How product managers can foster better cross-functional collaboration

How product managers can foster better cross-functional collaboration

Product management is not a solo task.

Within the product org, PMs work side-by-side with design and engineering. Beyond the product org, PMs partner with marketing, sales, support, executives, and more. 

It’s a rewarding job. You get to build things together — taking something you’ve imagined and turning it into real value for your users. But working with so many different stakeholders does come with its challenges. 

One Productboard PM describes her job as being the captain of a boat without actually being the boss of the broader crew. You need to be navigating, providing context, and steering everyone in the right direction. At the same time, you can’t boss anyone around too much or they’ll throw you overboard. It’s a delicate balance, and you must learn how to communicate, build trust, and influence without authority.

To work more cohesively with stakeholders both in and outside your team, try these crowdsourced tips from real product teams.

Tip #1. Learn what drives your stakeholders

All teams across the organization have their own motivations and goals. Developers take pride in their craft. It pains them to write inelegant code, and they’re always going to want more time to get the architecture just right. Sales is driven by products and features that will help them close significant deals. CEOs want higher velocity and to increase the bottom line of the business. And product managers aim to get features and updates out the door faster.

To develop empathy, go the extra mile to learn what drives your stakeholders. This is an essential soft skill that will help you figure out how to communicate in ways that folks across the organization will hear, appreciate, and understand. 

Tip #2. Involve stakeholders early and often

Uncover fresh insights from multiple perspectives. Get buy-in early to ensure that significant resources, time, and work don’t go to waste.

Here are some ways to engage stakeholders throughout the product management process:

  • Establish regular meetings with customer-facing departments.
  • Have regular product calls where anyone in the company who’s interested can learn about what teams are working on.
  • Invite people to customer calls or share recordings.
  • Share relevant roadmaps with the right level of visibility with each team and give them the ability to check them on their own time.
  • Have regular roadmap presentations and Q&As in front of the company.

Tip #3. Lead with the why, and with customer insights

Go the extra mile to provide visibility into your tradeoffs, decisions, customer insights, data, and more. As obvious as it sounds, your stakeholders don’t have the context that you do! Share your thought process and bring them inside the fold. What were some of the most difficult decisions to make? What inputs helped you arrive at your final decision?

Showcase outcomes rather than outputs. Elevate the conversation from the level of feature requests and delivery timeframes (“Are we building feature X? When will it be available?”) to one of objectives and outcomes. What needs are you really aiming to solve for your customers and what goals do you have as a business? This applies to both business outcomes and outcomes we want for our customers. Outcomes are top-down and bottom-up — communicate that with your stakeholders. Articulate the customer needs you are solving for and model this outcomes-based mindset for your colleagues.

Whenever the topic is a specific feature request, ask them why they think it will help the customer and what needs it will solve. Pretty soon they will be asking customers these questions on their own, acting as extensions of your user research team.

At the end of the day, it’s about working with stakeholders both in and outside your team around a shared plan that everyone is bought into.

How the Kontent product team built a better working relationship with cross-functional departments

Martin Michalik, VP of Product at Kontent, has years of experience leading product teams and forging effective cross-functional relationships. He recently shared in our Product Maker Community how his team includes the broader organization in the product management process.

  • Kontent’s product team hosts monthly meetings with customer-facing departments to keep everyone up-to-date on progress. This fosters transparency, opens up the floor to two-way conversations, and builds trust.
  • A cross-functional effort was made to get rid of other tools and centralize insights tracking in Productboard. To achieve this, the team had to explain why they wanted to track everything in Productboard and how it affects the prioritization process.
  • The product team shares an internal roadmap and release plan documents that they update on a regular basis. These showcase what’s happening in product along with other important information like release tiers, pricing limitations, early designs, and more.
  • A shared chat is set up for product managers and customer-facing team members to discuss ad hoc issues in real-time.
  • The product team creates enablement materials for each new release, including a short video that captures essential information like use cases covered, the ideal customer profile, and future timelines. 

Through these methods, Kontent’s product team established trust and improved communication with stakeholders across the organization.

Homework: Choose one (or) more of the steps outlined in this post that you will commit to in the coming weeks. What happens when you learn more about your stakeholders and try to communicate in a way that’s meaningful to them?

Want to keep on learning? Explore more resources in our PM Upskills Lab.   


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