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Making Cross-Functional Teams Work

The toughest area of product management for many people is convincing others to do what needs to be done on behalf of your products. The ability to gain cooperation when there is nothing inherently in it for other people and departments is an art form. The best product managers don’t rely on coercive power; they make cross-functional teams a positive experience.

  • Credibility is the capital you trade with. Start with humility. Passion and credibility go hand in hand. Building credibility has to start with a focus on earning respect from engineering, product marketing, sales, and other departments with which you regularly interact. Building credibility starts by building trust. Trust comes from being transparent. Building credibility takes time; product managers often feel that they must be the "instant expert" for their products, when building credibility is much better accomplished by admitting what you don’t know and asking for help. Humility and honesty gain respect, as does asking for help and sharing thanks for getting it. Be sure to serve up plenty of recognition to those who help you, copying their managers on "thank you" email when members of other departments go out of their way to help you get to your goals. Start laying the foundation for positive relationships in which you earn a reputation for sharing credit and thanking others early and often.
  • Replace frequent cross-functional meetings with an intranet site. Respect the time of cross-functional team members by distributing marketing, sales, and business plans, specifications, and documents via an intranet site. Distribute links and ask for feedback, and hold cross-functional meetings only when there’s enough to discuss and it warrants everyone’s time. You can also use an intranet site for managing the approval cycles for documents. If your organization comprises team members across a wide geographic region, use meetings and conference calls for exceptions and have the workflows on the intranet site handle the routine tasks.
  • Create a buzz around new product introductions by creating Champion Awards. In one PC company that had to rely on engineering resources from another project to get its product line built, tested, and ready for launch, product management created Champion Awards signed by the directors of engineering and marketing, the general manager for the division, and the CEO. These were personalized by product managers and framed, and then presented the same week in which a member of engineering completed a task above and beyond his or her primary job in support of the product launch. Presentations were made at cross-functional meetings by the directors of engineering and marketing.
  • Under-commit and over-deliver on launch dates. With their product introductions, companies signal to the outside world how coordinated they are internally (or not). Major pressure to move launch dates up may come from sales, channel management, marketing, and at times even operations and production. Despite pressure to move up a launch date, keep schedules full of at least 20% extra time, because delays are inevitable.
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