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Creating a Product Organization Within Your Business

Podcast host Tania Salarvand | Podcast guest Mike Varona
January 17, 2020 | 32 min 42 sec

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Brief summary

Companies no longer want to build just anything; they want to anticipate and respond to what their customers find delightful and exciting. Mike Varona, Principal Product Strategist at Thoughtworks, discusses what it takes to create a product organization within your business, to provide the best experience for your customers. If you are a leader wondering how to best support and nurture an internal product discipline, this is the podcast for you.


The Head of Product role is responsible for envisioning the holistic ecosystem of products and services within an organization, and choreographing the user experience across everything that they do. Companies no longer want to build just anything, they want to anticipate and respond to what their customers want and find delightful and exciting. The Product organization brings a deep understanding of the user voice, the business value and the technology landscape. 

The way we build digital products looks completely different from the way we have traditionally built physical products. With digital, it’s much easier to iterate quickly, to put scrappier prototypes in front of our customers. This allows us to get their feedback early and build it into the first product we put out to market. 

Product delivery looks different now. We’re not doing one-time big bang launches, we’re launching often. We quickly learn from how customers interact with our products and make changes on the fly. 

The Head of Product role is very different from the role of product owners and product managers. Less time is spent on the products themselves. You focus on being a servant leader to the product teams, unblocking them, empowering them to move the needle on business objectives, and managing stakeholder expectations across all the business units that the products are serving. 

Before beginning a product build it is crucial to do an exploration and ask why the product is being built and who it valuable for. This will de-risk building the wrong product and help an organization deliver value to their customers and the business itself. 

Successful product leaders are good at negotiation, influence, building empathy, active listening, and the ability to ask why, but in an appropriate way that leads stakeholders to really ask themselves the question and participate in the co-designing of what a product needs to look like. 

The best way to build up the soft skills needed to be a successful product leader is through pairing. Allowing product people to work with one another teaches them how to give active, relevant, quick feedback, and how to be supportive and build somebody up. Product leaders need to focus on building empathy and fostering social and emotional intelligence in their organization. 

If the business throws a solution over to the technology team to build, rather than working through the problems with a team, or if the user voice is not represented in the build, there is a definite and immediate need for a product organization or a product role to be played in some capacity. 

While it used to be a lot about building roadmaps, understanding plans and project management, product management is becoming more about understanding vision, bringing more alignment across the organization, and building transparency through vision and strategy

Startups build a lot of good product practices into their DNA and offer great examples of how we can build a product within our organizations, but large organizations can still find ways to introduce these best practices in a meaningful way. One example is of a financial institution who spun up their own innovation lab that functioned as a startup, with autonomy over the work, flexibility to innovate, and the space to fail. 

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