By Mike Gospe
There is an art to managing the dynamics of a product team — especially when drafting the market requirements document (MRD) and product requirements document (PRD). As former First Lady Hillary Clinton might say, it takes a village to gather, synthesize, and prioritize the many market and product requirements needed to drive this process. The product team leader (a product manager or marketer) who attempts to go it alone is destined to fail.
So how does a product team leader build a team and navigate the political and procedural waters to move them toward success? This article highlights five leading practices for ensuring the development and approval of a top-notch MRD and PRD.
The product team leader's role
If the MRD and PRD creation processes were equated to building a house, the product team leader would be the architect and general contractor. The team members are the subcontractors, with areas of strategic and tactical expertise similar to that of electricians, plumbers, and framers.
The product team leader oversees and coordinates the strategy, budget, and tactics schedule to move the MRD and PRD processes forward. Contributing strategic insight, tactical coordination, and leadership to support this cross-functional team and its goals, the product team leader does the following:
Sets objectives, strategies, and timelines for drafting the MRD or PRD.
Leads a cross-organizational team to synchronize priorities and efforts.
Identifies trouble spots.
Assigns action items to resolve issues.
Communicates status to the product steering committee (PSC).
Five leading practices
Although product development processes vary from industry to industry, some common best practices are used by almost every successful team leader. Incorporating them into a daily practice ushers the team forward, limits risk, and improves the chances of expediting approval to advance the MRD or PRD to the next step.
1. Build a core team of Michael Jordans
The creation of the MRD or PRD is a major undertaking, requiring skill sets and knowledge from people in all corners of a company. Success requires that the product team leader recruit the best players and then harness and manage these experts.
The roster of teammates will depend on what information is required by the MRD or PRD. But informed product team leaders know that a compact and knowledgeable core team is more valuable than a larger one with limited or questionable skills.
Depending on the complexity of the company or the product, a product team may have as many as 50 people or as few as 2. Usually, the core team includes individuals from product marketing, product management, support, finance, and sales. Other contributors can participate when needed, depending on the input that is required. For example, a team leader might enlist the help of a product trainer to discuss the implications of training sales partner organizations.
Successful product team leaders allocate time to communicate often with team members, seeking their perspectives and feedback and acknowledging their individual or collective contributions. These easy, but often forgotten, actions can keep the team focused and motivated to do their best work.
2. Identify stakeholders
Managing the organization's politics is just as important as overseeing the mechanics of drafting the MRD or PRD. Make sure you identify and court key stakeholders from cross-functional teams throughout the process. These decision-makers may be members of the PSC or other executive leaders whose opinions matter most when evaluating, agreeing upon, or disagreeing with the recommendations put forth in the MRD and PRD.
When dealing with stakeholders, don't assume that they know the product details as well as you do. Some team leaders make the mistake of believing that what they know is common knowledge throughout the company.
The most effective team leaders will routinely meet with individual stakeholders to gain their feedback or endorsement. This is especially important if there might be opposition to the direction proposed in the MRD or PRD. Team leaders can minimize the risk of failure by fostering open, direct communication to work out any issues in private — before presenting their recommendations in a more formal PSC meeting.
3. Track progress and manage the details
As the saying goes, "the devil is in the details." The best product team leaders are detail oriented, define and track key milestones, develop and distribute useful meeting notes, and communicate often with team members.
This does not mean micromanaging. Far from it. Instead, it's best to know how and when to delegate assignments. Assign owners for specific parts of the MRD and PRD according to the information needed to create a comprehensive message. For example, the team leader may ask a finance manager to provide a cost-benefit analysis or a pricing matrix for the MRD.
4. Drive the presentation to the PSC
Obtaining a decision from the PSC is crucial, even if the decision is that more information is needed. Unfortunately, most PSC presentations are unstructured or are a collection of loosely linked facts, histories, and recommendations that fail to promote a productive review session.
Success demands use of a clear format for presenting recommendations and status to the PSC. A tightly focused presentation will be crisp, to the point, and outline the following components:
A single, clear objective for the PSC meeting.
Acknowledgment of PSC members and other leaders who have commented on or endorsed any recommendations the team leader is about to present.
A structured agenda for the meeting.
Technical information presented in a logical, easy-to-follow format, using as few slides as possible.
A final slide summarizing actions or decisions required from the PSC to move the project forward.
5. Know when the team's job is done
With the acceptance of the MRD or PRD, the product team can be disbanded. When team leaders extend the life of the product team unnecessarily, or begin giving the team operational duties and responsibilities, you may witness quiet rebellion. Team members may object to additional meeting requests, fail to follow through on action items, or complain publicly and privately about the process and the team leader.
Know when and how to disband the team after the final milestone has been reached. Celebrate the team's achievements publicly with management, acknowledge key contributions, and then cut them loose. That way, the next time the team leader needs them, the group will be ready and willing to give their best effort, when asked.
Putting it all together
When it comes to driving the development of the MRD or PRD, product team leaders need to navigate the management of cross-functional teams and organizational politics. Using these five practices as a guide, it's possible to improve the chances of steering the approval process toward success while enhancing leadership skills.
About the author Mike Gospe is a principal of KickStart Alliance, a team of senior marketing and sales leaders who help companies of all sizes strategize and execute crisp, targeted positioning and messaging, demand creation, and sales readiness programs.