October 2013 Mini-Session

Posted on | October 24, 2013 | Comments Off on October 2013 Mini-Session

“The Factors That Make Product Teams Successful” with Ron Lichty, Software Engineering Manager and Product Development Consultant

by Dan Galatin

Ron Lichty, a consultant and expert on managing software development teams, presented a special breakout session at the October 2nd meeting of the SVPMA. Mr. Lichty is a coauthor, along with Greg Geracie, of a recent study on high-performance product development teams. The study found that there are five best practices that correlate to a 67% chance of having a high-performing team. By contrast, there is only a 2% chance of having a high-performing team if you don’t include follow these recommended practices.

The study was deliberately designed to take a broad view of the product development process cross-functionally. There were about 1,500 respondents to the study. Included in the study was a survey of product development methodologies. The adoption of agile development processes jumped to 30% from 13% the year before. Teams that indicated that they practiced a waterfall methodology indicated that they would prefer to practice “anything but waterfall”!

The first of the five success factors the study highlighted was to have a well-aligned product development strategy across teams. Most respondents reported that they did not have this. The second success factor was to have a business unit leader (i.e. the CEO in a smaller company or the general manager in a larger enterprise) engaged in the product development process. Product development teams benefit from an engaged leader by having regular communication with executives. In particular, an effective executive sponsor can remove organization roadblocks to success.

The next success factor Mr. Lichty discussed was having well-defined roles for product managers. Sixty percent of respondents indicated they had well-defined PM roles, 25% indicated these roles weren’t well defined, and 16% indicated they didn’t even have PMs! Another success factor was a robust team onboarding process. Most respondents said they relied on a “sink or swim” approach – only 4% indicated they had a team onboarding best practice.

The final success factor was spending enough time on the product launch cross-functionally. The study found that only 37% of organizations even assign responsibility for product launches.

Generally, Mr. Lichty found that the biggest landmines that product development organizations face are under-resourcing, poor handoffs of responsibility, lack of executive leadership, and poorly defined team roles.

Dan Galatin has over 20 years of combined experience in product management and software engineering. He is currently a Senior Product Manager at Keynote Systems and can be contacted at dgalatin@yahoo.com.