Collaboration in an agile world is so much tighter than in traditional ways of working. And it is not only with the development team, it is with multiple parts of the organisation. For example:

  • Customers and Users
  • Development Team
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Customer Support
  • Management

Let’s examine these one by one. But first some general advice that goes for all groups:

  • Have regular meetings with all stakeholders and make sure communication flows in both directions. You want to share what you are doing and why and you want to learn more about what they see as needs from their different perspectives.
  • Make sure everyone understands the decisions that are made and why they are made
  • Be as transparent as possible with everyone
  • Make sure everyone understands the current product and its benefits

Collaboration with Customers and Users

You collaborate with users and customers when you listen to their needs and you find solutions in a collaborative way together with them and your development team. If users and customers feel that their problems are heard and feel as important contributors to the solution you are both more likely to develop a stronger product and stronger community of supporters for that product.

Collaboration with Development Team

The Development Team is your family in the workplace. Without strong relationships and collaboration you will not be successful as product leader.

Collaboration and leadership doesn’t only go one way. You will need to let different members of the team lead depending on the situation. For example, in a discussion around understanding of a a certain type of customer it is likely that you will lead. In a discussion around best way to solve a usability issue you might lead, but it might just as well be a usability expert from the team who has the best skillset to lead the conversation. In a discussion around how to best scale the architecture to meet new performance need it might be a different person. In general, even if one person might, or might not, be taking more of a lead in a conversation, pretty much everything in an agile world is a team conversation rather than an individual decision. That’s how high performing and strong self-organizing teams are created.

There are a number of things that are useful to understand to help build strong collaboration with the Development Team:

  • Self-organizing cross-functional teams
  • Practices to support team decisions and team involvement
  • What motivates people?

Collaboration with Sales

Sales are meeting a lot of customers and prospects and are one of your best channels to understanding of customers and end-users. Therefor it is imperative that you build a strong collaboration with sales people in the organisation. It is also challenging, because individual sales people will always want to build features for their specific customers and prospects so they can close that sale or make that major customer happy. This might not always be the best investment from a holistic stand-point, but sales people will most of the time have a bias towards what they see and what will benefit them personally. Sometimes it can be a matter of very substantial personal money for them if there is a strong commission program in the company. So saying no to their features can be upsetting. So how do you deal with this challenge? Here is some advice:

  • Always listen and understand first – you shouldn’t have an opinion until you thoroughly understand the real need (behind the solution which is usually the first thing you will be told)
  • If it seems like it could potentially be important and you don’t thoroughly understand it, make sure you can discuss directly with the user (with sales present if they prefer to)
  • Make sure they understand why you are prioritizing something else for the greater good of the company – it is worth spending time on this to keep a good collaboration!
  • Sometimes get feedback on customer and user needs from the sales team in group sessions so they can see what other customers are asking for
  • Help make sales people see the bigger picture by regularly meeting with them and explain what you are doing and why
  • Make sure sales fully understand the product and it’s benefits

Collaboration with Marketing

If you have a marketing department it is likely that they will be responsible for marketing material and activities. You will need very close collaboration to make sure you are fully aligned on benefits of the product, target customers, messaging etc. You can also learn a lot from marketing if they are doing follow up on campaigns and marketing activities to better understand what is working and what is not and how the product can be improved to help create better results.

Collaboration with Customer Support

The support staff sees a lot of the issues and challenges that users have with the product and usually have a lot of suggestions on how the product can be improved. Make sure you have a strong collaboration. You likely want to meet with support in group sessions on a regular basis. Also make sure they are always aware when you are launching fixes to issues that they have reported so they can communicate with customers in a good way.

Collaboration with Management

Collaboration with Management can sometimes be challenging. Sometimes managers have strong opinions that are not always combined with a detailed understanding of the situation. They might not be talking to users on a regular basis (or at all) and they might not have intimate knowledge of the product. Some advice on how to collaborate with management:

  • Always keep your cool. It is easy to get upset when someone who clearly don’t know what they are talking about are trying to bully you to do things you know are not the best options, but even so, nothing will be gained by losing your temper.
  • Let facts do the convincing for you. Back up your arguments with usage data and user insights. If you don’t yet have this information, make sure to get it so discussion can be continued with less internal opinions and more real world data.
  • The strategic direction of the product might sometimes be an upper management decision rather than an individual product leader decision. This is OK and you might need to accept that some decisions are not yours to take. But if you don’t agree with the decision make sure you fully understand the rationale behind it and that upper management fully understands your view before committing to the decision.
  • Make sure you always have authority to make tactical product decisions without asking anyone. If you can’t do this you are not a product leader, you are a team administrator and this is not helpful for anyone. In an agile world what the development team does on a weekly basis absolutely needs to be taken within the team (which you are part of).
  • Be understanding of the fact that most of the time you are a steward of someone elses money and it is natural that they deeply want to understand and trust that you are caring for that money in the best possible way. Always be respectful and transparent.