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How to be a successful product business: launching new ideas & maintaining BAU

by CJ Daniel-Nield25 July 2023 6 Min Read

Sometimes we can be so bogged down in our day-to-day ‘busy’ work, that experimenting with getting new ideas out the door falls to the sidelines. If your business is stuck fixing bugs or maintaining your product, then you won’t be able to launch the new ideas that will keep your business ahead. 

If your business is struggling to experiment and launch new things, it probably means there’s a problem with how your business is doing product. 

There can be a common misconception that product is about delivering against a roadmap and getting features built on time, but CPOs know that good product is also about experimenting with new ideas. 

We chatted with CPOs at leading UK organisations and found out what it looks like when your business is struggling to launch new things. So what workarounds are CPOs using to get new ideas across the line? 

1. The battle for buy-in

There’s not always going to be harmony within the C-Suite. As a CPO, this can be your first big hurdle. 

Everyone needs to be bought into product because it should set the strategy for the entire business. We spoke to one CPO at a luxury fashion business and heard that “a lack of understanding of the product process among executives holds a CPO back”.

"A lack of understanding of the product process among executives holds a CPO back"

We also heard that conflict within the C-Suite frequently stems from tension between the CTO and CPO roles. Often the CTO is in charge of stabilisation and performance with more tangible outputs. Whereas the CPO is in charge of ‘new’ things, like customer acquisition, and growth. Plus they have to get buy-in for experiments that don’t have immediately clear outputs.

So what can a CPO do to get stakeholder buy-in? 

A CPO at a health-tech business told us he uses stakeholder mapping: “One way to get buy-in is to bring stakeholders along the change curve. One meeting a week isn’t enough. You need to understand where on the journey your stakeholders already are, then you need to find the common ground and come up with an action plan”.

2. It’s hard to sell something visionary

Do you keep getting harassed for returns on your investments? Chances are you’re not the only CPO facing this problem. One CPO at a fintech company said: “The hardest part of launching new things is getting buy-in for the more visionary pieces, the unproven product pieces”. 

A focus on ROI often halts new ideas before they’ve had a chance to really get going.

"Commercial teams will look at the numbers they see right now, and suddenly the success of your product is defined by the immediate data"

This focus on commercial success is particularly tricky when it’s locked to traditional and slow funding cycles. We spoke to one CPO from a leading high-street fashion retailer who said: “It’s harder to show the value of product and difficult to get the necessary buy-in and funding for product initiatives that may not show profit immediately”.

So how do you sell something new if your business is focused on short-term revenue metrics? 

A CPO working for an online retailer told us it’s about reframing what a good success metric is. “I wish I’d spent more time moving beyond revenue metrics, into better product metrics."

"A good product metric should measure behaviour change. So a good business metric for product will measure the outcome of the behaviour change"

Another CPO added: “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.”. An easy way to build confidence in product is to set yourself some easy goals, get them done, and then slowly progress to more outcome-focused things."

3. Teams aren’t comfy with experimentation

Businesses that aren’t comfortable with experimentation will often focus on BAU over launching new ideas as they see it as the safer option between the two. Mindset coupled with existing ways of working and administrative red tape creates a risk-averse culture. A CPO at one of the world’s largest banks told us: “Risk, compliance, and security concerns can delay the onboarding of new vendors or technologies.” 

But it isn’t just mindset that holds businesses back from successfully launching new things. When juggling BAU and new ideas, capacity is a problem too. A CPO in the fin-tech industry told us their team “doesn't do enough experimentation due to a lack of capacity”.

If teams are encouraged to be risk-averse and don’t have the capacity to test new things, those new things will never happen.

"When failure becomes scary, and teams feel they have to ask: is this working rather than what have you learned, you can’t create an environment where new ideas can grow"

So what can you do to create a culture not afraid to fail? 

One lesson we heard time and again from CPOs was to hire people with a product mindset. One CPO told us: “Hire people with a culture and mindset that aligns with product goals. Product Managers can be great for setting a good product culture. They can set up the environment to help other departments like the engineers.” 

A CPO from a leading UK bank told us another workaround is to set up a new arm of the business: “One way is to set up a separate team, more of a ventures business. This way you can apply a different risk appetite to the whole team. You can apply different HR rules, and hire different types of individuals.”

"One way is to set up a separate team. This way you can apply a different risk appetite to the whole team"

At the end of the day, getting new ideas across the line all comes down to proper prioritisation. And in order to get prioritisation right, your business needs to be comfortable making space for the risk involved in launching new things.

Getting product right at large organisations is hard. We’re on a mission to change that, so we’re speaking to senior leaders from large organisations like Lego, John Lewis and Barclays to dig into the challenges of implementing product within the unique constraints of their businesses.

Got a story to tell? We want to hear from you. Reach out to CJ for a chat:

I’m CJ, co-founder of Planes and in charge of all things strategy and growth. Coming from the world of startups, I want everything done 10x quicker than humanely possible—and I love my team for trying.
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