An Organic Planning Model for Cultivating Exceptional Product Teams
You’ve got an idea that’s going to take the market place by storm. You’ve got your bleeding edge team of designers and developers to help make this vision a reality. You’ve got your sales and marketing gurus ready to light up social media. So… what is the next step to bringing your vision to fruition again?
Do you start by simply building this revolutionary product? That’s certainly a possibility, but before you make that investment in time, money, and effort, have you stopped to consider who might be interested in buying your product? Oh. In that case, you should probably perform some user research studies to identify who you’re selling to and what they might expect. Are there similar products in the market already? Probably. That means you better do some competitive market research too.
Effective product managers understand that in order to successfully launch a product, there are a multitude of obvious and not-so obvious considerations that must be accounted for. How do you identify, organize and prioritize these considerations? Just as importantly, how do you communicate these insights across your team?
Enter the product management framework.
In simplest terms, a product management framework is a conceptual tool for generating, organizing and communicating big picture considerations within your product team.
But aren’t the silly acronyms and cute diagrams only useful for corporate consultants, MBA-types and ivory tower academics to put into their fancy presentations? Isn’t your team’s time better spent working on the actual product instead of some throwaway activity?
To be honest, I never thought there was any value in conceptual frameworks either until I stopped to actually think about what it takes to effectively lead a team as a product manager, and by corollary, why so many successful leaders and organizations have come to rely on these tools.
As the product manager, you are tasked with harnessing the talents and abilities of your team. Designers see a product in the terms of usability and aesthetics; software engineers might see it in terms of database tables, algorithm and code; and your sales team and business analysts are driven by customer trends and bottom line numbers. It’s your responsibility to synthesize the team’s collective wisdom and abilities in order to execute the all-important product roadmap. Successful product managers realize that before they can lead their team to the promised land, they better have a plan.
A product management framework is a tool that can help you conceptualize and communicate the big picture to your entire team.
A designer with a shared understanding of the market demands and the technical capabilities of the team is arguably more likely to come up with a winning design. Likewise, an engineer with a clear understanding of the mission objectives is better positioned to deliver the features and functionality you need to execute your moonshot. When sales and marketing are aligned with the product development teams, they can prepare a more effective go-to-market strategy.
SEED, SOIL, TREE
Now that you recognize the potential affordances of a product management framework, which one do you choose?
How about the one I have developed, complete with silly acronyms encapsulated in a cute diagram (see Fig 1)!
Copyright 2019 Timothy Charoenying
SEED, SOIL, TREE is a holistic product management framework that draws on an organic growth metaphor of plants in nature to: characterize your team’s product concept; understand the competitive environment, and define the final product deliverable, respectively.
In the following sections, I’ll describe each organizing principle in turn.
SEED: Scope, Expertise, Execution, Design — a.k.a. the product concept.
All products begin with an idea that you develop and refine based on resource constraints and the capabilities of your team.
SEED: All products begin as an idea that you develop and refine based on resource constraints and the capabilities of your team.
How does your product work? What need does this product fill? (Or is there even a need?). Taking a step further beyond the product scope, consider the project scope — what is our expected project timeline and what resources do we have to realize our vision? Big ideas require more time to nurture and grow (think redwood trees). Simple products can be brought to market quickly but might not have staying power (think grasses and weeds).
What skills do our current team members bring to the table? Conversely, what skillsets are we missing, and who do we need to bring on board?
How do we turn our concept into a reality? What are the next day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month steps? What are key milestones and deliverables?
What’s the product going to look like, feel like? What is it going to do? What do you need for the Minimum-viable-product? When is your final product design “good enough”?
SOIL: Stakeholders, Opportunities, Innovations, Leaders — a.k.a. the competitive environment.
Good products aren’t launched in a vacuum. Is there a healthy and/or competitive market environment for your idea to take root in?
SOIL: Good products aren’t launched in a vacuum. Is there a healthy market environment for your product to take root in?
Who’s driving this project? Who are we developing this product for? What are investor expectations? What needs are consumers looking to satisfy?
What’s at stake here? How large is the market? What is our point of entry? What is the expected growth opportunity? Is this a crowded field?
What are we bringing to the table that’s unique? How does our product change the playing field? Are we doing something never done before?
Who are the key players in the marketplace? Who else is planning to enter the market? How do we differentiate our product from the competitor’s offerings?
TREE(s): Test, Revise, Evaluate, Evolve — a.k.a. the product deliverable.
You’ve finally got a product you can sell — how do you ensure it succeeds?
TREE: You’ve finally got a product you can sell — how do you ensure it succeeds?
The most important step is to get your product in front of real people. Product testing leads to improvements and refinement. Focus groups, A/B testing, pilot studies are examples of pre- and post-release strategies to test and determine the viability of a feature and/or product.
You’ve got the finished product — now it’s time to execute your go to market plan. You have one right? Of course you do, because your sales and marketing team has been in the communication loop and working lockstep with product development.
The product is for sale. Do you know how well it’s doing? Do you know what the buying public is responding to?
Things might be going well. Things might be doing poorly. In order to continue to survive and thrive you’re going to have to react to changing market conditions and demands. Your consumer’s tastes will evolve. Your product will need to evolve as well.
Bonus: A successful product launch can create new market opportunities. Is your team thinking about these and ready to capitalize?
Summary and Conclusion
SEED — The Product Concept/Idea
SOIL — The Competitive Environment
TREE(S) — The Product Deliverable(s)
In summary, I believe that a product management framework can be a powerful tool to guide your team throughout the product development cycle. It is not a set of steps and rules that must be rigidly followed. Instead, it is a holistic means for organizing and orienting your team from initial seed concept, to market analyses, and finally to the product launch and beyond.
Arguably, the most important function of a product manager is to facilitate communication between many different stakeholders who may not have the time, opportunity, or even a common language to otherwise effectively communicate with one another.
If co-constructing a product management framework can help communicate a shared sense of purpose and understanding across your team and improve your product’s likelihood for success, the question changes from why use a PM framework — to why not think about using this one!
Timothy Charoenying is a Software product manager with a background in UI/UX design, mobile application development, teaching and academic research. PhD, UC Berkeley. timothykc @ gmail