The product manager. A visionary responsible for product strategy and roadmap. The cross-team role that works hand in hand with marketing, design, support, and engineering teams. Besides overseeing product launches and new feature rollouts, the product manager has the very important job of managing relationships with other teams.
In many ways, the product manager is one of the key liaisons between the teams – carefully toeing the line between the inspirational and visionary, and a focus on facilitation and bargaining.
Besides the balancing act, in what ways can the product manager foster close ties in these very important cross-team relationships?
Steven, our ‘Teams’ PM
At Piktochart, we really prioritize the product manager role. In fact, we have two of them – Deepan Manoharan and Steven Neoh.
Deepan, our ‘Core’ PM.
While Deepan is in charge of our ‘core’ product, which is the latest version of Piktochart users are enjoying today, Steven runs ‘Teams’ – which is our newly launched collaborative design tool for groups. They both manage their respective product teams which are made up of a hardy group of front-end and back-end developers, but also work really closely with our design, UI/UX, marketing and support teams – which requires them to put on different communication hats.
According to Deepan, the key elements of building strong relationships across teams is made up of:
Steven, our ‘Teams’ PM
- Mutual respect and appreciation
- A common goal and overall vision
- A common vocabulary
Establish A Shared Vocabulary
Deepan points out that the most difficult part of building team relationships and fostering communication by far is having a shared understanding and alignment to a common goal. And that requires establishing a shared vocabulary, the basis for meaningful discussion.
The product manager’s role, in this case, is to bring about alignment by clearly defining these two things:
- The company’s vision
- The role the product plays in that vision and also the role it plays in people’s lives
“When teams discuss about a feature or functionality, people tend to use even simple terms in very different ways. When someone from the support team says that we have identified a major ‘pain point’ for users, they might actually be talking about a feature request. Simple terms like ‘need, requirement, feature, functionality, and user experience’ may mean very different things in the minds of team members,” said Deepan.
Marketing, design, and product teams mashup at HQ
To bridge the gap between varied vocabularies, Deepan suggests to ask more questions such as: “What do we mean by a user need vs. a user request?” And also equally important to determine is what some of the best ways to think about those user requests to make sure everyone understands them the same way.
“When it comes to solutions, one can be wild in their imaginations to dream up whatever they can. But when it comes to understanding the problems for which we need solutions, it is very important that teams have a common understanding of what is it that we are all talking about,” he said.
Marketing, design, and product teams mashup at HQ
Find Ways To Break Down Silos
Deepan also points out that important aspects of cross-team communication, such as trust and mutual respect, are actually earned over time due to team members contributing to a common goal.
To achieve this, he suggests creating collaborative work settings, such as group activities and workshops centered around product challenges, to help teams appreciate the role that everyone plays and to also foster trust and mutual respect.
“When teams work in silos with one team passing their output to the next team and not understanding how they use it, it’s a nightmare for building good relationships. It also helps people to have a fair degree of understanding on the processes, methods and tools that the other functions use,” said Deepan.
A way to prevent silos? Ask for input and suggestions on how to improve their methods and processes in order to work better with other teams. This will create a sense of shared intent and an understanding of how other teams operate.
Steven also believes that product teams struggle with silos, even if everyone is working on the same project. What ends up happening is that people start focusing only on their own deliverables, but have little to no connection or understanding as to “why” they are doing it.
Wilson, our community manager, works alongside folks from design and back-end teams.
Collective Ownership of the Squad Goals
To create a clear connection to the “why,” Steven believes that there needs to be a sense that the overarching company or product goals truly belong to everyone. If each individual feels a connection to the end goal, then it’ll be easier to break through silos.
“Each functional unit, whether it be engineers, designers, or marketers, plays a very important role in creating value for the user and the company,” he said. “A clear way to measure and protect their contribution can help each team to channel their energies into delivering their best.”
Steven says that goals should be framed in such a way that they “communicate with the diversity of interests represented on the team. Each team is part of a larger system that evolves with each project as we chase user value, and sometimes will perceive these systemic changes as for or against their own long-term needs and interests.”
“A transparent system helps everyone see both their contribution to and stake in a project’s final outcome, and helps me keep sight of how my projects can benefit the great work the teams do.”
Encourage Liberal Praise
Once a transparent system is created, besides getting more invested in the project endgame, teams can also tune in to the contributions of others – which makes giving praise where it’s due a lot easier.
Acknowledging the good work that others have done can help bridge the gaps that silos creates and build camaraderie between teams. This is especially when it’s reward-based and done publicly.
“Encouraging team members to acknowledge and thank one another for their work can help erode silos. We take this so seriously at Piktochart that we built Kudos, an internal platform that allows teammates to publicly acknowledge the good work that others are doing, and to be able to reward them with points that they can trade in for prizes,” said Steven.
Below is an example of Steven giving “kudos’ to all the teammates involved in the ‘Piktochart For Teams’ launch.
Besides trading in their points for gifts, team members can also use Kudos to do good and donate to a charity of their choice. In fact, Piktochart teammates donated $13,500 (USD) to charities last year via the Kudos platform.
Embrace Difficult Conversations
On one end, there’s giving praise which perhaps promotes a warm and fuzzy feeling that contributes to a robust culture. And on the other – there’s also those difficult conversations that need to be had.
As product decisions are usually cross-functional, whether it involves competition for traffic rights on the server or trading-off between code and interface – Steven notes how the product manager will, at some point, be forced to make a difficult decision. Some micro-decisions feel like Pareto-optimal choices where someone has to lose for someone else to win.
“Asking a stakeholder to sacrifice one of their aims, or accept a solution which isn’t ideal for them, often means having a conversation. These conversations may involve leaving some people disappointed, but are really the bread and butter of cross-functional project management,” he said.
Steven also adds though that within each of these conversions is a golden opportunity to understand the competing motivations and values in his team.
“Beyond prompting me to look for other ways to fulfil their goals, this helps me to develop the vocabulary and register I need to address their concerns, and ultimately enables my project to win their trust and commitment,” he said.
Adding To A HOPEFUL Future
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same can be said for a company that has collaborative and communicative teams.
So we hire slowly and thoughtfully at Piktochart, making sure to bring on board people that not only embody our HOPEFUL values (read about them here), but also care deeply about building cross-team relationships that work.
If this resonates with you, feel free to check out our careers page for the latest roles that we’re hiring for. We’d love to hear from you.