Build an experimentation culture in your product team

On World Product Day (May 26 every year) I had the pleasure of hosting another ProductTank Sofia virtual event tonight. My guest was Merissa Silk, Head of Product, fundingport. Merissa has tons of experience in building product teams across the USA, Australia, and currently Germany. Some key takeaways from our discussion on how to build an experimentation culture in your product team:

  1. When you present a bold idea, get used to getting a “No” the first time around. However, iterating and revising might get you to the coveted “Yes”. (much like the saying “No” is not an answer but just feedback”).

2. Some common mistakes when trying to build an experimentation culture:

  • Not sufficiently defining what “experimentation” and “experiment” mean on a practical level. Ergo teams have difficulty in outlining the day-to-day activities they are supposed to undertake.
  • Consequently, the expected results remain unclear and undefined as well. So, the goal-setting process suffers.
  • Not including appropriate change management initiatives spurs resistance and frustration within the team(s). Adopting the new ways of working, therefore, becomes slow and excruciating.

Merissa’s algorithm for adopting an experimentation culture:

  1. Create a compelling vision and follow it. (one approach is to work with Simon Sinek’s “Why, How, What” method).
  2. Create a new vocabulary. It will help the rest of the organization take your project more seriously. The language (copy) is an important part of every brand. Your project/product carries its brand within the organization. A positive brand opens a lot of doors. A negative brand creates a lot of obstacles.
  3. Have a high-level plan with goals and progress tracking to inform and ask for approvals from your key stakeholders. However, don’t overplan to the level of becoming boxed in. One approach to detail your plans is the Build, Measure, Learn framework.
  4. Tell a story. When you are doing something new, you have to showcase your process. It’s not enough to present results only. Stakeholders might have doubts about how you got where you are. This may lead to resistance on their part. Instead, try describing what the team did, why did it that way, what other option you considered. Thus you can also use the opportunity to build empathy with your stakeholders and get more meaningful feedback.
  5. Learn to love “I don’t know”. Admitting honestly what you know and don’t know is an integral part of creating a culture of safety and trust. Combining this with a robust process for finding answers can also help you uncover valuable new learnings and reach your goals.
  6. Prioritize new learnings. An important part of an experimentation culture in your product team is to have a massive knowledge inflow. That could be done through devising quick and dirty experiments (e.g. online surveys). Your team should always be thinking of new ways to uncover hidden areas of potential learnings.
  7. Park the questions about the future. As your project gains traction it will show on the radar of many stakeholders throughout the organization. Questions will pop up left and right. Find a good way to manage this process (e.g. through a wiki and regular Q&A sessions) to avoid a massive time constraint on your team.
  8. Build a product team of T-shaped individuals, meaning strong expertise in one area, shallow one in another. This way your team members complement each other’s skills.
  9. Keep your stakeholders involved. You never know when you might need their help. 1:1s, team space tours, regular catchups are just some of the tools to achieve that.
  10. Have fun! A happy team is a productive team.

Below is the whole video recording: