What is Product Velocity?
Shipping great products fast is the marker of any great product org. Everyone celebrates the final product once it's released into the market. But PMs know that it's the quiet ideas that have been months in the making that are due all the credit. Product velocity is how fast those ideas go from concept to reality. How long does it take for a feature to be in the hands of a customer?
Product velocity can be broken down into multiple phases. First, you and your research teams want to validate your ideas as quickly as possible. Next, you might work with data teams to inform the feasibility of your idea. Then finally, you'll launch design sprints to drive the feature into development.
Velocity is the lifeblood of your product's success. “Fail fast and fail often” is Silicon Valley's mantra for a reason. The ability to quickly decide which ideas your team will pursue and which ones you'll bench is a competitive advantage. Interested in being first-to-market? You'll want to ramp up your product velocity.
Without direction, though, you could be going nowhere fast. Product velocity and direction are your favorite duo in a buddy comedy. Think of product direction as your product vision and strategy. Where are you going and why? What are your aspirations as a company? And where do those goals overlap with the needs of your customers? Too often we've seen startups launch feature after feature to no fare. To avoid collecting dust, ensure that you've taken the time to consult your customers and prioritize their feedback.
The more clarity you have on where you're going, the faster you'll be able to get there.
How to Inspire Product Velocity
Product delivery and velocity is an indicator of a well-oiled development, design, and research team. Hitting the key dates and milestones on your roadmap doesn't have to be a pipe dream. Timely delivery becomes a reality when you approach product management with a people-first approach.
When we speak to product managers we're surprised to hear that they view product velocity more as an emotional question, rather than a tactical one. The PMs that succeed in accelerated product delivery, we've learned, are the ones who prioritize the psychological safety of their team.
Product management can be filled with uncertainty. How you approach this ambiguity will inspire the confidence of your team. If they can sense the optimism and see it backed up with your actions and roadmap, they'll be more inclined to move a little faster. Accept that in the pursuit of speed a couple of potholes are sure to be on route.
There's a great African proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Although product velocity advocates for speed, we can't sacrifice long-term success for short-term wins. In order to pace ourselves, we must gain organizational alignment and buy-in.
Be mindful of the audiences you're speaking to and their capacity to support you. A detailed and clear roadmap can help bring multiple departments together. People are always a little hesitant to accept an ambitiously fast plan to market. Rightfully so! But when you're able to show you're thinking through a thoughtful roadmap, you'll gain the confidence of the people you need on your side.
In fact, the best way to gain alignment is to get it well before it's time to sign off on your roadmap. Collaborate with key stakeholders as you build your strategy and roadmap. This is a surefire way to capture an emotional investment from them before you need it in the boardroom.
So, how do you know if you're going fast and in the right direction? Make your efforts measurable. When you're collaborating with your teams, set metrics that you'll use as indicators of your velocity and direction. Once you've set metrics, identify who will be held accountable for hitting these. This shared accountability gives your team the cohesion it needs to run fast together.
The Challenges of Product Velocity
The first-mover advantage has a lot of allure associated with it. The rewards of being first are high. But so are the risks. What if you're first to the wrong market? What if the market is not ready for your solution yet?
Either of these situations can set your product team back. Not to mention that mountain of tech debt you'll incur. To avoid catastrophe, let's take a quick look at some common challenges of product velocity.
Challenge #1 - Competing Goals
Something as small as a minute design change to the UI can become a big blocker. If the design team you're working with has different goals or constraints than you, there's bound to be frustration on both sides.
Let the teams you're working with be your stewards. Ask them to give you clarity on their objectives and share any support that you can provide. You can take it a step further by becoming a little more fluent in their language. You might even be surprised to find that you have competing goals.
Challenge #2 - Localized Products
Scaling is a beautiful thing. With it, though, come the challenges of a clunkier product. For example, as you earn customers around the globe you might begin offering localized versions of your product. There might come a time when you're forced to move a little slower because you need to translate copy into dozens of different languages.
Budget for scale. You can still move fast, but there will be certain streams of your product that may lag behind a little. This is okay. Those customers deserve a quality product, too. Build out your timelines and manage your resources to ensure the localized versions of your product are headed in the right direction.
Challenge #3 - Interpersonal Issues
Going far together relies on the strength of your soft skills. Operating in ambiguity, as product teams often do, can lead to a lot of nerves. Egos can also be high in tech, unfortunately. When working with so many different types of people on multiple teams, a PM has to put on the hat of a mediator.
Lead with empathy. Energy and optimism are imperative to the health of your team. Keep your door open and your roadmaps transparent. It's always better to over-communicate at the risk of sounding redundant than to under-communicate and assume cooperation.
How fast will you go?
If you want your team to go fast, you have to go fast. Walk the walk as much as you talk the talk. Make sure that you're closing loops quickly when you receive feedback. When deliverables hit your inbox, swiftly review and hand them off to the dependent teams. When your teams see you beaming with energy, they'll mirror you. After all, you need your team to go faster and further with you.