This is the fifth and last post of a five-part series on Product Management. Start the series here.

In my previous post I described how different mental models cause misalignment among colleagues and teams. Now I’ll share thoughts on a potential solution.

Available options

Many of the design tools and frameworks that I mentioned previously such as personas, experience maps, Indi Young’s mental models etc. try to get teams on the same page. They leverage the power of structured visual communication to align everyone. But the adoption of such approaches in the real world is limited. The tools and techniques are not well understood, they are only used departmentally, or are overly complex to create, difficult to comprehend and continuously update, and challenging to share with an entire organization.

By contrast, the recently popularized Business Model Canvas that Alexander Osterwalder introduced in his book, Business Model Generation, and the newer Value Proposition Canvas, are great examples of the value that can be created for teams when everyone envisions the same mental model in their minds based on an unifying visual representation of a problem space. The structure that the canvas creates enables everyone on the team to speak the same language and stay focused on the same areas. It is a great tool for initial ideation and early high-level product-market fit iterations.

Still, when it comes to really understanding individual customer segments, their goals, pains and solution alternatives, the canvas fails. Its structure lacks hierarchies. It’s static nature fails to support continuous iteration, collaboration, and usage in day-to-day product management, design and marketing.

For all these years, we’ve lacked tools and frameworks that would align teams and companies around a common understanding of the customer, her goals and pains, and available solution alternatives.

productboard’s take

That is why we are working on productboard. We believe that the world needs a smarter approach to product management. We envision a sound product methodology supported by a platform that provides a structured, visual view of customer segments, their goals, pains and solution alternatives. productboard allows everyone to norm on the same simple mental model, collaborate around it on a daily basis, and drive all product, design, and messaging decisions accordingly.

But you can start right away

We’d love to have you try productboard and we hope you’ll get started with our free trial, but here’s something you can do even without a dedicated tool for product management…

Align on a common model

Do anything you can to align everyone on your team. Be very precise about who is the primary customer segment, what are their key goals and pains, and how you are different from the competition. Pick any way of structuring and visualizing this information together in a diagram. Any structure is better than none. You can put it all in a slide deck, Value Proposition Canvas, or just on a whiteboard. It will be hard to maintain and change as you will learn more over time, but trust me, the time you put into it will pay off handsomely. Your discussions will be more focused, prioritization easier, and messaging more effective and easier to come by.

Win buy-in across the org

The one key to the success of your endeavor is to socialize your summary diagram with everyone. Go around the building and present it to all the teams who make, contribute to, or leverage product decisions. Make sure they always have it in front of them and that any product meeting is structured around it.

To align PMs, designers, marketers, and engineers, create a visual map of your customers, their goals and pains.

Be relentless about staying focused

If someone comes to you with a feature request, take them to your diagram and ask them what pain of what goal for what customer segment it’s solving. Similarly, when you plan a new feature launch, take your marketers and explain to them that you built this feature because it solves a big pain of an important goal that your primary target customers have. If an exec comes to you saying that you have to build the same feature your competitor just released, kindly point at your diagram and explain that this feature would be great, but solves a pain of customers that are not in the company’s primary customer segment. Be relentless.

Norm on common understandings every day

I have seen so many managers who spent so much time on a great user research. And they often had great success upon presenting the findings, but the success was short-lived. Without having the same model in front of everyone every day, individuals and whole teams slowly drift back to their old mental models and diverge. Don’t let that happen!

What other tools or approaches do you use to get teams on the same page? How do you align executives, product managers, designers, marketers, and engineers? I’d love to hear from you!

–Hubert