Product and tech in perfect harmony: 5 steps to strategic alignment

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With business success in the balance, getting product and technology teams singing from the same hymn sheet is critical. Fail and you might very well write-off the hard work put in on both sides. 

A lack of alignment can be a big problem. Products that don’t solve your customers’ problems or enhance their experiences. Development that never quite delivers. Release cycles so long that, when the update finally drops, everyone’s already demanding the next big thing. It won’t just impact revenue. Reputation and customer loyalty could take a hit too.

So how do we ensure product and technology align…and fast forward to the right outcomes all round?

Spoiler alert: it comes from the top. A clear strategy (and there’s more to it than just setting an overarching goal) that defines what everyone’s working towards and how to go about it. First up though, you need to get the basics right: people need to know they can fail.

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#1 Create the culture…and innovation will come

That culture is important in achieving a desired business result isn’t anything new. Whether it’s implementing technology to drive digital transformation or rolling out a new system, process, or policy. 

It’s also the starting point of alignment between product and tech. The way we see it, it’s about giving teams the space to win. And about allowing people to fail by providing a safe environment where they know they can try things that might not work out – and that this is alright. It’s all part of the process. For product and tech, it means finding new ways to improve what customers get (the service or product) and the engine that makes it tick (the tech). As we’ll see, understanding on, and of each side, is key: one needs to know the other’s failures as well as successes to make the innovation cycle work.

#2 Think collaboration not conflict

And so to working together. Harder than it sounds when there’s tension between two teams that, by their very nature, work in different ways and need to focus on different tasks. And both of which are under immense pressure to deliver. From the tech side, a growing list of sometimes conflicting priorities coming from different directions: product owners, security, data governance, and on. From the product side, having to satisfy stakeholders from the CEO to sales, marketing, and finance, as well as having to factor in – who could forget – what’s best for the customer.

The beauty of building relationships between product and tech is that each starts to ‘get’ the other. It could be a regular product review meeting, a daily standup, or a Slack channel where engineers or product managers talk about the experiments they just ran. There are any number of ways to connect and make each team’s progress – as well as challenges – visible. Better still, widening the cross-functional team to include stakeholders from other parts of the business can really help both product and tech roles be understood and appreciated by the larger organisation.

#3 Make the objective simple

Sometimes the difficulty in aligning product and tech is the disparity between their goals. Generally speaking, tech’s concentrating on the pipeline and product’s focusing on the customer. But setting an overarching business objective is what’s going to bring them together. Boosting revenue? Increasing conversion? Whatever it is, it needs to be the same for both teams. This not only helps them pull in the same direction, but when incremental victories are had along the way, they’re shared by all.

#4 Don’t spare the detail in delivery

While the objective is best kept simple, strategy is a more detailed beast. And this is what’s often missed. Surprisingly, strategy is poorly understood by a lot of business leaders, and frequently confused with the simple declaration of a business target (see #3). So, what does – or should – a strategy really look like? For starters, it’s much more than a mission statement. It should encapsulate a clear vision of the expectations of each team – both what they need to deliver and the way they get there. That different teams should be focusing on different things is absolutely right. But they should all flow from, and work towards, your top-level objective.

So the key aspects, in our experience, of a solid strategy: an overarching concept, backed up by clear tactics for how to achieve delivery. A strict hierarchy with goals for each division. And a robust feedback loop that connects all the moving parts all the way up to the top.

#5 Choose your leader

While democracy has a lot going for it, clear, decisive leadership is what’s going to get product and tech working fluidly and without conflict. Not just setting the goals, but providing the strategy that will direct both teams on the right course to realise wider business outcomes. Where this responsibility lies will vary from organisation to organisation. The important bit is that there’s accountability, and strong leadership that maximises the considerable efforts of both product and tech.

If you’d like to chat further about anything covered in this blog, please give us a shout.