The following article looks at product organization coaching, why it is important for you and what to expect from it.
In the last 20 years we have been able to see the result of agile transformations and digital transformations in organizations. In many cases these just led to sub-optimizations that have not caused a significant impact, since the core of the organization and the mentality have been left intact.
Digitalization has allowed for cost-cutting with automation and so an Agile transformation just improved the efficiency of software development departments.
But, who cares about the client, the product, the market and the strategy?
What we are pursuing in a transformation into a product-led organization is to put the product at the center of the organization.
For this task we need product coaches with a lot of experience in product, coaching and change management.
What is a Product Organization?
Talking about a product organization (aka product-led organization) may seem like a tautology, but it is not.
Surely you know companies that are led by sales, technology or finance. Well, in product-led organizations the product strategy is an extension of the organization’s strategy and the sole responsibility of the product leader and her team.
In other cases, executives often lose focus of their mission and get caught up in the numbers, which results in them creating average or standard products. They should instead be focused on making “amazing” products or services.
A product organization is a company in which the product is at the center, and all other functions exist to make the product a success. That requires a deep change in structures, processes and incentives that eventually will lead to the required mindset change.
A modern product organization is really just a catch-up with the latest Lean organizational concepts of the last century. An organization structured around the value streams that are the responsibility of the value stream manager.
As a product coach the most important thing I do is to make my clients think about their product from the user’s perspective rather than from their own.
Many companies are used to developing new products or features without taking into account the problem they solve for the customer. A solution is proposed from the sole point of view of the organization, which in most cases has nothing to do with the context and the needs of the client — ‘build it and they will come.’
A modern product mindset means, above all, approaching product development from the customer’s perspective. We must fall in love with the problem, instead of falling in love with the idea or the solution. That is the fundamental change to move towards a product mentality.
But, a product mindset is not only characterized by the focus on the problem, there are also other key characteristics of organizations that have developed a product mentality that you can explore in this article:
- Love the problem
- Strategic context
- Flexibility and responsiveness
- Iterative and incremental
- Time to value
- Product leadership
What is a Product Organization Coach?
A product organization coach is the leader of a team of product coaches in charge of accompanying a company in the transformation process into a product-led organization.
The product organization coach is a senior coach who masters the five disciplines of product coaching, has experience in change management, and is capable of leading a high-performance team.
The way we approach a product organization transformation process is by creating a team of product coaches with the following structure:
- Product Organization Coach – change lead who works with the executive team and the product leaders to help define the structure, strategy and manage the process.
- Product Management Coaches – coaches who work individually with product managers supporting them in their own journey of becoming modern product managers.
- Product Discovery Coaches – coaches who work with the teams to enable a modern product management and product discovery practice.
Structure of a Transformation Program
There are many different methods and different approaches associated with organizational transformation. A lot of people argue that their own method is the best – but it’s hard to know who to believe.
We don’t believe we’re any better than anyone else. What we do do is take a different approach to how organizations are led from product to the source of value.
Change Management Approach
Change management discipline has traditionally focused on cultural change. To us, this is snake oil, because the culture of an organization is like a shadow.
In order to change the shadow you need to change the light or the body. So, you need to change underlying structures and processes (and get rid of some people most of the times).
If you would like to really have an impact on the organizational culture, there is only one thing you can do apart from working on the structures, which is coaching the executive team. Anything else, will be just a waste of time.
Now let’s look at our transformation approach that starts with structures, then addresses processes and finally culture and people.
Different types of rewards, incentives and other systems influence employees’ behavior. The systems that drive their attention need to be carefully planned out.
- What are people rewarded for, promoted for, or fired for in the organization?
- What performance objectives really matter for employees’ careers at the end of the day?
Accountability systems need to be aligned with the goals that your company wishes to achieve.
A typical example of this going south, is when companies try to introduce product discovery but they punish failure or reward productivity instead of results.
Process flows out of accountability, because accountability systems constrain choices. Most teams when given direction and boundaries can self-organize around new practices and techniques.
If, for example, an accountability system punishes any kind of failure, it’s going to be impossible to implement processes for rapid experimentation and iteration.
Once you get immersed in these changes, they become the norm and reinforce themselves by promoting more of the same.
Every culture attracts certain kinds of people. A old fashioned culture repels innovative people. Ultimately, the success of any organization depends on the talent it is able to attract and retain.
The advantage that coaches have over consultants is that they are experts in accompanying people through the process of change.
To do this, we organize ourselves as a team so that the product organization coach works with the executive team, stakeholders and product leaders, and the product management coaches work with the product managers individually.
In addition, the product discovery coaches introduce the practices in the teams and also carry out team coaching work.
Transformation Guiding Principles
Our method is based on the following five guiding principles:
- Structure eats culture for breakfast – Positive changes in culture, mindset and behavior come as a result of changing structure, processes and incentives and not the other way round
- Lead from the top – The CEO must lead by example and consistently guide everyone back to the product-led fundamentals. The CEO must break up kingdoms and get everyone rowing in the same direction. It’s fundamental that de CEO and business unit managers take a proactive role in leading the transformation effort and not let it be just another side project.
- Organize around value streams – a product organization’s unit of work are empowered product teams that sometimes collaborate as teams of teams in a value stream.
- The organization is a product – The product organization is a product in itself and our approach to transformation is the same as creating a new product.
- The Product-led Promotion Office – This is the temporary enabling team of internal and external coaches that supports the adoption of this new way of working, organizing and decision-taking.
In this blog series you can explore in more detail our approach to helping companies become product-led.
In our transformation process to a product-led organization, we seek to strengthen six pillars:
For this we implement a process in incremental iterations of six months that usually have the following form:
- Product Leadership: alignment for the transformation project, training and coaching for Senior Management and product leaders
- Product Organization: design the new product organization
- Incubate: laying the foundations of modern product management and launching the first initiatives
- Accelerate: enabling autonomous and empowered product teams
The whole process is constantly monitored and adapted in governance sessions which receive insights from the teams and measure specific transformation metrics.
Why Would We Need to become a Product Organization?
If your company is facing one or more of the following challenges you should seriously consider embracing a product-led approach:
- Your agile transformation has not produced the expected results
- Your digital transformation has not produced the expected results
- The strategic direction of the products is determined by sales, marketing, technology or finance
- Your organization is in a process of rapid growth (ideal for technology scale-ups)
Book a free strategy session in which we can understand your challenges and your context and we can offer you a solution adapted to your needs.