How do product managers work with other teams?
Effective product managers lead cross-functional teams to launch and improve products that customers love. You sit at the epicenter of an organization. You are the connection between what customers are asking for and what is launched into the market. You have a vested interest in the teams who build, market, sell, and support what you envision. And so you need to develop deep relationships with those colleagues.
"Get comfortable with your own role in the organization and the value you provide. Take ego and friction out of how people work together." — Lovability
Delivering lovable products requires that product managers empathize with others. How will this release or feature impact the work of other teams? What does a particular team need to do to prepare for an upcoming launch? What do they need to know to be successful?
Addressing these questions with the cross-functional team will create loyalty, trust, and internal excitement for what you are building. This is the perfect foundation for creating customer love and it starts with clear communication.
Facilitating cross-team communication
Product managers have significant responsibilities without the benefit of explicit authority. Your work guides and impacts many others, but you do not manage those teams. So it is critical that you can build the trust and influence you need with colleagues from different functional groups to drive your product forward.
There are a few basic tactics that product managers can take when facilitating cross-team communication:
Plan: Building a well-defined product roadmap establishes a clear direction and ensures that people understand the product strategy and can see how their efforts will support it.
Listen: Solicit feedback — especially from those who are customer-facing. These folks can help you better understand and solve real problems your users face. Make it easy to submit requests with an ideas portal.
Understand: Take the time to get to know your colleagues and understand how other departments operate. Learn to speak their language and understand their goals. This will help you work with them more efficiently.
Communicate: Interruptions and unforeseen changes happen. The larger team will need to know if major dates or scope of work changes so they can adjust their timelines accordingly. Do not leave anyone in the dark.
Adjust: Your colleagues will gather valuable feedback from customers, partners, and the market. Maybe they notice something about the functionality or time frame that does not quite make sense. Stay flexible and open to feedback so you can deliver the best experience to your customers.
Working with a cross-functional product team
Product management maturity varies by organization. But you will typically be responsible for guiding a cross-functional product team. This group — called a product team — is responsible for choosing what gets built, marketing what is new, supporting the new customer experience, and measuring the performance of it all. While every company and team structure is unique depending on your industry, product, and customer base, you will usually find representatives from engineering, product marketing, design/UX, and customer support on a product team.
But you can extend the concept of the product team beyond the core group working on each release. This includes working with:
Product managers work with teams of engineers on the development work. This includes defining the features, estimating work, and planning sprints and releases. Product managers should provide their engineering teams with well-defined features that clearly tie back to the team's goals. The best product managers keep engineers focused, productive, and clear of obstacles.
The finance team at any organization is tracking a wide variety of metrics — from customer acquisition cost to average revenue per user and lifetime value of customers. Product managers work with finance teams to better understand these metrics and optimize them for business growth. They also need to align on backend systems and processes to support new business models.
As product managers define their product offerings, they involve legal teams to ensure that new experiences and technologies meet compliance requirements. This is especially important in heavily regulated industries to minimize risks while enabling the business to evolve.
The marketing team is responsible for attracting, converting, and retaining customers. Their work is the first touch-point and gets a product or service in front of potential customers. They need to be experts in communicating the unique benefits of a product. To do this effectively, the product manager needs to collaborate with marketing on buyer personas, go-to-market timelines, and how to communicate new product features.
Program managers exist to improve operational efficiency and performance. They create a program roadmap that includes multiple projects serving a broader company initiative. Product managers work closely with program managers to ensure delivery of their initiatives are on time and on budget.
Project managers are similar to program managers, but they operate at an individual project level instead of managing multiple projects within a specific program. Product managers work with project teams to track resource allocation, risks, and potential bottlenecks.
Salespeople are charged with helping prospective customers become buyers. Effective salespeople do this by identifying the best possible value exchange for the customer they are working with. They discover whether the product or service is a good match for what the customer needs. Salespeople can share back insights on what is resonating during their sales conversations — and what customers are asking for. In return, product managers need to help the sales team understand what is new and why it will benefit customers.
The support team is closer to customers than any other group — and deeply understands customer pain points and needs. Listen in on customer calls to support to learn about customer challenges. And proactively communicate new functionality with support so they can help customers be successful.
A product is more than what you directly sell. It is the entirety of the relationship you and your customers share — the Complete Product Experience (CPE). As guardians of the CPE, everything you do should be focused on bringing value to customers. This includes how you interact with other teams.
It is helpful to think about the broader impact of your roadmap and how you share it across all groups within your organization. Some product managers use static spreadsheets and documents to manage cross-functional work. It can become difficult to keep track of updates, timelines, and deliverables when those inputs are scattered across multiple locations.
Mature product teams use purpose-built product management software to set strategy, define features, build roadmaps, and keep stakeholders informed of progress. Roadmap software like Aha! provides a single source of truth for communicating product plans.
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