A New Perspective on Continuous Delivery

Collaboration
Product
Internal Communication
Building a Team

2 March, 2020

Jon Fan

Jon Fan

VP Product at Box

Jon Fan, VP of Product at Box, describes how he formed a virtual operating team that integrated leaders from the launch and release phase of a product into the product development process.

Problem

The operating model between engineering, product, and design is typically a natural one. Time is spent managing handoffs with product specs, requirements documents, and much more. Unfortunately, that’s usually where the sequential flow stops. Once the product is built the second half of the work is actually launching and releasing it to the masses. Yet, there’s often a disconnect between product orgs and customer success, sales, or marketing teams. It is in this respect that I deliberated on how to align the entire organization, from building to releasing, supporting and implementing the product in a way that effectively eliminated the “game of telephone” between our front and back processes.
 

Actions taken

My goal was to build a team that encompassed all of the core functions of the product. I elected to test this concept in the area that I was working in because the product had a very clear-cut focus and a specific buyer. The team included the product manager, the product marketing manager, a member of the sales engineering team, and a member from post sales, usually customer success. From time to time the engineering manager would join us, although this was less of a concern. The point was to take these four or five people and designate them as the spearing committee for the product. This not only ensured that we were getting the full spectrum of viewpoints but that marketing teams and real-world feedback were included early on in the process.
 

For example, when we were going to beta we needed to think about how to ship out the product. The team came together and aligned around what items were needed to launch, the right set of messaging and marketing, and how that specific feature fit into the vision of the entire product.
 

From a product management perspective, there was now a whole group of people to assist in making the arduous decisions. If we needed something done for the sales engineering team, fortunately there was a sales engineer in the group who had been in discussions about the product for the entire ride. Because that person understood the product, how it was built, and how skilled engineers wanted to consume that information, we were able to cut and tailor the perfect fit. We didn’t have to train anybody or sit through a one-hour long meeting because it had already been worked through, the handoff had already taken place.
 

For the product manager the mindset was no longer binary. Even though the product had been shipped, the product manager was still a part of the steering committee. They continued to go through all of the deals, gave input on how to sell the product, observed the reaction of the folks that were in markets, and contemplated anything that could have been missed. It was a continuous feedback loop that focused on tactical problems in the field, product strategy, and iteration of the product.
 

Lessons learned

  • It wasn’t enough to simply get the group together in a room every two weeks. Sure, that was the first step, but then everyone was asking themselves. ‘What do we do?’ We found that we had to actually structure the cadence of the meetings much more than I initially thought for the team. To resolve this issue I decided to set a reasonable standing agenda. We focused on a couple of long-term goals, pushing for the vision we had on those projects and developing a read out from there. For everything else we had a short-term tactical weekly meeting where we received updates on execution and marketing. This structured agenda was tailored not only to an enterprise sales motion but also to the specifics of where the product was in its cycle.
  • It was best for us to establish a specific OKR for the team. In our case it was a revenue target. This allowed us to focus on what we were trying to optimize for. The OKR enabled us to measure progress against what we were doing and formed a tracking method based on what we considered standard.
  • With this method we have been able to connect and create relationships with otherwise seemingly disconnected departments. We shifted from adversaries to a tightly operating team. Now I can ask the product manager and the product marketing manager the same question and either one of them will be able to answer it right away. In the past, this wouldn’t have been possible.
  • This particular innovation involved a decent chunk of effort up front to make it happen, and we had to iterate on the model a few times. But once we got the organization operating in this model it became seamless and second nature. Now I can’t imagine why we didn’t do it before.

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