Ep. 1: How do you ensure that Product is not a Black Box?

Episode 1 of the Fearless Product Leadership video series

You can watch the episode “How do you ensure that Product is not a Black Box?” or read the transcript below

HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT PRODUCT IS NOT A BLACK BOX?// Are you a new product leader? Are you concerned that the rest of your org feels that product is a "black box?"

Learn from experienced product leaders who successfully ensure that their organizations understand WHAT the Product team is working on and WHY:


On this episode of Fearless Product, we're gonna ask product leaders, “How do

you make sure that product is not a black box?” We're gonna find out from

leaders from companies that have as few as 100 employees up to several thousand

employees in B2B and B2C organizations how they provide the transparency that

their organizations need to understand the What, the Why and the When of

everything that's going on in the product organization. These are the

products leaders that we're going to be speaking with today. You can get more

information on their background by watching their bio videos using the

links above.

Lauren Antonelli, Chief of Staff, Evite: I make sure that we're not building products or or releasing projects in a black box all comes down to line-of-sight. Our CEO has extensive templates about how to work about his thoughts on how to work and have organized teams (www.victorcho.info). One of them is about how leaders work in the workplace and a big part of that is called is about line-of-sight so it's up down and across and we have lots of different ways that we work to create that line of sight in the company so lots of product teams send out release notes right ok that's like one way to make sure that the company understands what's being released we also set a time aside in every All Hands meeting to talk about the strategic priorities and the products that are under them product managers talk developers talk it's a it's a really across team effort at the end of each week I actually send out a company-wide email that we call TGIF that goes through what we accomplished this week what we're planning on doing next week any big data measurement points that have moved in any upcoming dates the company needs to know it's actually a much more detailed layer than we've ever done at the company but that was in response to people wanting to have more information I don't think there's ever a time when the org has too much information I don't think over communication is possible and so in that way that's how we make sure that people constantly are understanding what we're working on and why no one wants to work at a company that they don't understand why their work is valuable or how its contributing to the bottom line and so you know I have a this quote on my desk from the author of the five dysfunctions of a team that says if you could get all the people in an organization going in the same direction you could dominate any industry in any market against any competition at any time and that's my KPI in my current role I will do whatever I can to make sure all 115 of these people are working towards the same goals every day and that sort of transcends product in a lot of ways right it really is you know our product is our business so it's super important for the entire company to really understand what we're working on why it didn't work why it did work what the customers are saying about it and so it's just line-of-sight and over communication.

Hope Gurion, Fearless Product: And so just to follow up on that our is the sounds like you have an all-hands you have the TGIF you have the release notes are these all text documents or what is the other ways that you make sure people have the same understanding?

Lauren Antonelli, Chief of Staff, Evite: Yeah so in all hands it's nice because you get to ask questions and you can be in front of the people who are creating these products or testing them with customers we almost always show visual either videos or gifts or photos of what it looks like the release notes always have photos videos all of that stuff in it what the product and tech team calls a feature is not often you know what makes sense to the rest of the company or the customer so a lot of times when I'm coaching the product managers on how to do line of sight I tell them to actually pretend like they're talking to customers right like you would you would never call our internal nickname for a project of customers he would tell them what it is and how it works and so that's the kind of simplicity that we use to talk to the whole company really just making sure that they understand why something is important what you know don't talk in the jargon of agile and that kind of stuff and really just tell them you know just like human beings talk about it this is how it helps people get together for parties this is what you know that kind of way so we make sure that we really don't get too product-y about stuff when we're talking to the company it's okay you know obviously if you're working a product and tech and QA and just going really fast but I think it's important for line of sight to make sure that you're using communication that people understand.

Al Ming, VP of Product & Design, CNBC: A number of patterns that I've had some success with in terms of how to build more transparency in the organization and prevent products from being a black box one of the ones that I think has helped a lot is having a lot of clarity as to the goals that you're trying to accomplish and making sure that you're aligned on those goals in some context that's about vision and strategy it may also be about understanding what those KPIs are but making sure that with our peers at the product leadership level at the executive level there is a clear idea of what are we trying to accomplish and how we are mapping the decisions about what is tactical and strategic to that so for me that usually takes two forms one is a kind of vision and strategy usually it's a deck in most cultures but it could be something else that articulates not just the what is that metric that we'retrying to get to or where the success look like but what are the tactics that we're going to be using to try to get to that they don't necessarily have to go as far as a vision statement or a story although those are great but they have to kind of speak to from our perspective at a high level what are we doing to achieve these goals and from that we're able to give them a more timely view with something like okay our objectives and key results where every quarter we say these are the big swings that we're taking these are the things that line up to the map that we've already told you about that this team is going to do this quarter these these two teams are going to work together on this initiative for so that they have an idea of what we think is going to succeed and part of the process even coming up with those is to do a top-down bottom-up side-to-side exercise so that people who are outside the park organization can know that they're heard know that their ideas are heard know that the work that we are doing takes into account whatever insights we can gain from the rest of the organization so that kind of takes us through to understanding what we think is important at a high level and what we're prioritizing as things in a given time box other patterns that I've found helpful in terms of creating that clarity throughout the organization is I'm a big fan of Christina Wodke’s model of commitments so every Monday like talking amongst the team about what are we doing to achieve that goal so that they see us kind of putting our money where our mouth is and the teams can articulate this is work that is going towards this goal this is the same thing that that you've heard about before and we don't always get a lot of people joining those meetings because there some people don't care some people are more interested as as it turns out but we share it with everyone like after we meet and we talk about it we share it with some people at least the executive stakeholders get to hear what's going on and heading even a level further down if you've heard about our okay ours if you've heard about what's going on a given week you can join like something that's helped a lot I haven't implemented yet here at CNBC but previously at Scripps Networks one of the things that worked really well was getting our editorial teams to commit someone to be part of the team someone who joins sprint planning someone who comes to stand up when there's something they're interested in someone who comes to sprint demos not not just for demos but throughout the process so that if there's something that they want to be involved in they can be and that starts it's similar to the way that in consultancies you know you can often sell your agencies you can sell your idea better if the client thinks it's their idea to so the same model kind of goes for product is to have our stakeholders involved in that process so it's a we thing not a you thing and that also helps to create a bubbling up effect where someone who is a member of a sprint team is able to then go back to their boss and say oh yeah I worked on that like that's that's something that I'm involved in that's something that I've heard of it's not a surprise to anyone anymore and that helps to eliminate those kind of unpleasant surprises that that tend to get in the way when you are a black box and people don't know why you're doing the things you're doing and finally I know I've gone for a bit about this but the last thing is to actually connect things back together at things like sprint demos at things like quarterly reviews of how our okay ours did to the actual metrics that we've all agreed on so you get to see that we are delivering on the things that we are accomplishing that in a sprint done we're not just saying we launched yay for us we're saying we launched and this is the impact that we're having or we launched last sprint and now we're seeing the measurements that come back now we're seeing the impacts that this has and they realize that the work you're doing is important it is something that is driving the bottom line for the company it's driving revenue it's driving audience it's driving engagement and it creates a virtuous cycle they're where they want to be more involved where they pay attention to those emails that you send out or those meetings that you call or those sprint planning sessions that you ask someone to be a part of it keeps that going and allows us to keep that transparency throughout the organization.


Brandon Anderson, VP of Product, SportsEngine: the way that I approach transparency and to make sure that our organization has all the information that they need to be able to do their jobs based off of the jobs that the product organization is doing is really multi-layered right I have stakeholders across the organization we have over a hundred twenty salespeople within our organization we of course an executive team I have customer service account management customer success onboarding coaches and then of course the product development organization right just does every team know what they're doing and what the context is for what they're doing so the big challenge for us I've never worked an organization that tries to push out more communication and in my team I'm really responsible for helping do that I really like our teams to approach it across all the different personas if you will in no organization so of course road maps are produced I do six month road maps we move really fast anything longer gets out of date we publish those out to the entire organization quarterly so each Reb goes out quarterly so that's certainly a foundation piece every two weeks our product organization groups together all of the things that we're working on in development and alpha-beta are ready for GA and we publish out an email to the entire company so those are some basic things that we do then we relay we have some con van team some scrum teams they all produce release notes we're a continuous deployment shop and so we're constantly pushing changes out to production those go into the actual application itself through different tools like intercom and alivio right so of course we do field enablement every month for our sales force where we get up there kind of jobs in your giving the whole demo and why it's cool in the context of why we built what we built so those are all really great but I would say the secret sauce to all of it is is probably about a year and a half ago each of the product teams put together a small group of cross-functional people that were folks that actually are in the trenches so customer service onboarding coach's account managers and sales people and the product managers and product owners on the team meet every week and each person has to go through what are the things that we need to address right what are some small wins what's the context for what we're building and why and they're all responsible to go back and tell everybody within their department what happened right and what that specific team is doing so if you can imagine we have we have eight to nine product teams depending on how you define them and so those folks are going back so there's nine representatives that are pulling information from our team back to their folks so they bring that contact down to their distinct levels which is I think I hear time and time again that that's the best meeting that our product teams have to get information out to folks.


Prasad Gune, SVP Product, Signifyed: I try to make sure that product is not exact box is basically through a lot of communication it's talking to people it's building relationships front typically most people who are not in the product or engineering function shy away because it seems difficult it seems technical and I see part of my role as actually building that connective tissue with other groups and so for instance in my new role here I've been in the role for close to a month I spent a lot of time sitting down with people who are not in the product function executives at the you know in sales and finance and as part of that I actually walk them through what product does and for some people they know it already for others it's educational and they get a sense of you know what's happening you know inside the black box if you will and most importantly you know I don't I try to make sure it's not about the exact details and specifics about every single thing that product does but how it matters you know what is it that we do how do we make sure that we're delivering our the most important things to the company and why it should matter to them as both as individuals but also leaders in their own capacity the more you make clear that the reason you know you know getting people on boarded quickly and hiring for the product roles matters or in generals matters is because I can then deliver a product which will have an outcome of the financial to the company that's important for a CFO having a product ready to sell is important for a split in the sales organization I gave you examples of senior executives but the same thing applies across the board the more and more you make they clear what it is that product does and how it touches different functions and the more you know people realize you not just your value but how to work with you effectively so that's mostly what I try to do I didn't roll to work on one thing though which is you want to be transparent as possible but you also to be very clear on your expectations and on things are unrolled and boundaries because and a clear example for me and that is when I'm talking to a sales team for instance I'm less concerned about you know the specific features that people are asking for much more concern about the problems that they're trying to solve you know both on the field cyber roles on the customer side and so just like I'm not going out there trying to sell on behalf of the selling organization for the with the sales team I'm really looking for details on what is the problem which are solve so be very clear about how we work together is important to and you know in this area.


Hope Gurion, Fearless Product: So the thing that I tell leaders to keep in mind is that the rest of the organization has a tremendous amount of dependency on the decisions that are made by the product organization and so it's so critical that you want to provide transparency to the rest of the organization because that shows that you care about their needs just as much as you care about your customers needs and so by being transparent by finding the right frequency of communication that doesn't overwhelm and overload your team but is actually in sync with the type of communication you're doing to facilitate shared understanding with your engineers and with your customer support teams you can really invite in the rest of the organization to share their wisdom with you and to have confidence and trust in the decisions that you and your team are making. So what action items are you taking away from today's episode about ensuring that product in your organization is not a black box?

·      is it a context does everybody in your organization know the why behind the what

·      is it your ratio of delivery against commitments nothing erodes trust faster than a trail of broken promises so if you can't maintain a 1 to 1 ratio of delivery to commitments are you effectively communicating the why behind the commitments that you weren't able to keep

·      great product leaders make sure that every goal has a measure of success and so when you're communicating what your team is working on and what metrics they're intending to move don't forget to follow through with exactly how much they were able to move those success metrics

·      for frequency we want to make sure that you're communicating enough to maintain shared understanding and course-correct where needed but you also want to make sure that it's not so frequent that you can't actually achieve your goals and deliver on your commitments

·      visuals can be an incredible strength when you're trying to provide transparency to the organization because people can remember and relate to visuals that they expect their customers to see and when you're using language that is explaining the purpose and benefits in the voice of the customer people are much more likely to retain that information which means you can spend less of your time explaining

·      relationships are a key part of your success as a product leader so you want to make sure that you have lines of communication open not only with other executives but also the people on the front lines working with customer this will make sure that you and your team don't have blind spots about things that are important to them both in what you're building but also in what you're communicating

·      I hope you found this helpful and you'll find more resources in the notes below [Music]