By Simon Clarke
Product-led growth (sometimes shortened to PLG) has gone “mainstream”. A recent report by Product School reveals that 34% more businesses have adopted the mindset in 2021 compared to 2020, clearly indicating that it’s gaining traction as a key strategy to more effectively design, develop, run, optimize and monetize value propositions.
But what exactly is meant by “product-led growth”? To me, it’s a cocktail of platform, people, process and empowerment approaches that can assist you in rapidly developing ideas and solutions to deliver better outcomes for customers.
In this blog, I’ll share six tips to help you set some foundations to accelerate your product-led growth strategy.
Tip #1: Optimize your technology stack for continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD)
Depending on where you are and what you have in your technology stack, work with your technical counterparts to ensure your stack can support a product-led mindset. By optimising and automating as much of your technical environment, it provides you to discover, design and deliver value with minimal caveats.
Here are some initial approaches:
- Explore how you can transition to microservice-led stacks or something like Backend for Frontends (BFF) which help you better scale your digital products.
- Invest in testing automation to remove as much overhead as possible when developing new features.
- Ensure your product teams enable templated processes for security, privacy and other cross-functional requirements to allow your teams to focus more on the functionality
- Invest in the use of feature toggles to simplify the production testing and shakedown of your product while managing stakeholders and associated go-live risks.
- Focus on discovering, estimating and delivering thin slices (smallest technical effort to deliver customer value) of your product to reduce the complexity and effort of your backends and supporting services. This will improve speed to market.
You can read more on continuous delivery in this article.
Tip #2: Build end-to-end product teams and enable accountability
One of the key successes to delivering true digital products is to build autonomous teams who can be accountable from idea through to the “cheers” post go-live. This allows you to rapidly ideate, evolve, but more critically, pivot and respond to changing customer / internal needs be it design or tech.
Unfortunately, creating end-to-end teams that are responsible for product vision, design, and build is often a difficult business case to make. However, one way they can be achieved is by working with shared services teams to roster staff to your product. This could be done on a part-time basis to at least allow your team to secure all the end-to-end resources needed to deliver customer value.
Tip #3: Divorce your Project Management Office (PMO)
If your product features are being delivered as projects, you’ve immediately fallen into the trap of what a product-led mindset isn’t about. Although they are often a necessary evil, taking on the arduous job of planning and allocating resources, (typically on a project-by-project basis), their approach can sometimes present a number of challenges to PLG, such as an output over outcome mindset, rigid funding cycles, and not being able to resource your work at all.
That means you need to be able to effectively influence your PMO to gain greater autonomy. One way to do this is to strive for faster feature release cycles (i.e. deliver something in 8 weeks, not 8 months), and showcase your outcome over output mentality; demonstrate that you can deliver more “bang for buck.” In my own experience, these baby steps can build trust and encourage PMOs to give you delivery continuity.
Tip #4: Embrace product development rituals
Successful product leaders instigate discipline and establish routines. This helps ensure they can deliver quality customer value at an appropriate pace to meet customer demand but often (and more importantly), internal costs.
But what does good discipline look like?
- Embrace quarterly planning (with a stretch of smaller monthly planning) and test your bets/epics early. Bring the team together (preferably including key stakeholders like IT, customer service and perhaps operations) to review your bets, past performance, external trends, and facilitate rapid ideation sessions to create epics to take into concept testing. This allows for high-level cross-functional effort with early indicators of viability and feasibility to drive the planning and sequencing of future work post customer validation.
- Establish regular deep dive insights sessions. It’s important to incorporate qualitative and quantitative feedback loops at every step of the journey. Plan qualitative and quantitative success measures during discovery, and make sure you implement the tools you need to track activation, usage, funnel health and feedback on your releases. Also ensure you capture omni-channel insights such as chats or bot engagements to detect any issues with your experience.
- Always identify thin slices of a feature and plan backlogs accordingly. Once you have validated the concepts above, rank ideas according to desirability and then story map them to identify how you can deliver the idea in multiple releases. This allows for more concentrated design, and makes it easier to incorporate feedback loops and explore how a solution may leverage existing technology while new tech is built for future releases.
Tip #5: Empower yourself by building the right team
Building teams isn’t just about technical skills; it’s also about finding the right mix of soft skill strengths, personality types and levels of emotional intelligence. That’s why you need to invest time early and often to facilitate or coach your team via psychometric or personality testing.
It’s crucial that you build a comfortable environment where your team can share their strengths, growth opportunities and personality “blind spots”. Each of these frameworks can improve resilience, increase collaboration during periods of increased pressure and contribute to an overall improved team culture.
Encourage a feedback culture as well; this ensures all team members are comfortable being transparent and open about what is and isn’t working. Traditional business team retros can work as well as “speed feedback” sessions of 5–10 minutes with randomly assigned pairs.
As a leader, you should aspire to what’s known as servant leadership. This is a style of leadership that acknowledges its role is to “serve and protect” a team through listening, removing blockages, and constantly encouraging personal growth.
Tip #6: Empower your team by building trust with execs
One of the hardest aspects of any product manager is to develop trust with your executives. You need to be able to reassure them that your strategy, bets, roadmap and (perhaps costly) team of resources are working on the right things.
As you would with your team, it’s important that you also understand what lens your executives and sponsors take in terms of detail, personal interests or influence. This will help you use your storytelling skills more effectively.. Get to know their personality type and their decision making style — be it off the cuff, via committee or if they need to digest information and make a decision later.
It’s also valuable to involve executives often, particularly with showcases. However, you should manage the level of exposure to the product delivery process so that they don’t become overwhelmed, start suggesting random features or worst case, unleash their inner Hippo (Highest Paid Person in the Room’s Opinion).
Once you have attempted the above, work “sponsor” success measures into your thin slice releases to ensure you have structured the right outcomes for execs and their higher level KPIs. By proving you have delivered aligned value early and often, it will enable the trust and independence you ultimately seek to deliver on the company’s purpose or vision.
I’ll end with a caveat: the tips above definitely aren’t “overnight miracles.” Patience, commitment, and belief are required. However, by incorporating even just a few of them, you will eventually reap the rewards of accelerating your organisation’s product led growth mindset.