Working in a company like Invoke gives one the opportunity to touch multiple products, experience unique situations, and solve an endless number of problems. I love it. It’s the kind of experience you can’t get from working on a single product and we’re able to bring this robust knowledge to every project we touch. However, with all this knowledge it’s natural to want to take take the reins when working with clients, but we need to remember there is a shared responsibility: we must work together as product owners.
The Scrum Methodology follows this definition of product owner:
The product owner is the one person ultimately responsible for the return on investment of the product development effort. They influence the development effort by conveying their vision to the team and prioritizing the product backlog. The product owner must have the authority to make real business decisions, a vision about what the product could be, and be available to the team.
The product owner may be the captain of the ship, but they aren’t navigating the waters alone. So while we may not have the opportunity to be a full-fledged product owner, as product strategists working with clients we have the opportunity to point the product in a winning direction. We can guide it throughout design and development sprints by becoming strong product influencers.
In some instances, our client may not have a true product owner on their team, in which case we work with them to establish a singular decision maker and demonstrate the importance and the benefits of this role. The product influencer on our side is intended to coach and work with the client side team to ensure that the project stays on course for success.
If you’re going to be a successful product influencer, make sure you nail the following vital aspects.
It’s fundamental that we treat the product as if it were our own. We put our heart into it just as a dedicated CEO would. Together with our clients, we act like co-CEOs. We get familiar with the value drivers and proposed product offerings, the industry, the target market, competition, and adjacent markets. This allows us to identify trends and uncover the opportunity to do something new or fill a gap in the market space.
Part of being the CEO involves assuming responsibility for the product’s performance in the market, profit and loss, growth and engagement, and simply what is working and what has not. If our latest round of learnings doesn’t move the product in a direction that works, we’ll doggedly look for what is working and focus there. Most importantly, we keep the business model and ROI a part of the conversation to ground your efforts and ensure alignment with longer term goals. Ultimately, CEOs – and product influencers – want to win.
Armed with knowledge of the industry, practicing empathy and humility starts with understanding the perspective of the users. Discover what they’re trying to achieve when using the product and what triggers their actions. We take what they say and do to heart, but always peek behind the curtain and understand the root causes of their challenges before jumping to solutions. Decisions need to come from a real source, so we ditch assumptions and ‘best practices’ and make sure to actually talk with users. Only once you understand the users can you become truly empathetic to their needs and goals and act as their champion.
Be mindful that empathy and humility doesn’t end with users. It’s also important to listen to the strategists, designers, developers, community managers, and marketers on the project. Take this wide array of ideas and observations into account. Stakeholders will always have input on what users want (even if they are removed from day-to-day interactions with them,) but it’s the product influencer’s job to shed light on what has been learned and fight for what is truly right for the users and the long-term viability of the product. At the end of the day solving user needs — in a monetizable way — is what is going to translate to a product that wins.
Not every decision is going to be the right decision and not every situation is going to feel comfortable. Product influencers need to be prepared to go beyond what is merely working and aim for the shifts that can transform the product. It can be uncomfortable when things don’t go as planned, but a product influencer needs to know – and admit – when something isn’t performing so they can move in a direction that can succeed.
It can be an uncomfortable conversation when you tell a client that something isn’t working as intended, but these are the hard conversations that need to be had. If you set clear expectations and a level of openness with the client when the relationship kicks off, you can be prepared to address any concerns moving forward. Ensure they’re aware that a product’s strength comes from facing challenges head on and being open to vulnerability and learning. These decisions must be driven by a concrete hypothesis grounded in qualitative and quantitative data, but that doesn’t mean they are impervious to failure. Failure means we’ve gone beyond comfort zones, learned something, and discovered an opportunity for improvement. Take this knowledge forward, share it with the entire team, and apply this to the experience across the product lifecycle.
Ultimately, all of these decisions along the way must align with the product vision. It is absolutely vital that we work with the client team and their product owner during early stages to develop a mutual understanding of the vision. This enables us to build a foundational product roadmap, but it’s not permanent. As mentioned earlier, user feedback, analytics, market trends, and monetization experiments give us valuable learnings, and it is vital that we continually use these learnings to drive adjustments to the original vision and add value to our users. This is how a product roadmap pivots and changes.
A pivot is possible when we have identified new tactics with clear indicators of user and business model validation. Prioritization of new initiatives must consider not only immediate importance, but how it impacts the long term vision for the product. This is then distributed along the product roadmap and is broken up into now, next, and future states. Every time something is introduced, we must be able to explain how and why it adds value to the product and customer. Consider what it will do, how it is being built, and who it is for. Clear answers to these give teams a straightforward roadmap to follow as they take the reins.
This is our shared foundation. Care like you’re the CEO, exhibit empathy with your users and product team, transform discomfort into iterative change, and ensure the team is aligned on an informed product vision. These are the traits of a successful product influencer. We believe it is possible for two teams to co-create amazing products that win the future. Whether you’re the external partner or internal product team, remember these lessons. Hold the other accountable. It takes a vested interest from product influencers, product owners, and advisors to win the future.