Development teams are the behind-the-scenes heroes of software sales. Without a stellar product, there’s not much even the best account executive can do to close a deal. That’s why the art of product management can be the make-or-break factor in the tech space.
The secret code to driving productivity on your cross-functional, highly talented development team may not be something they covered in school. However, understanding how to ensure your team is working at an optimal level to deliver a quality product is essential. If your team is missing deadlines or your gut is telling you there’s got to be a better way, read on.
1. Make Sure You’ve Got the Right People on Your Team
Wrangling a development team is no small feat. And with a group of interdisciplinary professionals, you’ve got a lot to manage. Between personality types, work styles, and roles, one could likely confuse your product manager role with that of a referee.
But before you blow the whistle, crack open your product manager toolkit and make sure you’ve covered the basics. Your team’s needs will vary based on the product, but ensuring your talent needs are covered is job No. 1. If your team lacks necessary skills, their progress will be erratic at best.
Each development team requires a range of roles — including the non-obvious ones — if your projects are to have any hope of success. Of course, there’s you: the product manager. To guide the project from inception to release and ensure the team solves the right problems, you’ll want the assistance of a business analyst. They’ll take the customer’s business needs and translate them into concrete project requirements.
Of course it’s developers who take those requirements and turn them into code. To do this in a customer-pleasing way, they’ll need the help of user experience and user interface specialists. Even if you’re being subjected to time pressure, don’t stint on quality assurance, either; you must ensure the code does what it should. If you can’t get full-time hires for these positions, determine whether and how contract employees can help your development team deliver.
2. Intentionally Cultivate Your Work Environment and Expectations
The traditional office setup isn’t always designed with the employee in mind. And with more people working in hybrid or fully remote environments, things can get complicated. That’s why taking a beat to think about your team’s work setting and how you collaborate is so important.
Frequently, teams are put together based solely on skills and experience. While we’ve already covered why team makeup is paramount, where and how team members collaborate is a close second. Take work location and communication styles into account to establish the best collaborative procedures. Ask team members to give you feedback on improvements they’d like to see and draft potential solutions to productivity-killing problems.
Office distractions are one impediment that can keep developers from getting into peak flow. Consider alternate work locations like quiet huddle rooms or individual offices if your open-plan office is too noisy. Allow remote work so team members can structure their work in ways that are most productive for them.
If you already work remotely, make sure your team has the equipment they need to be successful. Noise-canceling headphones, large dual monitors, and collaboration software can make all the difference. Review how and when you conduct your product management meetings, especially if you’re working across time zones. Autonomous work can help reduce meetings and make time zones obsolete, meaning your team can operate at peak productivity even while apart.
3. Set Ambitious, Yet Achievable Deadlines
Of course, your organization wants your products ready yesterday. But to ensure a quality product that’s been properly tested, it takes a deliberate, mindful product manager at the helm. As a forward-looking, strategic product manager, you hold in your hands the responsibility and opportunity to establish project deadlines.
Consider the experience you’ve gained in setting deadlines for your team. Chances are, you’ve got a pulse on the organization’s priorities across launches and enhancements. Use your knowledge base to your team’s advantage as you prioritize project tasks and the team’s efforts.
In the same spirit, use your seat at the table to advocate for best practices in your development environment. More customer-facing colleagues may not have working knowledge of your team’s needs, so bring them to the forefront. If your team needs a particular tool to boost its productivity, for example, see that they get it.
In your daily work, observe processes and practices through a wide lens. Use past project data to guide the setting of milestones, taking into account the particular difficulties of the current project. Consider other teams’ project plans as a benchmark, but don’t replicate their schedules if they don’t make sense for your team. At minimum, each team is performing different work, so it’s only natural to have different timelines.
Meeting Milestones Without Inciting Burnout
The product manager life isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes diligence, focus, and an ability to pivot like few other professions. But when your team has found their flow, the work you can achieve together is a thing of beauty. Celebrate your team’s achievements big and small to help build morale and convey appreciation.
Whether they’ve been working long hours on a bug fix or are knee deep in documentation, thank your team members. And when you cross the finish line of a major deliverable, celebrate accordingly, before you pick up the next one. When your team feels like they’re in it together, they can achieve amazing things.