As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of all invention and, of course, we all know that invention is integral to product development.
Necessity drives invention because the intrinsic need is so clearly evident and seemingly tangible. If I’m thirsty, then I need a way to pour copious amounts of water into my face. And since my little hands are not really great at scooping up water quickly, I’ll probably get around to making myself a cup. Alone with nothing but this very motivating sensation of thirst, it’s easy to discover the need, formulate a plan, and then act on it.
But what about alignment? An invention alone is not a product. It takes a team of people to implement the idea and get it to market. But how do we get a team of individuals to work as one? How do we get a team of people to all build the same cup?
We can start by being clear about the goal. The more detailed the goal, the more information your team has to work with.
The beginning of any project is a crucial time, and during this time, information is your most valuable commodity. This is when we have the most unknowns, the most risk, and the haziest vision of what the end product will be. During this period, it is essential to have your team on the same page and working toward the same objectives.
Providing detailed goals to your team members allows them to build momentum quickly, as they are able to construct more accurate internal pictures of the target product. And the more the information is shared amongst your team, the more likely it is that these internal pictures will align with one another. Once everyone has the same object in mind, your team can then work efficiently to identify the best course of action for addressing risks and investigating designs.
Here at M3, we are committed to defining project goals and success criteria early on, and we believe that the most successful projects are those wherein these factors are well defined and user-centric.
Our entire first phase of development is all about doing the research needed to help define these goals and establish agreement around them. In addition, we’ve also found that doing fieldwork and user interviews makes our goals more robust and durable throughout the entire development process. It’s hard to argue for the inclusion of some extra feature when interviews with your target consumers show that said feature isn’t wanted.
Having research-driven goals up front provides a basis for making informed trade-off decisions, helps redirect the team whenever they may venture out of scope, and facilitates more rapid development through improved alignment.
The next thing we can do is make sure that the entire process is transparent.
It behooves everyone within a company to understand the product development process, because this process isn’t isolated to engineers tinkering in labs and on computers. It’s a company-wide effort—marketing, shipping, manufacturing, quality, etc. The more that we all understand about the process, the more we can anticipate one another’s needs and set ourselves up for success.
When your entire team understands the product development process, they’ll also understand their unique role in that process and how they will, at times, be on the critical path. That allows people to gain a sense of ownership in their tasks, and it makes them feel included—like they are part of something greater than themselves. And when everyone is more aware of and invested in their tasks, it allows them to preemptively plan for critical items before they become critical.
On the daily
The last thing that buys us alignment is transparency in our daily activities.
In product development, the last thing we want is a bunch of surprises. Surprise! The chips on the pcb are overheating and catching our product on fire. Surprise! Steve changed his mind about the product requirements and now we have to add 3X the features in half the space.
Don’t do that. Open the lines of communication and embrace transparency. Make daily updates part of your product development process.
The pace of product development is speeding up. With communication so cheap and easily accessible, there is no reason to have multiple days go by without getting an update from your team. You may spend a few days a week repeating that you have no significant updates just yet, but there will be a day when a critical issue or concern will arise. When that day comes, your team will be highly equipped to face it—without skipping a beat.
To sum it up
So just to recap: Clear and Specific Goals + a Well-Defined Process + Frequent and Transparent Updates = Team Alignment.
Alignment is essential to producing high-functioning and adaptable teams. It’s also a huge strategic advantage. As greater demands are placed on product development teams, it is increasingly more important for companies to find ways to empower their teams to work efficiently and effectively. Just imagine what you could accomplish when your entire team is working in sync towards a common goal.