This Is How You Build a Radically Responsive Product Development Team
April 9, 2018

This Is How You Build a Radically Responsive Product Development Team

by Brian de Haaff

“I wish we could work this fast.” This is something our Aha! team hears a lot. It is true that our team works fast — really fast. Faster than any team I have ever worked with. But if you are thinking our speed is due to some top-secret sauce, you would be wrong. In fact, I will reveal the ingredients right now.

We are able to work fast because we make speed a priority. We release new functionality continuously. And when people reach out to us, we want to respond right away — while the need is still fresh.

Deceptively simple, right? I will give you a moment to re-read that and really let it sink in. We are able to work fast because we make it a priority. When people reach out to us, we want to respond right away — while the need is still fresh.

Making it a priority is just the first step, though. After all, you could move fast and deliver bunk work. So, yes I am proud that Aha! is known for responsiveness and incredibly high quality — whether it is a bug fix or a feature request. I especially love reading emails from customers like this one: “Been sending emails all day and have been getting prompt and helpful responses.”

How did we build a product team that moves super fast while delivering superb experiences to customers?

We follow a set of principles we pioneered and named The Responsive Method (TRM). This approach is centered around the belief that interactions with urgency move people and organizations forward.

You might think that this urgent focus is only for team members who interact with customers daily. Here is where the real secret sauce (if there was any) comes in. TRM is not exclusive to product development — everyone at Aha! is driven by the goal to meet needs quickly. We practice TRM within the organization, cross-functionally, from person to person.

Building a radically responsive team is not complicated. It just takes effort, commitment, and a righteous perseverance for honoring the team and the customer with each new hire.

Here is how we do it:

Set audacious goals
People who are smart and motivated excel when challenged. So, we set audacious goals. Then we share the plan with the whole company — not just a select few. Taking this goal-first approach helps teammates quickly digest information as it comes in and respond with a “yes,” “no,” or “not yet.” Everyone knows exactly where they are headed and why. So everyone knows what work will help reach the big goals and can prioritize autonomously.

Hire for motivation
It is all well and good to say you are going to be radically responsive. But it is impossible to do in practice without the right people. When we interview folks, we really drill into motivation. What drives them? How do they empathize with others? It is not enough to have the hard skills — building a responsive team demands people who are intrinsically motivated to be their best.

Know customers (really, really well)
During our weeks-long onboarding program, every new hire answers support tickets and gives a live product demo to a prospective customer. Since our customers tend to be product managers, we only hire former product managers to join our Customer Success team. These teammates truly understand the challenges our customers face and proactively share feedback with the product team. But they are not the only ones. Engineers play an active role in support interactions too.

Celebrate the interruptions
We do not see interruptions as annoyances, but rather opportunities to help people and to solve challenges. We make an effort to be quick and kind in all our interactions. Responsiveness is even one of our success metrics. Our average, worldwide first-response time at Aha! is less than two hours. And when a customer reports an issue or bug, our engineering team drops everything to fix it.

Work from anywhere
Our team is fully distributed, with the majority being in the continental U.S. However, we have also hired folks across the globe, which helps our team to be “on” at different times. For example, as our teammates in England are signing off for dinner — teammates in Hawaii are signing on. Being located far and wide means someone is always available to help a customer or co-worker in need.

Being radically responsive is about making a choice — every day — to be there for people when they need you most.

The more and more you make this choice, the more it becomes a habit. And the more trust you build with customers and with teammates — they know you are always there for them.

Customers are happy because you are solving their problems. And teammates are happy because they are doing meaningful work. It is a radical win for everyone.

How does your team stay responsive?

Our team is happy, responsive, and hiring — join us!

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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