How product teams transform from leading change to being the center of it

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Almost every leader I have spoken to over the last two months has raised collaboration and communication as key attributes to success during the introduction or transformation phase of product.  

In my recent interview with Nine, I learned the company is fairly far advanced in it’s product thinking. Yet during our wrap-up, Ben Haywood, director of product at Nine, mused whether eventually it would be possible to “deliver even more value for organisation if, rather than being closely coupled [with other parts of the organisation], it was just tightly aligned so we could work a little bit more quickly and maybe a little bit more in isolation with clear ownership and trust. You are absolutely all aligned and working towards the same thing, but don’t need to have just so much communication and collaboration to get anything done.” 

Historically, newsrooms have been siloed from the “business.” However as businesses have become more complex and more distribution channels have arisen, this is no longer the case. The introduction of product raises questions of who “owns” what and — the holy grail — to fully integrate and remove any reason for being territorial.  

This change is often a structural and certainly cultural transformational. Anyone who has been through any form of organisational change will know that it doesn’t happen overnight and it takes time to bring people on board, let alone open up. 

Harvard Business School article on organisational change states that some or all of the following factors bring about organisational change:

  • New leadership at the helm of the company or within its departments.

  • Shifts in the organisational team structure.

  • The implementation of new technology.

  • The adoption of new business models.

Look familiar? A move to a product-led strategy is likely to encompass most, if not all, of the above. 

The same article lists the top skill leaders managing the changes need to have, including “the ability to communicate clearly and effectively — this includes actively listening to their team and colleague” — which is why this is such a critical skill for product leaders who are at the forefront of the change.  

During the transformation, there is likely to be a period of over communication and collaboration to reach a new status quo — one in which trust is built and new processes become a way of life. With product-led changes, a degree of this additional communication and collaboration must endure as it remains both central to the strategy of, and an integral part of, the organisation as a whole.

Noemi Ramirez, chief product and customer officer at Prisa in Spain, describes product as being “the cement in between the bricks” and believes it’s essential for product to have a holistic view of the organisation, bringing all the pieces together as a support structure.  

And Louise Story, chief news strategist and chief product and technology officer at The Wall Street Journal also describes her team as the “glue that holds it all together.” She firmly believes it’s too easy to slip back into silos and individual goal orientation. It’s therefore important when “you bring in people’s new capacities and skill sets — whichever pocket you hire them in — [that they understand] they’re coming in to collaborate with the others who are there, and we’re working together to come up with something that everyone can use.”

So is it possible to reach a status quo in which so much time spent on collaboration is necessary? In short, yes. The alignment and facilitation of a product strategy can become a natural way of being. Communication and collaboration will always be essential to balance customer experience with business goals, but the transformation itself takes an additional layer of listening, explaining, and communicating.  

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About Jodie Hopperton

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