This article is part of a series about the transition from being a project-based to a product-led organisation using examples from our own journey at Hatchd. We've already covered Shifting the mindset from project to product-led, Sharpening your customer focus and Choosing a company structure for product-mode.
This article delves into the people side of things, looking at what product culture is, why it’s important and how you can develop a culture that supports your organisational goals.
What is culture?
The word ‘culture’ is decidedly ambiguous, despite its common use. In fact, it’s so often looked-up that Merriam-Webster named it their 2014 word of the year. And while this article focusses on culture in the context of a company (which is just one part of the six different definitions you’ll get from Webster), it’s still not a simple word to define.
Company culture isn’t office snacks, foosball tables and beer on tap, though perks certainly contribute. And it isn’t the same as your mission and values, though it should absolutely embody them.
It’s often quoted that culture is who you hire, fire and promote. In addition to being a neat little quotable quote, this hits a very important point: your culture is not what you say you do or print on a poster and put on the wall. It’s what you - the collective team, from the top down - actually do and how you do it. Every single day.
So what is product culture?
Product culture is a particular type of company culture which enables and empowers teams to concept, create, deliver and maintain successful products. While there's no recipe for creating product culture, there are some common ingredients:
- Empowered, cross-functional teams stacked with diverse, curious, whip-smart people.
- An unabashed love of post-its, sharpies and blue tack. Although this is said a little tongue-in-cheek, it's true. They're product toolkit essentials.
- A strong respect for and reliance on data. You'll hear some variant of 'what is the data telling us?' during most conversations.
- Customers front and centre of everything. Their journeys line the walls and you talk about personas like they're actually real people. At some point you'll probably start to believe they are.
- The pace. Things move quickly and people talk and work with a sense of urgency (though it's a calm urgency, not a panicky hands-in-the-air one).
- Lots of collaboration but also solo work. Looking around the studio as I write this, about 60% of the Hatchdlings are huddled together in small groups of two to three chatting as they point at things on iMac screens and paper prototypes. The other 40% are wearing headphones (studio speak for 'come back later') while they code, design or do whatever it is they're doing. Things are humming and there's a palpable energy.
Why culture matters
Think of your team as a living body: vision is like the brain that decides what to do, organisational structure is like the skeleton that holds everything together and culture is like the muscle that does the work. Like the body, all three parts are vital. Even the strongest vision supported by a perfect structure will stall dead in its tracks without people living and embodying it each day.
Because culture influences what people do and how they get it done, it’s a key enabler (or inhibitor) to organisational change. So if you're wanting to go beyond thinking like a product team and start behaving like one, it's vital to cultivate a culture to match.
During our transition to product-mode, we leaned heavily on our cultural foundation and nurtured the areas connected to the behavioural changes we sought. Through this process, we fostered a culture that empowers people to work autonomously and collaboratively, be outcome-driven rather than task-oriented and maintain quality while delivering MVPs - all of which are critical to us operating as a product-led team.
How to cultivate a strong product culture
We put a heavy emphasis on people at Hatchd and are proud of the amazing team and strong product culture we’ve built. Here are five tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way:
1. Use your values; they’re a great way of assessing who to hire, fire and promote. And if you don’t have them, creating them is step one.
2. Hire people with the smarts to do their role (no brainer) AND who can teach you something new unrelated to their remit.
3. Map out the user journey for your people. This will help you understand and address employee pain points (hello happy, productive people) and identify opportunities to introduce and reinforce practices that support your desired product culture.
4. Ensure everyone from the top down never stops learning. It doesn’t have to be formal training if that’s not your jam. One way we tackle it is by regularly seeking and taking on work we’ve never done before.
5. If you want to adjust your culture, respect the process. You can’t just turn up on Monday, crank some 80s pop and declare that you’re going to start doing things a bit differently. Engage the team and work on it together.
Culture is a key ingredient for creating successful products but there’s no magic recipe for what makes great product culture. What works for one can flop for the next, so our advice is this: do some navel gazing until you have a very clear understanding of what makes your team or organisation special, where you're currently at culture-wise and where you want to be. Then, use this article and the millions of others you find online to gather some ideas and inspiration to forge a path that makes sense for you.
Interested in working with us?
Whether you have a clearly defined product brief or you're not sure wherein the problem lies, drop us a line for a no-pressure chat about where you are at and how we might help.