You’ve got products to manage! Customers to interact with, requirements to write, sales teams to train….executives to inform, marketing to collaborate with, and an entire company full of people who seem to have something to say about your next move – or perhaps your last one!
Cross-functional teams are an essential tool in the product innovation game. This team provides a venue for getting people to work together, thereby extending your reach across the organization. It pays to spend a bit of time establishing, leading, and managing the team so that everyone benefits.
Your fantasy executive team…..who are they?
Whether you have an existing product, or you’ve just been assigned a new one, think about the departments who need to work together. Make a list — who should have representation on your team? Look at your org chart if you need to, to ensure all departments are represented. I remember forming one of these teams and forgetting to have IT representation; the launch process was difficult at best, and delivery to market was delayed due to my oversight. Think across the entire company, considering even those departments who aren’t involved in your current project. You want to ensure that each department has a voice into the product, and that you have a communication path into each department.
The cross-functional team is your fantasy executive team. After identifying the departments, start identifying the individuals who should have a seat at the table. Invite these people, checking with the department head first if that’s appropriate for your culture.
Leading the Team
The product manager(s) are the leaders for this team. Recognize that it is your job to inform the team, motivate them, and recognize their efforts. Regular CFT meetings are your primary opportunity to establish the team, getting them to work together across the organization for the success of the product.
Arrange the meetings to respect the team’s time. For instance – the cadence should change, depending where you’re at in the product’s cycle. When you’re close to launch, weekly meetings probably make sense; maybe monthly meetings are more suitable if your product is established and fairly stable. Don’t just have a meeting to have a meeting – time them so that there is information to share across the group.
I recommend that you send an agenda for these gatherings. I’m not always in favor of using a prepared agenda, but these meetings include busy people from across the organization. Give them enough information to decide whether they’re needed (when they’re forced to prioritize their time) and to come prepared for the day’s topics. The agenda also allows them to get input from others in their department. Send a request for topics, 3 or 4 days prior to the meeting; and then, send the agenda out a day or two before.
A typical agenda might be:
- Review open action items (tracked with the team); update the group on progress.
- Status updates and questions
- Special topics, as submitted by the group
- Review new action items
A prepared agenda enables each team member to contribute to the best of their ability.
Run these meetings to respect each team member. Start on time, and end on time. Take notes during the meeting, and make them available after – this record is important for people who have to miss a meeting, and they also become a history of the team’s decisions and achievements.
During the meeting, enable open discussion. This is your opportunity to gather perspectives inside your company! Use some of the same interview techniques as you do in market interviews – stay objective, listen, ask questions, and ensure that each member has an opportunity to speak if they desire.
Summarize conversation and decisions, to establish a common understanding of the team’s conclusions.
The CFT: Your Fantasy Executive Team
This team is your support system, and a primary tool of success. Establish the team with good representation across the company, and inform them of their purpose and value. Prepare for these meetings, and lead the conversation. Document action items and distribute notes. Respect your cross-functional team! Share with them, seek their input, and listen to their discussions. A well-established team will propel your product toward the goal.