We condense the experience of product leaders, a decade of client work and best industry practices into a six-part series of essential habits that organisations can adopt to nurture product culture.
Product culture is a top-to-tail company approach that places the product, the people using the product, and the people building it, at the heart of everything a company does.
Great product culture is driven by a robust, compelling vision and a clear product strategy that permeates throughout the company, from product management and design to engineering. This creates alignment among different teams, defines the end goal, and the path to get there.
A strong product culture, in turn, makes it easier for companies to experience product driven growth because everyone is moving in the same direction; and one way of knowing what that direction is, is to have a strong vision - a powerful story describing the future we are trying to create - and supporting strategy - an overall approach to deliver that vision.
A clear vision for the company helps align the work of the product team. With clear goals and metrics, the team knows what the product needs to deliver. However, equally vital is communicating the vision across the company in a compelling manner, so that everyone knows what they are contributing to, and progress can be measured. This puts the product team's work in context and helps product leaders reinforce the importance of what they are building.
Communicating vision and product strategy through rich, vibrant stories has been a longstanding tactic for building consensus and maintaining team alignment over time. Context is key. Trust can’t be granted to teams without also providing the strategic context about what matters to the company's leadership.
Without context, teams can’t be expected to make decisions and be held accountable, nor can designers craft experiences that reflect the values of the company. As Marty Cagan of Silicon Valley Product Group says, an empowered team is one that “genuinely owns its product.”
In two companies, IBM and Zappos, we see examples of vastly different approaches. In the early 2000s, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh crafted an emotion-led narrative about the company's transformation from a mere online shoe retailer to a company that ‘delivers happiness’, aligning employees to a shared ideological goal.
Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner opted to push a more service-focused narrative, iterating IBM’s unique capability for “genuine problem solving, the ability to apply complex technologies to solve business challenges and integration.”, to shift employees’ mental models from self-centric to consumer-centric. This shift was instrumental in rescuing the company from insolvency.
The answer to what is the ‘best’ story to tell is highly variable. Ultimately, what is essential for product leaders is to build allies and, more often than not, act as a bridge across departments and disciplines. Inspiring, aligning and mobilising entire companies, with perhaps hundreds of product teams, around a shared vision of the future is hard; doing so in a way that empowers teams to operate with genuine autonomy takes practised skill and deep knowledge. Nevertheless, there are a few tips that most organisations could implement.
Your vision should be simple, memorable and relatable.
Focus on the protagonists: your customers and the problems you are solving for them
The obstacle is the way: confront what is blocking your vision.
Use a mix of media to reach a broad audience.
Visualise the journey.
At Beyond, we have partnered with the world's leading tech companies and had exposure to product organisations of all shapes and sizes. We’re sensitive to the conditions and practices needed to build products that will drive long-lasting business value.
As product practitioners, we can add value to your organisation by helping you support the conditions in which strong product cultures thrive. Creating rich stories about your product strategy is only one piece of a bigger puzzle.
Have you ever delivered a strategy internally that didn't evoke the same enthusiasm that you have for it? Our next habit will look at the importance of creating tangible visiontypes that can inspire your team and get buy-in from stakeholders.
Part 1: Using rich stories to communicate your vision & product strategy