Product SVP at Artery, a SaaS patient communication company. I am passionate about solving, building and empowering.
I had the pleasure of working in several startups of different sizes. A consistent challenge I’ve seen is moving from a sales-focused organization to a product-focused organization. Many startups experience this transformation as they begin to adapt to the product market and are ready to scale.
This is a critical inflection point for a startup and one that excites me. This requires a fundamental shift in mindset from building a product that meets today’s market needs to building a product for tomorrow’s market needs.
The transformation to product-driven growth requires change not just in R&D teams, but across the business: sales, customer experience, partnerships, marketing, and more. It’s really a change of mentality that impacts the whole company. Evolving in this model requires time, collaboration and above all partnership.
I joined Artera in 2021 to lead Product. Since then, Artera has evolved (and continues to evolve) into a product-focused organization.
For other startups in the midst of this transformation or seeing it on the horizon, the tips below explain how to evolve into a product-driven model and will set you up for continued growth.
1. Engage stakeholders early and often.
Transformation has three phases, each involving different stakeholders, goals and tactics. Be very intentional about which stakeholders to engage and when to ensure consensus is built between each group before moving on to the next.
In our case, we identified three groups of stakeholders: direct team members, the management team, and the entire company, including all employees. Throughout our team’s evolution, one theme overlapped: internal stakeholders are paramount to creating a product-driven culture, but connecting with the customer is just as important. That’s why we also started having more direct and regular conversations with customers, listening to what their issues were and watching them interact with our product. External stakeholders can help you refocus on solving problems rather than building features.
Direct team members are essential stakeholders in co-creating the product-driven philosophy and approach, based on industry best practices.
In our case, our engineering and product teams aligned by reading a book called Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan. The book explains how to create a successful product-driven operating model. Not only is Marty Cagan a well-known Silicon Valley product guru, but reading his book has also given us a common language. We created a vision of what it meant to be a product-driven organization and our path to get there.
Be sure to engage your leadership team and share this product-driven vision co-created by the direct team. At my company, we also read another book by Marty Cagan called Empowerment: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products and discussed the book at an offsite management meeting. The book is about building and leading empowered teams, which would serve as the foundation for true organizational transformation. We’ve aligned on what it means to build empowered teams, for engineering and product, but also across the business.
Our entire leadership team is committed to building empowered teams and leaders. We also explained that moving to a product-centric model doesn’t mean the product team drives everything; it means our entire organization must be committed to creating an incredible product that delivers tremendous value to our customers and builds equity, for the long term, not just tomorrow or next week.
2. Empower your team.
We rebranded our engineering and product teams as the Innovation Organization (IO), illustrating our commitment to innovation. Next, we evolved the IO into an empowered team based on the triad model, meaning our agile, focused teams would be set up to autonomously solve real customer problems. But we did not wait for the deployment of this new approach to exercise empowerment strategies with our teams.
Strengthened teams can’t wait. Throughout this process, your team should have a say in shaping and implementing your product-driven growth strategy.
The team should play an active role in what follows.
• Creation of a new shared language: Redefining the old language into a new product-oriented language.
• Create product-focused training: Educate colleagues on the new product-focused strategy and its impact.
• Connection with customers: Without direct interaction with customers, you won’t know what to build, so having that close connection is imperative.
Today, our IO is made up of empowered product-driven strategy champions, not because someone asked them to, but because they helped co-create it.
3. Maintain an ongoing dialogue.
When it comes to organizational transformation, the role of communication cannot be underestimated. Open, consistent, and authentic communication is key to keeping employees informed, engaged, and inspired to help usher in new change. Once the stakeholders are aligned, you need to unveil the product-driven vision to the business. Your goal should be to open the lines of communication between technical teams and all employees.
We recently launched a monthly virtual “IO Lab” where anyone in the company can learn about what’s going on in IO (product and engineering) and how it impacts our customers; we dedicated 100% of a monthly lab to discussing this new approach, including visual storytelling, new flowcharts, customer testimonials, and welcome questions.
These IO Lab meetings have strong attendance from company employees and always end with a Q&A. We use this time to answer questions and better understand what employees want to hear. You should consider organizing similar meetings.
If I could tell myself anything before starting this journey, I would tell myself to listen, listen and listen again. Good listening is very difficult, but it is essential to this type of transformation to ensure that different perspectives are heard and integrated.
In closing, I will share a quote from Inspired“Winning products come from a deep understanding of user needs combined with an equally deep understanding of what is now possible.”
I totally agree, and I’ll add: I believe that building a product-driven organization comes from a deep understanding of your teammates, combined with a lot of listening.
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