Ask an Expert: The Tools and Tricks Every Remote Product Team Needs Image

Ask an Expert: The Tools and Tricks Every Remote Product Team Needs

By Steve Johnson

This blog post is written by guest author, Steve Johnson, CEO and founder of Under10 Consulting and former VP and Founding Instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Steve is an author, speaker, and product coach.

In my first product management job, I was based in Virginia and my developers were in California.

Although it was a long flight—I could leave D.C. on Monday morning and be in the LA office by lunchtime. Of course, I couldn’t make that trip every week, so I had to adopt remote methods from the very beginning of my product management career.

In those days, traveling was a major part of the job—traveling to California for monthly meetings with my product team; traveling to clients for sales calls or customer discovery; traveling to our corporate offices for sit-downs with other teams such as marketing, support, and finance. Plus, trips for our quarterly product reviews with leadership.

How much of this can be done today remotely? All of it.

As my personal story shows, product managers and marketers have been working with remote teams for years. Many (perhaps most) product managers aren’t co-located with either their product or their marketing teams.

Of course, the current COVID-19 crisis is what’s top-of-mind in 2020 but there have been travel restrictions before during other national and international emergencies. And even if there’s no emergency, it’s often hard to justify the expenses of traveling to a client without a sales or support objective.

Sure, face-to-face meetings are best for bonding and team building but with today’s tools, you can accomplish almost the same result over the phone or via the web.

When I started offering remote training for teams a few years ago, my clients were delighted to adopt this approach for up-skilling and professional development.

Phases of Product Planning

Think of product planning in three phases: discovering future problems to solve, describing the next functionality for existing solutions, and delivering existing solutions to market. Let’s explore how we can accomplish the artifacts and activities for Discover, Describe, and Deliver without traveling.

Discover

Personas and their problems are the source of product opportunities—either new features for an existing product or entirely new products or services.

Customer discovery (or, as I prefer to call it, “market discovery”) entails interviewing and observing customers (including potential customers) about the problems they face in their daily jobs and common scenarios. Although perhaps easier in a face-to-face set up, you can conduct interviews using teleconferencing tools such as Zoom or Teams.

Set up a call with a client using YouCanBook.me or Calendly, record the call on Zoom, and then highlight key ideas using the automatic transcription from Zoom.

Once you identify a new opportunity, you can use an online spreadsheet to prioritize. Bring your team together online, share the spreadsheet, and assess the idea together. You can use the same technique for building your product roadmap.

Describe

Write your stories and their acceptance criteria as a team. As Ron Jeffries recommends, a story has three parts: the “card,” the “conversation,” and the “confirmation.” Use your teleconferencing tool to describe the problems and their personas and use a shared tool, perhaps Jira, Google docs, or Word, to revise the story and document the acceptance criteria.

Stories need to be prioritized. Whether you’re using Google Sheets or a SaaS tool, bring your team together in an online session and go through the stories as a team.

Potential solutions usually need to be validated. Whether you use A/B testing on landing pages or just want to share a prototype, connect with your customers using a conferencing tool and walk them through your planned solution.

Deliver

The final phase—preparing to deliver to market—is ideal for remote workers. If you have a formal market launch planned, you and your marketing team can compose a shared document that details each of the deliverables for the product launch. If your sales and services teams are already remote, plan on conducting sales and technical training using your conferencing tool.

Conclusion

Product management and marketing are suited to a remote workstyle. Your customers are glad to engage online. Set aside time for online discussions with your executives, developers, marketers, sales teams, and other stakeholders to keep them updated on plans and roadmaps.

And set aside one day each week for thinking and learning. I call it “the product professional’s productivity day.” Book it as a full-day recurring event on your calendar now so you always have time to do the most important part of your job.

Tools I Use

  • YouCanBook.me or Calendly for scheduling discussions
  • Zoom or Teams for conducting real-time meetings
  • Mural or Miro for real-time whiteboarding
  • Teams or Slack for on-going discussions
  • Google Drive or SharePoint for sharing documents with teams
SJ
Steve Johnson Steve Johnson is an author, speaker, and product coach using modern methods to move products from idea to market. His approach is based on the belief that minimal process and simple templates result in a nimble product team. I’ve described a nimble planning process from idea to market in my book, Turn Ideas Into Products, available from Amazon in print and Kindle format. Follow Steve on Twitter at @sjohnson717 and LinkedIn at in/sjohnson717

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