is a lot more than just the physical environment, although that plays its part. It’s primarily about the people and how they interact, and it includes the following:
Shared purpose and vision: the Product Manager gets the team to create this and then communicates it across the whole organisation
Common values and behaviours: facilitating the development of these, codifying them where necessary and modelling them at all times
Supportive: encouraging members to help each other and being available to all members on any issue.
Open: ensuring an open mindset and encouraging challenge within the team
Tolerant (particularly of failure): learning is more important than achievement of arbitrary targets
Inclusive: ensuring all members, whatever their personal styles and preferences, feel they belong
Inspiring: an uplifting and creative environment
Dynamic: there has to be energy and challenge, change must be embraced
Committed: high levels of personal commitment to the shared goals is a norm, as demonstrated by the Product Manager
Communicative: there should be a natural tendency to speak and share, an easy openness
Cross-functional: the greatest breakthroughs come when disparate disciplines intersect. The strongest teams have multi-skilled players who can help and cover for each other.
Collaborative: it has to be understood we achieve more together than separately.
This doesn’t seem to have much to do with product requirements and roadmaps and release schedules, which are the normal fare of product management. That’s because they’re just the detail of the day job. The things that make the difference are to do with leadership, people and relationships. Schedules and processes are the rails that the train runs on but it’s the people who provide the fuel.
At the recent ProductTank meeting in London, Sam Gilbert of ‘Bought By Many’ put it like this: “The value of product management is creating the conditions where great work can be done”. Hear, hear!