Remote First Product Leadership
For obvious reasons, 2020 saw us pivot away from our office bases to adopting remote-first work practices. Inspired by this tweet by @shreyas, here are some of the changes we’ve made to start to build a remote-first product leadership function.
Strategy and Vision
Over-communication has been the name of the game here. Jeff Patton spent some time with us towards the end of last year and one theme stuck out to me.
How does what you’re working on today move towards your long term vision?
Every member of the org should be able to answer this question. The role of PM leadership is to evangelise the vision, ensure we’re aligned, and make sure everybody can answer the ‘why’ part of their job.
At the PM leadership level, we’ve moved our ‘offsites’ virtual, increasing their frequency to monthly. These half days are not about reviewing performance, but alignment across the portfolio, ensuring clarity on how we’re moving towards goals.
We’ve always operated quarterly reviews across all functions, linking the day to day back to company-level objectives. These now take place online, recorded for others to view asynchronously.
Also, we’re more deliberately connecting individual team iterations back to objectives. This is in part about the repetition of strategy (always start presentations & documents by recapping objectives…), and in part about increased visibility. For example, our Trello boards now have quarterly goals clearly displayed, and the teams set weekly goals based on these.
The better we get at evangelising the strategy, the easier this gets at GPM level.
Within my product leadership groups, we’ve made good progress here. GPM and Dev Lead often act in an advisory capacity for product decisions, being drawn into the discussion when required.
We’ve also become more dynamic. Different roles and expertise are drawn into decisions when it becomes relevant, leadership groups are less static groups of individuals and more goal-oriented.
There is more progress to be made on more actively using the delegation matrix, and empowering teams to follow the framework as well as PMs.
Remote first has created more process around this responsibility. For better or worse when in office, a lot of the cross-org navigation and status communication at GPM level happened while making coffee or frequent wanderings around the building.
After some initial Zoom heavy pain of real-time updates, we’re seeing lots more a-sync co-ordination including:
- Easily visible internal roadmaps along with a documented process for adding/prioritising
- Short(ish…) lifespan shared Slack channels for teams working on cross-product / cross-functional objectives
- Weekly RAG status updates for team health
- A #remote-first tips channel for informally sharing good practice
- Far more written content, reviewed offline, before meetings. Hat tip to the Amazon 1-pager, they’ve been on this for years.
A significant part of my 2020 was also spent thinking about how we work. Remote first isn’t moving our office based style to Zoom, but going back and critically assessing our practices for our new environment. A cross-functional group have been looking at this, including defining success measures for the change across the entire org.
My coaching work has also become more structured in 2020. Within PM, 1–1s have agenda created in advance, development plans tracked quarterly.
A result of this focus is much more specific coaching and better support for it from the wider org. I may not be the best coach for a specific outcome, and now the outcomes are smaller and more easily time-bound we can draft in somebody to coach from other divisions.
And probably, as a result of improved strategy and vision comms, I’m spending more time on informal coaching across the wider org. This is proving really helpful for alignment, as well as supporting individual development.
Next steps, areas for improvement
Q1 2021 sees some new faces in product leadership teams so onboarding and evangelising will be important. My weeks are still quite meeting heavy so the other key area for improvement will be re-evaluating what needs to happen in real-time. With any luck, the ‘Daily Zoom time’ graph should demonstrate improvement here by Q2…