Next year, 2018, my role within the Valo team will change slightly as our next big step is opening a North American Head Quarter and conquering the US and Canada. This is a good moment to reflect and share perceptions from the lessons I have learned so far of how to succeed in the process.
1. Use the “giant brain”
In spring 2015, when Jari Pullinen first asked me to become the Product Manager, my first reaction was: I’m not up to the task! I’m not a creative person as was my predecessor Heidi Selkäinaho, the Mother of Valo!
How on earth will I be able to design such creative features for the product as I don’t even consider myself as a creative guy?
Nevertheless, since spring 2015, Valo has evolved rapidly as a product. It has achieved more than 200 new customers since then, generated good revenue and profit, and was awarded as Europe’s best Intranet and Extranet solution.
We’ve been able to design not only small improvements but also big new modules, almost entire products, such as Teamwork 2.0. Somehow we have managed.
My secret: Don’t try to innovate everything yourself. Don’t think you understand everything best yourself. Don’t be jealous about the features.
You have at your disposal the biggest and more brilliant brain there is. In our case it is made up of at least the following elements: The brilliant Valo Team (the most amazing team I’ve ever worked with!), the rest of the Blue Meteorite crew, our great Partner network and of course our end customers.
I have now learned that managing the product roadmap and “inventing new features” isn’t difficult at all.
Recipe for successful product development management:
- receive signals that are everywhere
- synthesize them into product features
- facilitate the process and watch it roll
- find the most important features via end-user surveys
- use the help of the great specialists around you: usability experts, product specialists, architects…
- add your own flavor to the sauce and make sure the ship goes to the right direction and that it doesn’t stop.
It’s amazing to see how everybody is willing to contribute to the product!
2. Assume responsibility
Even though the Product Manager will get a lot of help for innovating product features, it is the product manager who is overall responsible for each decision made. And it might haunt you.
You will feel this in a very concrete way when there is a problem with the product. It’s probably the product manager explaining it to the disappointed customer, not someone else from the team. When you fully understand this responsibility, it is very natural for the product manager to step up and have the final word in many discussions.
Honestly, at first, many of our business plans, sales estimates and world domination plans seemed unrealistic to me. (Or the Valo Partner Summit with Partner Awards!)
However, time and time again, we’ve met our goals and have grown from a small challenger to a market leader. Now it all feels natural. And it’s exactly those big plans and crazy ideas that have taken us there.
I think all of our team members have been through this – not just me. You get a feature idea that sounds brilliant to you. You present it to the team, and they just don’t resonate with it. You present it again, and same thing – no positive feedback. Then, slowly, they start getting it…
With any new idea, you have to give the team some time to digest it. You just have to be very patient with people. And some ideas will just never work. Hence, as said before, don’t be jealous about the features.
5. Be nice to people
As discussed above, getting things done in such a big product business requires getting lots of help from people.
My secret: Share the love. Say the obvious out loud. Let your people understand how big impact their work makes.
Make them understand that you really, really appreciate them as professionals and that you would be in big trouble without their contribution (which is mostly true).
By the way: Formal power or a manager role doesn’t play a big role in getting things done. I am also a formal manager of our technical team (10 people). Still, I made sure to constantly motivate my own team just the same as external people over whom I didn’t have any formal power.
By being nice, you get things done. By being an a*hole, you probably won’t. Manager or not.
I’ve seen many of our team members apply this same technique every day – not just me. I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.
Being nice also gets you out of trouble many times. Fixing a bug in a customer’s environment involves a lot more than just fixing the bug. If you let the customer know how important they are and how embarrassed you feel about the bug, it makes it a lot more probable that they´ll accept the fix.
I have to mention in this context our dear customer Enerflex. They are the the absolute masters of being nice! I’ve learned a lot from them. They applied their “niceness” to our team during our project and were able to take our team’s performance to a whole new level! :D
Final word – Bonjour Montreal!
What makes life exciting is the constant learning. The next learning task for me and my family will be learning the French language as we move to Montreal next year. I look forward to working with our great partners and customers in the Americas. (And a little bit scared of those noise-cancelling headphones, I have to say!) Anyway, I’m sure I will always have a role in Valo product development as well – as a part of that giant innovation machine!