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How can PMs keep teams excited?
+ Examples from different industries
Someone asked me an interesting question recently:
"How do I inspire & excite my team when building a new product or feature?"
Keeping the surrounding team i.e. developers, designers, QAs, sales, marketing etc. mentally invested in the product’s vision is crucial for a number of reasons:
It makes them take more ownership in their respective areas, rather than always needing a task list to work on.
It’ll motivate them to keep ideating on how to improve their internal processes to improve productivity.
Team members will tend to proactively generate creative solutions to consumer problems, opening up the options a PM has when tackling pain points.
Marketing is able to create better messaging that aligns with the current and future state of the product. It’ll have more oomph.
Sales sells with “heart” and conviction, and doesn’t rely just on regurgitating a robotic script every time they meet a prospect.
It helps with employee retention too - people who are excited about where the product is headed stick around longer to see important milestones through.
Then, the question arises, who is responsible to keep these members excited?
Often, the CEO is identified as the core person to keep the tribe united on the mission to “change the world”, so to speak. However, where they can sell the ideology behind what the organization is trying to solve, Product Managers carry the onus to back that up with the substance.
Thus, Product Managers need to wear the evangelist hat every now and then to cheerlead the mission by highlighting the impact the product is going to have (or is having).
So, how should a Product Manager go about this?
A PM should constantly paint a picture of what's on the other side of the tunnel.
Before investing any engineering effort, it's important to prove that the end is worth the journey.
No, I’m not referring to prototypes and wireframes.
Rather, a story that’s easily memorable and repeatable.
If the narrative around how the final product makes a dent in the universe fails to create any excitement in the listeners (especially from a customer standpoint), it's probably not something worth pursuing in the first place. Needless to say, it’s not going to create a fan following either.
How do you ensure that happens?
Amazon's “Working Backwards” model is a particularly effective technique.
At Amazon, Product Managers are required to type up an internal press-release for the product first before they kick off an initiative. That write-up needs to fire up the leadership and team before it gets greenlit.
Once it does that, teams can reference it often to remain aligned, on track & yes, pumped.
A 1-page press release can give you & other stakeholders a lot of clarity of thought. Oddly enough, I’ve seen that the strength of ideas gets really put to the test when you put pen on paper. This is because in your head, you’re fantasizing about the “coolness” of your solution whereas when you’re drafting a memo, you’re forced to size how compelling the problem you’re planning to solve really is in the mind of the customer.
Moreover, writing a narrative quickly exposes the plot holes & challenges the idea might have as well.
More often than not, I've found that whenever I've had a bad product idea, the 1-page press release also sounded like junk.
What does an Amazon Press Release look like?
An Amazon press release has a fairly simple template: a heading, sub-heading, a problem, solution & customer quotes among other things.
Here’s what Amazon’s press release for AWS looked like when they were seeking internal support:
Hiten Shah explains the structure of a “Working Backwards” document pretty aptly:
In your “working backwards” document, describe the problem that you’re trying to solve, and how your product does it in a unique way compare to the competition. If your product’s features sound boring and dry to customers, don’t build them because they probably won’t get adopted. These days you can write a blog post instead of a press release since that’s the new most common medium used to communicate the launch of a product or service. Rewrite the blog post until you have something you’d be happy publishing. Rewriting drafts is much less expensive than rewriting code.
I personally particularly like to pay attention to the headline. If that fails to grab attention, the rest of the details probably won't either.
Few more examples
Let me share an example on how the headline can not only be crafted but even iterated upon. Notice how the end goal becomes clearer as you fine-tune your pitch.
Product = Real Estate Site.
"Real Estate site empowers landlords to post an ad easily & effectively."
It's not SMART, not really novel and is too feature-centric.
"Real Estate site makes it easy for landlords to post a listing in 10 seconds flat."
It's SMART, but is posting an ad really the end goal? What if I post 100 ads in 1 hour but never sell?
"Real Estate site helps landlords rent out their place in 5 days or less on average."
It's SMART, it's outcome-based and it's ambitious.
Moreover, I believe it's a good idea to build 2 headlines that speak to different audiences: one for the business (execs) and one for the product (team).
Product = Ed Tech Platform.
10,000 Underprivileged students in rural areas pass matric exam using app designed for low latency networks.
Ed Tech app soars to 100,000 paying students across the country in 2 quarters after launch.
Product = Grocery Delivery Platform.
Grocery delivery app's family discount scheme creates massive savings for 15,000 families, enough to cover their monthly electricity bill.
The Family bundle scheme takes the nation by storm as quarterly revenues for grocery app climb 20% and average cart value takes a whopping 32% hike.
Product = Fitness Tech App.
8 out of the top 10 runners in last week's 40-mile marathon trained using this Fitness app's workout regimen.
This Fitness app's social challenges feature goes viral as paid subscriber volumes explode by 45% in the quarter; churn down at an all time low of 6%.
A Product Manager’s job is not limited to keeping various teams aligned. They also have to ensure everyone is aware of the end goal and how their respective efforts in the product will culminate to a real-world problem being solved. Inspiring and exciting teams isn’t easy but it starts with creating clarity on why you’re embarking on this journey together in the first place. A succinct and crisp memo can help become the team’s guiding beacon and a source for inspiration to understand what’s at stake.