Collaboration: Easy to Talk About, Much Harder to Achieve (Part 1)

Collaboration: Easy to Talk About, Much Harder to Achieve (Part 1)

collaborationWe’ve all heard about collaboration, talked about collaboration, and probably even agreed that collaboration is really really really important—problem is, it seems much easier to talk about than to actually achieve.

One of the key roles a product manager can play in any organization is to bring people together­—to bring customers and users together to understand what their problems are and how to best solve them, to bring internal stakeholders together to understand what products will best serve the organization, and to bring the individuals of a product team together to work synchronously towards launching a valuable product that will delight their market and upset their competitors.

But the fact is, it’s really challenging to get people harmoniously working together—and just as hard to keep them doing so throughout the entire product development lifecycle. As humans, we are all inclined to fulfill our own needs first—but when it comes to collaboration, those inclinations need to be shifted towards each individual working to fulfill the needs of an entire team before their own. If you’re thinking it sounds like hard work then you’re right—fostering collaboration during the product development lifecycle is indeed hard work.

But it’s hard work that pays off.

It’s currently estimated that 70-90% of all new products fail. You wouldn’t be alone if your initial reaction to that number is ‘wow!’ It seems like too high of a number—and one that makes launching a new product seem like a pretty bleak undertaking.

But if we look at the leading cause of failing products then we might see that there is hope for a solution: the number one reason products fail is because market needs are not understood and a solution is defined before understanding what the real problem is.

You might recognize a few symptoms that result:

  • You seem to be operating within a ‘reactive’ product development environment—when you’d much rather be operating within a strategic one.
  • Keeping up with the competition seems like a furious and constant battle.
  • Your company keeps launching new features but your customers don’t seem to be using them all that much.
  • The number of products returned is far higher than expected.
  • A backlog of features is piling up higher and higher with what feels like no real direction on what to do with them.
  • You’ve forgotten what the voice of the customer sounds like within the chaos.

The key to understanding the market problem is to make sure that the right amount of time is being invested in doing so—and that it is being done collaboratively.  When you rely on only one or two people—or even just your market alone—to define what the market problems are, the risk of missing the underlying cause rises significantly. Time needs to be invested in analysis and understanding of the market evidence.

As the complexity of products increase, so does the need for collaboration. 

As consumers ourselves, we’ve all noticed how the complexity of products has increased over the years. The basic cell phones we used to carry around with a screen barely big enough to read a single text message have evolved into smart phones with screens three times the size and more features than we can even name or use (especially when you consider what most of them do to battery life!).

Now, couple that increase in functional complexity with the current level of competition in most markets—and what you’ve got most times are companies constantly rushing to launch new features or products just to try and stay in the game. Problem is, they are starting to forget about what the actual problem is they are trying to solve with all these releases—or if they are even solving one at all. According to the Standish Group’s 2013 Chaos Manifesto report, it’s estimated that only 20% of a product’s features are used often. Yes, only 20%. The rest are hardly ever used (50%) or used infrequently (30%). When you start to translate the time and resources it takes to develop that 80% of features never or infrequently used—well, it certainly makes you stop and think how your company could better be spending their time and money.

One of the largest challenges companies have in today’s market is the constant pressure to release new features and products quickly in order to keep up with the innovation being driven by technological advances. It goes without question that with the constant pressure and increasing functional complexity of products, the processes to develop the products also becomes more complex. More people are involved in the development of the product, teams are spread out in different geographical areas, and there is an exponentially greater risk that the product team will fall out of sync with one another and end up with a product that does not solve any real market problems, or if it does—it’s taken longer than the competitor to release it.

To keep up with the pace of the market and complexity of products, product teams need to work collaboratively now more than ever. Without the synchronicity that collaboration drives, there is simply too much time lost in the product cycle to stay ahead of the competition.

What do you do to make sure your team is in sync with one another? What are some of the problems that you face trying to enable collaboration on your teams?

Next week, we’ll post a second blog in this collaboration series that explores the collaboration conundrum furthers and looks at what the key activities and opportunities are for collaboration during the product discovery and delivery phases of a project.

Read Part 2: Collaboration – Working together through Product Discovery

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