In the last three full-time roles that I’ve had, I’ve taken on the role of the very first official product person within the organization.
With that role comes a need to not only set up the processes and expectations for managing product management within the organization but also support any people who join the product team after you.
I came at these roles with a large amount of software product experience and have been able to fulfill the role, but I know there are many organizations out there where experienced product voices aren’t available to the product team.
Sometimes it’s because there is a limited amount of access to product leaders within the team, and sometimes it is because the team is inexperienced in product management, perhaps having transitioned across from other roles within the organization.
The good news is that it doesn’t require you to hire an expensive Head of Product to give some support to your team members. Calling on the experience of a product coach, for as little as an hour a month, can raise the overall performance of the product team and bring in much-needed skills.
If you’re considering hiring a product coach for your team, then what benefits can you expect to receive?
If you decide you want to bring some product experience to your team, you might not be in a position to spend $100–150k on a Head of Product to come in and lead the team forward. That’s a huge investment for many organizations when there are so many different areas seeking funds.
Instead, paying for a product coach for a few hours a month will be a much more achievable financial investment, with a range of further benefits.
If you operate with a relatively inexperienced product team, then one way to manage this is by investing the time of senior leaders, but as we all know, senior leaders' time is hard to come by.
If you can outsource this experience and guidance to an external product coach, then senior leaders are freed from some of the team development tasks, allowing them to focus on more strategic objectives.
I’ve worked in many organizations where the annual personal development review takes place and this then leaves the employee with a set of goals to achieve over the course of the year on their own.
With the introduction of a product coach to support the team, the coach is able to work with the individual and support them in meeting their goals, whether they be focused on specific activities such as product roadmaps, or on more general skills such as communication or prioritization.
From an individual’s perspective, having a dedicated product coach supporting you and being available to help you improve gives the individual a huge boost and makes them feel like a valuable asset to the organization.
“If the organization is willing to get an expert in for me to use as I need, then they must think that I’m worth investing in.”
When it comes to coaching, of whatever nature, the aim is to focus on the needs of the coachee. What does the individual need in order to improve?
However, having a team of individuals going off in their own direction might not make 100% sense to the organization, and so a balance needs to be sought with the needs of the organization.
Typically this takes the form of:
A core curriculum is what the organization wants to see developed by the product team. These might be more specific goals such as “developing a clear product roadmap” or “Improving the prioritization of work”, and all members of the team get support in improving in this area.
Alongside this would sit the specific needs of the individual, where one team member might have personal development goals focused on improving their product communications, whilst another might be looking at working on their ability to find solutions to problems.
The first step to improvement is acknowledging the fact that your product team might need some support that isn’t currently available with the resources available within the organization.
Once you’ve done that, contact a product coach and see if they fit with your organizational culture and ethos. Not all product coaches are created equal.
Once you feel comfortable with a coach who you think will put across the way that you want to operate as an organization (or even multiple coaches), then try them out.
Start with an hour a month for each member of your team and see how they feel about it. Over time, you can assess whether a) the individual is receiving a benefit, or b) the organization is receiving a benefit.
The important thing is that you should do something. It can be very cost-effective and is extremely low risk.