5 things that every software product manager should be doing to boost creativity in the enterprise
Product strategy, design thinking, engineering processes, documentation, execution, and feedback – these are some of the responsibilities that fall on the software product manager’s shoulders. A breadth of skills is needed for setting a product’s vision, as well as keeping teams motivated and deliveries rolling.
Making the role creative might seem like the last thing on a PM’s mind. But actually, staying curious and meeting challenges with leading-edge ideas are how product and software teams stay ahead of the competition and continue to innovate. Not sure where to get started? Read our post to get your creative juices flowing.
1— Test software solutions with early adopters
The early adopter is the creative product manager’s fairy godmother.
When building a product, getting validation is key. It’s no good sending a product out to market without knowing how and by how much it’s going to bolster company value.
Creative product managers in enterprise software need to be surrounded by the right people to bounce ideas off from inception to realization. But whilst getting involved with early adopters in software user testing is important, engaging with them during the software definition process can help you stay ahead of the curve.
Having experienced techies on hand from the get-go makes their involvement comparatively cheaper and less time-consuming than in software development, and it helps you prevent costly errors early on.
Subraya Mallya, who talks about the value of early adopters, suggests bringing power users into your product roadmap decisions to involve them in evolving the product footprint. This will help you determine if your ideas can be molded into a scalable business model with insights from people who have experience in the market.
2— Automate product management tasks whenever possible
Task automation is a top productivity hack for creative software development. As ProductPlan’s Maddy Kirsch counsels, ‘Accomplishing more in less time is an especially important skill for product managers’. Getting more done is great, particularly if it opens your schedule up for more innovative thinking and doing.
Product managers are primed for delegating tasks, but what about simply deleting them? Andrew Wilkinson, Founder of MetaLab, wrote a piece about the power of anti-goals and how cutting out unnecessary tasks could make your work day more productive, and gratifying. All you have to do is trim or cut out any tasks that can be avoided or done in more efficient ways. For instance, if you don’t need to meet with someone in person, schedule a phone call or chat via Skype. It’s amazing how much time we spend at work not actually working.
3— Choose agile product management tools that align teams
Software product managers often need to facilitate product decisions and hand-off across cross-functional teams. Aligning workflows can help create more autonomous teams and open you up to more exciting product manager responsibilities like driving product vision towards the next game-changer in prototyping software.
The tools and software you use should lighten the creative product management workload and make your teams’ processes more productive. But more often than not, the gap between teams is actually caused because their tools don’t speak to each other.
Luckily, a new set of integrations between product management, design and development tools now helps PMs align their agile product teams.
For instance, the new Atlassian Jira add-on for Justinmind allows PMs to import and export requirements between the tools and enables teams to see and interact with them in a visual setting. All tasks in the product backlog can be put into context and seen by everyone in the team.
Prototyping tool Justinmind will help you communicate and document big ideas to the people who will turn it into a reality.
Justinmind’s developer-friendly UI also helps align design and development teams. Designers can hand-off to developers without specification docs. No mess, no fuss.
4— Think service-first in a UX-led industry
Convert your team from a goods-first to a service-first team. The Goods Dominant Logic (GDL) is characterized by the notion that value is internally produced, i.e. the customer has no say. In contrast, the Service Dominant logic (SDL) sees companies building products based on their customers’ needs and value determined by the customers themselves.
Creativity is great – as long as it’s headed in the right direction. With software product managers split between business, technology and user experience, service-first thinking will help you and your team stay focused on user needs. SDL requires you to think about what the customer needs to achieve and how to get them there. There’s a great explanation of the SDL principles here, but to give you a breakdown:
- Focus on the user’s needs, not the product
- Design with the customer, not for the customer
- Don’t underestimate the customer’s intelligence
- You will have more than one buyer persona
- Brand realization over brand promise, always
Transforming from goods to a service-first workflow starts with listening to the user. Perform user experience research prior to all software development projects and incorporate the feedback into the design process.
5— Learn to fail better in software projects
“Product failures are never something that a product manager wants to talk about. We all live with the secret dread that someday the product that we are responsible for might turn out to be a failure. When that happens, we all expect that we’ll be asked to leave the company.” Jim Anderson, Product Failure Lessons For Product Managers
Sometimes you will fail. A project will be delivered late, the client will complain and your team’s reputation will suffer. Failing feels awful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, many of the products we use on a daily basis were discovered by accident. Viagra, for one.
Failing can be a good thing – as long as you learn from it. Here are our a couple of ways to get the most out of failing:
- Get your team to do a performance review or retrospective after each software project or agile sprint. Evaluate each mistake or failure and create a spectrum of failure categorized by complexity and preventability. You’ll find that some of the failures are intelligent failures, and provide value for future projects.
- One way to make failure less painful is to plan for it. When scheduling out a project or sprint, leave a window of time between each phase so that your time can work without impacting on the final deliverables, deadline or budget.
Remember, as a product manager, you are responsible for motivating and coaching your team, and creating an environment where learning and experimentation are encouraged. Being empathetic, forgiving mistakes and rewarding hard work will steer your team in the right direction. As Lionel Valdellon has it: “you’ll find more success guiding the work toward deadlines, not as a whip-wielding taskmaster, but as a motivating and compassionate leader.”
We encourage you to create a culture of creativity in your organization. Host a collaboration session, create a high-fidelity prototype and keep the conversation going.