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Inflight #8 - Building a strong product culture: creative solutions from product leaders

by Hannah Bradridge17 January 2024 5 Min Read

Inflight is our irregular newsletter for people who know good product means good business. Hear from smart leaders who use product processes to push their organisations forward.

In Issue #8 we chat to product leaders from aboutbuilding and maintaining a strong product culture.

Now, more than ever, product people are being asked to make a case for product (🤯). Which is pretty hard when a lot of the c-suite still don’t get it.

So we spent the last couple of months chatting to product leaders from leading UK businesses to find out what's what.

Read on to learn what they had to say about building or maintaining a strong product culture – even when it feels like the rest of your org is against you.

What’s the biggest problem product leaders face when introducing a product culture?

You're not alone if you feel like you’ve been talking to a brick wall recently. Leaders at big businesses get it too: we’ve heard a lot that stakeholders “don’t understand what product is: they still confuse it with project management and think product managers just deliver tickets.”

How can product people build trust with stakeholders?

Something we heard time and again is that the best product leaders are storytellers. To bring your stakeholders along on the journey, you can:

  • Define a charter or narrative at the start of your role and use this to start each meeting: repetition is what it takes.

  • Use videos and play back user research to help bring people along the change curve.

How can product people get early buy-in from stakeholders?

Building trust comes from getting that early buy-in from stakeholders. One product leader shared their smart workaround for securing swift buy-in: “At the start of a product leader role, you’re measured in whether you’ve done the thing by when you said you were going to do it. So set yourself some easy achievable things, get them done, and don't get too hung up on the outcomes, because no one else is thinking in outcomes. Once you've done a few of these things, you buy yourself a little bit more room to do more product.”

How can leaders create a culture not afraid to fail?

Feeling safe to make mistakes is key to setting a strong product culture, but flipping the narrative on failure can be hard: especially in legacy organisations.
Try these tactics:

  • Lead by example, don’t be afraid to let your team know when you’ve got things wrong.

  • Pitch an accelerator group that you can apply different risk appetites and HR rules too.

What creative solutions can you use to further a business’s product culture?

It might seem counterintuitive but sometimes you just need to know how to play the game. Take this example from a product leader: “When hiring a team for a new product arm of the business, I could only get the role of Product Manager signed off by the HR department. So, to build the cross-functional team that I truly needed, I hired people like lawyers and risk specialists under the umbrella of Product Manager.”

What challenges should leaders focus more on?

If you’ve found yourself trying to justify the product function at your business lately, maybe try re-framing the metrics you’re working towards. We spoke to a product leader who told us they wished they’d spent “more time moving beyond business metrics into better product metrics. Because a product team cannot contribute directly to business revenue. You need them to focus on metrics that drive behaviour change, which in turn will drive business outcomes.”

Become a Product-Led Founder

Know a First-Time or Non-Technical Founder?

We created the Planes Product Playbook for founders who want to familiarise themselves with product stages, ideas, and exercises, so they can launch confidently with the greatest chance of success.

Get an overview of the process you and your teams might go through, with a bunch of very practical templates across Discovery, Experimentation & Delivery. In fact, it’s pretty helpful to anyone who wants to brush up on their product chops.

Incorporating product principles into your business doesn't have to be a big task, check out the Planes Product Playbook on Pitch.

Helping make Planes famous AKA shouting about all the cool things the team know & do ✨
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