Product School

Empowering Product Managers for Enhanced Product Discovery

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Carlos González De Villaumbrosia

February 15, 2024 - 8 min read

Updated: May 6, 2024 - 8 min read

The dynamic process of product discovery within cross-functional structures is the cornerstone of crafting products that resonate deeply with users.

In order for product teams to solve hard problems, they need the tools and the leeway to tackle them. They need the trust and confidence of the entire organization. In a word, they need empowerment. This means owning the product discovery process.

Let's explore how empowering product managers and fostering cross-functional collaboration drive superior product discovery and development. We'll explore some real-world examples of successful companies that empower PMs through discovery strategy and organizational structure.

Empowering Product Managers to Own Product Discovery

Empowering product managers is pivotal for driving innovation and autonomy within product teams. By entrusting them with the responsibility to lead product discovery initiatives, companies pave the way for creative solutions and swift decision-making. 

Here are the steps that empowered product teams undertake during the product discovery process.

  1. Identify clear objectives and OKRs

Set clear objectives from the outset. Pair these with the metrics you will use to measure success. These can and will change throughout the product lifecycle, but they still need to be established at the beginning. 

Download the Product OKR template

2. Gather and Analyze User Insights

Deeply understanding your users is the cornerstone of product discovery. Employ a variety of methods to gather insights, including:

  • User Interviews: Conduct one-on-one conversations to dive deep into user needs, frustrations, and desires.

  • Coordinate with customer-facing teams: CS teams, account managers, and anyone who works with users regularly have insights into to user pain points that other teams lack.

  • Surveys: Reach a broader audience to validate the prevalence of identified needs and gather quantitative data.

3. Engage in Ideation Sessions

With insights in hand, organize ideation sessions involving cross-functional team members. Use techniques like brainstorming, sketching, and storyboarding to generate a wide range of solutions. Encourage creativity and defer judgment to foster an open, innovative atmosphere.

4. Prototype Potential Solutions

Select the most promising ideas and create prototypes to make these concepts tangible. Prototyping can range from simple sketches to interactive digital models. The goal is to bring ideas to life in a form that can be tested without stressing the budget.

When possible, test the prototype using both qualitative methods (like interviews and observation) and quantitative methods (like A/B testing and analytics) to assess user reactions. This step is critical for validating assumptions and refining your understanding of what truly resonates with your target audience.

6. Iterate Based on Feedback

Use the feedback from user testing to iterate on your prototypes. This may involve refining existing ideas, abandoning those that didn't resonate, or exploring entirely new directions. Iteration is a fundamental part of the discovery process, as it allows you to evolve your concepts based on real user input.

7. Align with Stakeholders

Throughout the discovery process, regularly align with key stakeholders, including senior leadership, marketing, sales, and customer support teams. Share insights, prototypes, and user feedback to ensure that the product direction aligns with business goals and market strategies.

8. Plan for Transition to Development

Once a concept has been validated and refined through iterations, plan the transition from discovery to development. This involves defining a roadmap, setting priorities, and ensuring that the technical, design, and business aspects of the product are well understood and documented for the development team.

9. Foster a Culture of Continuous Discovery

Product discovery isn't a one-time activity but a continuous part of product management. Encourage ongoing user research, market analysis, and experimentation to ensure that the product evolves in response to changing user needs and market dynamics.

Aligning around a common goal: the Amazon 6-pager

An Amazon 6-pager is a structured narrative document used within Amazon to present ideas or provide updates on projects. This approach is part of Amazon's broader meeting culture, famously eschewing PowerPoint presentations in favor of written narratives. The 6-pager is designed to provide a detailed, clear, and well-argued narrative that covers all aspects of the topic at hand, encouraging deep thinking and clarity of communication.

Before a meeting begins, participants spend the first part of the meeting (often around 20 minutes) silently reading the 6-pager. This ensures everyone has a clear and consistent understanding of the content. After reading, the meeting proceeds with a discussion based on the document.

Structure of a 6-pager:

While there's no one-size-fits-all template, a typical Amazon 6-pager includes:

  • Introduction: Outlining the purpose of the document and the problem or opportunity at hand.

  • Context: Providing background information, including relevant data and previous related decisions or efforts.

  • Proposal or Narrative: Detailing the proposed idea, solution, or project, including how it addresses the problem or opportunity.

  • Analysis: Providing expected benefits, risks, possible alternatives, and the reasoning behind the proposed path.

  • Implementation Plan: Laying out a roadmap for execution, including key milestones, resources needed, and responsibilities.

  • FAQs: Anticipating and answering potential questions or concerns that readers may have.

The Power of Cross-Functional Teams to Drive Innovation

Empowered product teams excel in the art of product discovery by embracing a collaborative approach and leveraging diverse perspectives. Through a blend of user research, feedback analysis, and agile methodologies, these teams uncover valuable insights into user problems and preferences. This user-centric approach ensures that product development efforts align with customers' needs and expectations.

Cross-functional collaboration is at the core of effective product discovery. By bringing together diverse expertise from design, engineering, and marketing, empowered teams ensure holistic problem-solving and innovative ideation. Involving them early in the product roadmap planning fosters alignment around a common goal.

Cross-functional product teams drive innovation and deliver superior products by harnessing the power of diverse perspectives and expertise. Through efficient problem-solving and streamlined communication, these teams navigate the product development process with agility and precision. By involving stakeholders early in the product roadmap planning, cross-functional teams ensure alignment and ownership, laying the foundation for successful product delivery.

In conclusion, empowering product managers and fostering cross-functional collaboration are essential for driving effective product discovery and development. By embracing customer-centric principles and leveraging diverse perspectives, companies can unlock the full potential of their product teams, delivering products that resonate deeply with users and drive business success.

Spotify's approach to empowering product teams

Spotify, the global leader in music streaming with over a quarter billion users, has been a prime example of how empowering product managers and cross-functional collaboration can lead to innovative product development.

They created a lot of buzz when they first published a white paper about their agile approach in 2012, and since then many companies have replicated and iterated on their approach.

Spotify has a unique framework known as "Squads, Tribes, Chapters, and Guilds" which is designed to foster autonomy while maintaining alignment towards the company's overarching goals.

Squads and autonomy

At Spotify, a "Squad" is the equivalent of a small, empowered product team, with a product manager playing a pivotal role. Each squad is tasked with a specific area of the Spotify product, such as user experience, playlist curation, or discovery features.

Squads operate independently, much like mini-startups within the company, with the freedom to define their own workflow and make decisions about product features based on user research and feedback. This autonomy empowers product managers and their teams to innovate rapidly, testing new ideas and iterating based on real user data.

Cross-functional collaboration

Spotify squads are inherently cross-functional, comprising team members from various disciplines such as design, engineering, and marketing. This setup ensures that all aspects of product development are considered from the outset.

For example, when Spotify decided to enhance its Discover Weekly feature, the squad responsible included data scientists, backend engineers, user researchers, and product designers. This diversity allowed them to blend sophisticated algorithmic recommendations with intuitive design, creating a feature that quickly became beloved by users for its personalized playlists.

Aligning around common goals

Despite the high degree of autonomy, all squads align towards Spotify's common goal of providing an exceptional music listening experience. When multiple squads work together, Spotify calls that a tribe. Each tribe has a tribe leader who ensures the different squads are in alignment.

This is achieved through regular communication and alignment sessions, where squads share insights, learn from each other's experiments, and ensure they're not duplicating work or moving in conflicting directions.

The role of the product manager in these sessions is crucial, as they articulate the vision and strategy of their squad, ensuring it aligns with the company's overall objectives. In fact, each tribe has a trio, which consists of a product lead, a design lead, and the tribe leader mentioned above. This trio is in charge of making sure the different functions in the tribe are on the same page.

While each squad has its own designers, it's also important that designers coordinate across squads to follow the same processes and best practices. Hence chapters, which are functional groups outside the squad/tribe structure. Chapters meet regularly to align and problem-solve.

Empowerment takes many forms

The empowerment of product managers and the integration of cross-functional teams are crucial for navigating the complexities of product discovery. We can learn from industry giants like Spotify with its agile approach or Amazon’s way of fostering clear, narrative-driven communication. Ultimately, it’s up to each company to find the approach that works best for the needs of the business, the team members, and the customers. That said, valuing empowered, cross-functional teams will undoubtedly help everyone collaborate to make great products.

Further reading

Check out these articles about product discovery and cross-functional teams!

What Is Product Discovery? by Amrita Mallick

Product Management Skills: Cross Functional Collaboration by Ellen Merryweather

Updated: May 6, 2024

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