Done right, software development is a process that cuts across virtually all company disciplines—far beyond the engineering department alone. Even under the best circumstances, the development process can be grueling, often ending in missed deadlines, misaligned products, and poor sales.
That’s where the software product manager comes in, along with the mission-critical task of orchestration. Product managers are guided by the principle that software development is truly a multi-disciplinary task, reflecting the points of view of various departments and individuals therein.
We recently hosted a webinar featuring Greg Prickril, an internationally known software product manager and trainer, who answered questions on orchestration best practices for software product managers.
What is a software product manager?
Greg Prickril: Simply put, it is the person in charge of executing the strategy at the product level. This manager is responsible for the success of the development project from end to end. That means many things, such as getting the right product to market at precisely the right time and managing all costs such that the company reaches the defined business objectives. More than anyone else, the product manager is fully accountable for the product throughout its lifecycle.
What is orchestration?
G.P.: This involves the manager looking at the many and various individuals across the organization that can contribute to the product’s success, then making sure all their efforts are aligned and coordinated—or orchestrated, as we like to say. The key is knowing how to positively influence people that don’t report to the manager. This is done most effectively by referent power, namely leading by having forged positive relationships where the manager is perceived as a trusted, knowledgeable leader. The manager cannot be seen as coercive with these internal stakeholders, nor can the manager necessarily provide the usual rewards.
Typically, who are these other internal stakeholders?
G.P.: They come from virtually all internal disciplines. The core product team includes product management and development as well as QA and UX. The extended product team includes marketing, sales, services, operations, and support. Other stakeholders may include finance/accounting, legal, HR, research, and other project managers.
That’s a load! What are the keys to successfully orchestrating all their efforts?
G.P.: It is a load, but it is important to understand that, on average, no more than about 20 percent of a product manager’s time should be spent annually on orchestration. Any more and their other duties will suffer. So to make orchestration work, start with business motivation. That means developing an explicit vision, mission, and set of goals and objectives for the project. Be certain all these factors are defined collaboratively with the stakeholder. And have a clear line of accountability for overall success, resting with the project manager.
G.P.: Have a well-defined ‘participation model’ detailing just what each stakeholder’s responsibility is to the overall project. Without a clear participation model, you won’t have clearly defined orchestration. And finally, focus on engagement. This is where the referent power comes into play. The manager must build a base of trust and confidence within the team of stakeholders. For example, when engaging with sales, meet with the sales team not only to discuss the project at hand but also to give them time to talk in general about their top two or three challenges. This may or may not be directly relevant, but you will learn a lot that can be helpful later.
Any tips for engagement success?
G.P.: It is important to know where you are in the project lifecycle. So if you are close to actual launch, engage more with marketing and sales—the key drivers at this step. Remember, the tendency is for each group to think more or less within their own silo. It is up to the product manager to always communicate the broader vision and goals of the project.
How do you measure success of orchestration efforts?
G.P.: These obviously vary from stakeholder to stakeholder. With marketing, you can measure the timeliness with which critical marketing materials were delivered. What was the press response to launch collateral? With sales, are goals being met? Don’t wait until the end of the quarter to be blind-sided by poor sales figures.