Effective Product Planning Requires a Whole Team Approach

By Andy Sio
November 21, 2017

Product planning is a difficult term to understand for many businesses because it’s so painfully vague. For a product manager, product planning can take up a great deal of your time and focus. After all, it’s key to making sure that you’re putting the right features on the market, at the right time.

From figuring out how internally-focused decisions should be made, to managing the tasks that are necessary to create a more successful product, there’s a lot more involved in product planning than you might think. Unfortunately, many product managers still think that they can manage the task alone.

The Misconception Around Product Planning

A lot of product managers and teams make the mistake of assuming that product planning is a simple activity that they only need to do once during a product’s development. For instance, you might hold a meeting with your stakeholders to think about what kind of themes you should be looking at for feature prioritization, or what your main customer personas will be. You might even hold a meeting to decide on the basic pricing structure for your product.

While these collaboration sessions are helpful, problems often arise when teams attempt to jump straight into execution mode, after just a small amount of planning, never taking the time to come back and re-assess their big picture decisions as they begin to gather more data.

The truth is that product planning can never truly be a one-time, one-person event. At any stage during your development process, you may realize that the realities of your marketplace have changed, altering the way you need to think about your competitors, customers, and company. That’s why it’s so important to think of product planning as a major strategic component of your journey into the marketplace.

Bringing the Whole Team Together for Product Planning

Product planning is, and always should be a collaborative process.

The trouble is, in the past, companies simply haven’t had access to the right tools and resources to make the process as simple as possible. As teams become more distributed and diverse, it’s more important than ever to ensure that you have a strategy in place for keeping your entire organization on the same track towards success.

With a collaborative product planning and prioritization tool, companies can now begin to break down the walls between different silos in their organization, improving their ability to create company-wide experiences. This means that as sales begin to notice changes in trends and patterns, they can inform marketing and product prioritization teams, telling them when they need to adapt their strategies.

A simple and organized business process catalog is essential in a world where preferences and customers’ needs are constantly changing. After all, the priorities you may have decided upon when you began planning your product for the first time might not stay the same in the years to come. You might gain new demographic data about your user personas or discover that customer surveys have begun to reveal new counterintuitive information on which features are key to your next release.

There is a world of scenarios in the product development environment that can demand that you will need to revisit the decisions that you have made with your team during the earlier stages. By taking a simple and intuitive approach to this ongoing process with the most effective technology, you can pave your way towards success, making decisions based on the most recent and accurate data.

The right resources can even help you to invite new members into your product planning team, allowing co-workers to review visual reports and information that might allow them to input a new opinion or perspective that had yet to be considered.

What Does a Great Product Planning Strategy Look Like?

So, we’ve established that product planning is a never-ending aspect of the product management cycle and something that you should do as part of a comprehensive team. Now, all we need to do is figure out what your product planning role should look like to help you make the most of your go-to-market experience.

To help you on your journey, here are a few simple tips that you can use to create your own successful product planning team, and culture.

Step 1: Create the Right Corporate Culture

The first step towards exceptional product planning is making sure that your brand embraces a culture that sees product planning as a persistent, team-based process. Perhaps the easiest way that you can do this is to implement a tool like Strategic Quadrant into your community, which can become a natural part of your company resources.

When you can persuade your stakeholders, your core team, and your organization that product planning needs to be an ongoing solution, leaving open the option to change direction and priority in the future, then you’ll find yourself in a much better position to create successful products, aligned to the needs of your customers.

Step 2: Focus on Frequent Communication Throughout Product Development

Product development should be something that happens naturally as you progress through the life of your business, not something that’s entirely restricted to your annual or weekly meetings. If you encourage your company to change it’s thought processes and develop a better understanding of the fact that product planning might require changes in priorities when strategic realities call for it, then you’ll get more done.

The key is to communicate more often with your team and encourage communication in return. Because the decisions that you make during the early stages of the product planning experience are not set in stone, and your team knows they can suggest changes as they please, you’ll end up with more imaginative, out-of-the-box thinking.

Your new frequent communication culture is likely to include a combination of regular short update meetings, and of course, plenty of the right technology to help you keep every informed and on the right track.

Step 3: Use Affinity Diagrams to Summarize What You Learn

Today, companies are faced with more information than ever before when it comes to making decisions about their product plans and consumers. Unfortunately, while this data is incredibly useful for helping you to make informed decisions about feature prioritization, it can also be difficult to manage when it’s lumped onto a product planning team in the form of a basic data dump.

Affinity diagrams and similar strategies can help you to organize the information your team needs access to in a more manageable way while helping you to decide as a group which factors are the most important. With an affinity diagram, you can summarize the data available to you, and use the information you gather to support your most effective ideas.

While there’s nothing wrong with keeping hold of the raw data that you find through your surveys and research, presenting that information to your team will require some careful strategizing. After all, you don’t just want to give your team a pile of information that allows them all to come to different conclusions. Instead, you want to work on finding the most logical conclusions from the information you’ve gathered as a cohesive group.

Step 4: Always Keep Your Product Planning Team Up to Date

Finally, if you’ve been following all the steps that we’ve outlined up to this point, then you should be in a good position to avoid many of the most common pitfalls that product managers face. However, the foundation that holds good product planning strategies together with your team, will be the resources that you use to keep your entire community up to date.

Product managers need to communicate regularly with their teams and give them a chance to weigh in on important considerations. Product roadmaps are important to help stakeholders and teams to see the big pictures. An environment that doesn’t allow for this communication can be risky, particularly when stakeholders feel as though they’re hearing about strategic updates for the first time.

Treating product planning as a part of your consistent, team-based go to market strategy, and keeping your team informed along the way can make the whole experience feel like a more connected event, where everyone has an opportunity to feel proud of and connected to the product developments that are accomplished.

Shifting Conceptions Around Product Planning

Use Customer Journey Roadmap

Ultimately, every team will have its own strategies in place when it comes to making the most out of product planning. However, most of the time, you’ll find that a business that plans as a team, is a business that accomplishes more for its community, its customers, and its stakeholders.

Sometimes as simple as keeping your team aligned during the product planning process can be enough to give a brand access to ideas and considerations that allow them to develop something truly life-changing for their community. In other words, it could be the difference between your company creating yet another “okay” product, and developing something that turns you into a household name.

In the era of customer experience, the product planning world is changing. Make sure that your team is ready!

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