Infographic: The four love languages of product management
When product leaders want to improve collaboration in their organization, they often look to other successful teams for inspiration. Winning sports franchises, military units, other businesses, and even geese are frequently referenced by leaders hoping to stimulate new levels of excellence in their teams.
Yet there is one common and highly relatable example of an unbreakable, self-reinforcing, and collaborative team that leaders often overlook: loving couples. Whether they are buying a house, raising children, planning vacations, or charting careers, strong couples routinely set goals and work together to achieve them.
Relationship experts often talk about love languages – the different ways that a couple strengthens and enhances their partnership. Product leaders can easily apply these concepts to help their teams and the wider business collaborate more effectively.
Here are four valuable lessons about working together that can help your team build products that customers truly love.
Scroll to the end of the post for the full-length infographic.
1. Communication: Stories build bonds
When couples need to share ideas and build consensus for a strategy, they don’t usually create presentations filled with statistics, charts, and bullet points. Instead, one person will tell a story: about herself or others, about her past or perspective. These stories help her other half to understand what she wants to achieve and why.
The power of this approach is that it is personal – the best stories usually are. Product leaders are often uncomfortable with such intimacy, which requires them to be open and honest. In a role typically associated with having all the answers, displaying vulnerability is difficult. But in a world where 3 out of 5 product teams lack a clear vision of where their product is headed, it is essential.
“You admire a character for trying more than their successes. ”
Great stories demand a struggle. No one watches a movie about situations that run smoothly or characters with no issues. Whatever your customers are struggling to achieve with your product, or whatever the team is struggling with — put those problems into your story. It will be more interesting and relatable, and your team will be more motivated to find a solution.
While couples can keep their vulnerabilities between them, you and your team are part of a wider organization — your story can’t be a secret. Share it widely so everyone can work together on the solution. Remember to add some key results to the end of your story. That way, everyone knows what “happy ever after” looks like.
2. Acts of Service: Empower your team
Strong couples support each other’s ambitions and help one other become the best version of themselves. Being part of a loving relationship often gives each individual the security and confidence to take more risks and pursue bigger goals. Product leaders should look to provide such personal empowerment to each member of their team.
But it’s not as simple as telling your people to go forth and solve customer problems while delivering on the strategic goal of the business. First, you need to ensure your team has all the skills it needs to succeed. With the product world’s current talent scarcity making hiring the perfect candidates difficult, it’s often best to try and improve the people you already have.
“What have you as a product leader done to help each person get to where they need to be? ”
Just as every strong couple will acknowledge that maintaining their relationship requires work, so does building a collaborative team. Product leader and author Petra Wille has outlined a useful process for creating strong product people:
- Define what a competent product manager looks like
- Evaluate where each individual sits on this model
- Identify where improvement is needed and create an actionable development plan
- Commit to following up
Of course, highlighting the gaps in a person’s skillset can be a painful process. You must create a psychologically safe environment where everyone can speak honestly and make sure to bolster their belief while they work on their weaknesses.
3. Words of Affirmation: Take care of everyone’s needs
The lives of a loving couple are usually so entwined, it’s essential that each partner considers how their decisions, actions, and words will affect their other half. Being a product leader is similar, except that instead of simply accounting for the needs of one other person, you have multiple, maybe even 100s of partners.
Product leaders will receive demands, requests, and petitions from their CEO, head of sales, marketing director, customer support leads, engineers, other product leads and, anyone who feels like voicing their vested interest. While these needs can be varied and often conflicted, they must be heard, understood, acknowledged and, if appropriate, incorporated into the product.
“Everyone is a product manager with the responsibility to build a better product.”
The best way to manage the needs of all these other stakeholders is to get ahead of them. Rather than constantly reacting to random requests, make these key voices part of your product managemnet process from the start:
- Product discovery: Continually share the story of what you’re aiming to achieve and the details of your discovery process
- Customer feedback: Give everyone access to customer insights while making it easy for them to pass on feedback and see how it’s incorporated. A centralized insights repository is a good way to foster this type of transparency
- Product strategy: Never stop championing your strategy to any stakeholder who’ll listen and always seek alignment about your proposed outcomes
- Prioritization: Provide open access to your live roadmaps and ensure that everyone has the context for all your prioritization decisions
Like a good relationship, the path to Product Excellence often involves compromise. But the more everyone understands and feels part of your process, the more alignment you’ll have around your chosen path.
4. Quality Time: Foster better collaboration in the remote era
Good couples make time for each other. They arrange date nights, go out walking together, join each other at mealtime, and share morning coffee. These rituals are especially important if at least one of them spends eight hours a day in the office with work colleagues.
COVID has changed that dynamic for a lot of people. Now, work teams need to plan quality time together much more intentionally to ensure that the strong relationships forged during office hours don’t weaken.
“Don't try to simulate how we worked in the office. Write things down more and have fewer meetings.”
Many agile-based product teams already come together regularly for daily scrums and sprints reviews, and these ceremonies should be maintained. But simply having more meetings isn’t necessarily the best way for remote teams to collaborate effectively.
Instead of defaulting to Zoom, product leaders should try new approaches to information sharing, like the long-form memos favored by Amazon. Automating processes like categorizing and highlighting feedback and making it easier for stakeholders to self-serve information will also help lighten the meeting load.
When your teams do get together, whether in-person or via a video call, you’ll be able to focus more on the meat of collaboration instead of getting bogged down by process matters. Make time to check in on the mental health of your people – it’s a critical component of all good relationships.
“It isn’t a feeling, it’s a practice. ”
Being in love is an extremely vulnerable state. When you give your heart to someone, you run the risk of it being broken. But it’s the appreciation of this shared vulnerability that makes strong couples such effective teams.
Being a great product leader requires you to display this kind of vulnerability:
- Telling stories of struggle that show you don’t have all the answers
- Helping your team develop skills that may result in them outgrowing your nest
- Being open to the needs of others though you’ll never keep everyone happy
- Making time for personal issues even when it’s emotionally draining
It’s an approach that may make you uncomfortable. But like a great relationship, the magic that happens when a team and business works well together is always worth it in the end.