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Successful product development requires cross-functional collaboration

By Padraic Woods


Oslo, Norway


Cross-departmental collaboration within media companies is essential to identity the user, editorial, and business requirements when developing products. Identifying and utilising key stakeholder domain expertise is fundamental to delivering on the company and product objectives.

Start-ups are naturally organised for cross-functional collaboration. The size of a start-up makes it easy for people with different roles to collaborate and prioritise tasks based on what’s most important for the user and the company at any given time.

The challenge is to try to achieve the same level of collaboration in larger organisations, where you have multiple product teams and departments, and, in Schibsted’s case, multiple media brands spanning different countries.

How do you organise product teams to ensure departments, teams, and the brand stakeholders are aligned and working in the most efficient manner possible on shared goals?

I have previously written about how the organisational planning methodology of objectives and key results (OKRs) can help connect company, team, and personal objectives to measurable results, making people move together in the right direction. It creates a clarity of purpose among all departments, teams, and individuals in an organisation.

Having shared objectives and KPIs are only part of the solution, though. An organisational structure can either help or hinder the collaboration between the different product teams and departments.

A typical product team consists of the following key roles:

  • Product manager.
  • User experience lead.
  • Tech lead.
  • Data analyst.
  • Developers and designers (including frontend, backend, testers, app developers, graphic designers, and researchers).

An organisation with multiple product teams should ensure collaboration between the different teams and roles in each team. Ensuring each team is aligned and dependencies within teams are defined and prioritised is important.

For example, product leads across teams need to coordinate potential dependencies and prioritise tasks based on the overall company strategy. User experience leads need to coordinate design tasks and ensure each design element confirms to the various brand manuals.

Product leads need to sync roadmaps and outline dependencies between teams.
Product leads need to sync roadmaps and outline dependencies between teams.

We have used some time to identify key stakeholders within VG and defined their expectations and how they can contribute to product development. Their involvement in product development varies depending on the feature, product, or project being worked on.

They are involved in:

  • Defining the quarterly OKRs and helping to form the key business, editorial, and user strategies.
  • Steering committees for specific product or feature development. For example, the user payment department is a key stakeholder in defining business model requirements such as how campaigns or the paywall is implemented.
  • Product development. Domain experts are actively involved in requirements gathering, defining the user stories, and hypotheses for which the product team develops tests.
  • Stakeholder interviews. Product teams carry out interviews with key stakeholders in relation to a particular product feature or release.

A stakeholder can be defined as a person who has a vested interest in the products or technologies developed by the product teams. She shares valuable domain knowledge and gives the product teams input that helps define the product strategy and prioritisation of tasks. And, if needed, she can support the team or allocate resources from her team to help during the development. She takes the stakeholder vision and strategy and aligns it with the product vision and strategy, always focusing on maximum customer and business value.

The stakeholders communicate key information and priorities from the commercial, editorial, marketing, and support departments with the product team. Company and departmental OKRs help to align objectives and priorities throughout the organisation, ensuring all departments are working toward the shared company strategy.

Stakeholders within media organisations can be represented by the following functional areas and their interest in product development.

  • Commercial — user payment stakeholder (freemium business model): She is interested in how paid content is fronted and integrated with free content, tracking of subscribers, and which content converts to paying subscribers. This stakeholder is also interested in when and why users actively or passively churn. She is responsible for aligning the commercial strategy with the product strategy, and for the bundling and pricing strategy of the locally branded products.
  • Commercial — display advertisements stakeholder: She is interested in how advertisements perform and are displayed, development of new ad formats, use of personal information to deliver more targeted advertisements, and tracking of ad campaigns.
  • Customer support stakeholder: She is interested in the prioritisation of bug fixes, notice of service disruptions, and feature request prioritisation. Customer support is dependent on technical help from developers in product teams to investigate issues that go beyond first-line support.
  • Marketing stakeholder: She is interested in aligning branding and promotional initiatives with the product strategy and roadmap. She is also interested in promoting new product features or new product releases.
  • Editorial stakeholder: She is interested in how the editorial content is fronted, presented, and consumed. She is also interested in the development of features that will enrich the user’s experience and improve the user’s knowledge and understanding of content.

Stakeholder management becomes more complicated when product teams need to develop products that must meet the requirements of multiple brands within an organisation, especially when each brand has its own stakeholders with their own opinions about what the product teams should prioritise.

The requirements of stakeholders with different roles across brands need to be aligned. Requirements should be categorised into features multiple brands are interested in and features only applicable to single brands.

Stakeholders in similar roles across various brands need to be aligned.
Stakeholders in similar roles across various brands need to be aligned.

Product teams need to take the user, business, and editorial requirements into consideration when developing products. To do so, they need to rely on the expertise of key stakeholders within organisations to help define the product requirements and contribute with their domain expertise.

About Padraic Woods

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