Driving bottom up innovation on product teams
How do you create space for innovation on your team?
About us: Andrew (AM) and Chandrika (CM) met during their MBA program at MIT Sloan and connected over their passion for product, growth and paying forward the help they got transitioning into product management. AM currently works as a Product Manager at Moveworks and CM works as a Product Manager at Plaid.
A warm welcome to all our new subscribers and to our old friends, we have missed you. We have been busy doing our day jobs - transitioning to a new role or launching new products. We are very excited to finally share this post with you that’s been a couple of months in the making.
Goal clarity among team
AM: It is important to establish Goals/OKRs/P90s that have direct customer impact, then coordinate with ENG to cascade them down to their goals. As a result, they have a clear line-of-sight of projects that create tangible impact for customers. Also having good OKRs allows ENG to know their boundaries and can act autonomously, resulting in less check-ins for status updates.
CM: Getting buy-in from the team and establishing a shared vision, shared goals is critical to driving innovation. Every team member should feel the sense of ownership and be a part of that decision making process in order for them to come up with ideas that drive the team towards its goals. Team vision should ultimately contribute to the company vision, however the more focused and narrow it can be the better it is in terms of goal clarity.
Suggested action: If your team doesn’t have a shared vision, set aside time to go through a vision workshop. It's much more effective than the PM/EM setting the vision and communicating to the team.
Resource: I have found this Google tool useful for running a vision workshop well.
AM: Setup routine meetings to review and discuss ideas from Product and ENG. In these meetings, it’s important for folks to feel heard, even within a virtual setting. One tactic I employ is to create a “digital whiteboard” which could be as simple as taking notes on a gdoc and displaying it in real time.
CM: Building a culture where the team feels valued and has a sense of psychological safety is a long term endeavor. It is however worth investing in given how beneficial it is for the overall health of the team. Psychologically safe teams feel comfortable admitting mistakes, are more likely to learn from their failures and hence create a cycle of openness and innovation.
Suggested action: Organize frequent workshop style meetings which are “generative” with breakout groups. This builds the habit of sharing ideas regularly and smaller breakout groups feel less “risky” to open up in.
Resource: This article on building psychological safety in a virtual team has some additional tips that I’m planning to try with my team as well.
AM: A good idea is the promotion of ENG wins, especially ones that associate their work to customer impact. Usually, we have the PM introduce to provide context and size on the problem, then ENG can follow-up with the implementation details. Often, public recognition of even the smallest win creates a lot of good will between ENG and Product.
CM: Incentives come in various shapes - public or private recognition, free food, team budget, care packages, bonuses are a few - and team members respond to different incentives differently. Figuring out the right incentives for your team is a bigger battle than setting up the incentive itself.
Suggested action: Getting input from team members on how they like to be recognized, using a survey form is useful. The workplace experience team at my company recently did this and the fact that they showed the care already got a big plus from me.
Resource: This article has some suggestions, including this one - “....You can't put a price on that. The recognition of hearing you did a good job and that others are hearing about it is worth more than money.”