Do HR, Finance and Legal make products?

I work with a lot of product teams. These are the people who are responsible for the way an organisation delivers and captures value. That’s the definition of a product. However, these are not the only people in an organisation who make something. In fact, I believe every person in an organisation makes a product. That product may not be something tangible used by customers outside the organisation but it is certainly something that affects the lives of its “users.” Every process, policy, initiative or campaign is an attempt by someone in the company to change the behaviour of someone else in that company.

When the Finance team changes the expense reimbursement policy, they are launching a “product” to be used by “customers.” In this case, those customers are internal staff who incur expenses during the execution of their jobs. And the goal of this change? To achieve an outcome; to change the behavior of the staff who use that policy and the team who processes those expenses. When the HR team implements a new vacation policy, they too are launching their product. Their goal is to drive an outcome as well — a change in the way the staff behaves AND provide an added value for those considering applying for positions with the company in the hopes of increasing the number and quality of applicants.

The rallying cry of the agile organisation these days is “outcomes over outputs.” However, this mindset of continuous improvement, learning and customer-centricity need not be limited to customer-facing initiatives. In fact, if we want to introduce the benefits of agility to the entire organisation it’s imperative that we change the mindset of what are traditionally not “product-focused” disciplines. In the same way that launching a new product or service without testing it is highly risky, launching a new way of working, internal process or incentive program faces the same risks. What if employees don’t adopt it? What if they don’t behave the way we expect? What if we roll this out to everyone and it actually creates a backlash that impacts employee morale or retention rates? These are all questions that should be asked.

Example of a project from human resources, finance and legal that could be reframed as a product with a user-centric ourtcome.
3 examples of reframing “non-product”work as customer-centric initiatives with outcomes as their measures of success

Process changes, initiatives, programs and policies should be treated as hypotheses. Instead of saying, “We will implement an unlimited vacation policy by Q1 2020” HR teams must reposition their work as a testable statement with clear success criteria. “We believe that giving every employee unlimited vacation will ensure a fresh, healthy workforce and we will know this is true when we see a 20% increase in the amount of paid time off requested” is a far safer way of thinking about these types of initiatives. By simply rephrasing the initiative this way, we’ve moved the HR team away from fetishising the “launch of the initiative” and have focused them on the intended results. What if 20% more paid time off doesn’t happen? What if, instead, people take LESS time off? (which is exactly what happens with teams in the United States when this policy is instated).

Reframing the work of non-product teams as hypotheses gets us to the question “Why are we doing this?” much sooner than these teams normally would. It introduces them to the idea that they have “customers” and that the success of those customers is directly connected to their own success. It moves the focus off the delivery of the policy or initiative and, instead, to the process of de-risking the initiatives before they are broadly rolled out. It also forces them to get to know their target audience more intimately. Essentially, it provides a path to make them more agile and in doing so makes the broader agile transformation of the organisation that much more likely to succeed.


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August 27 – Turing Fest Masterclass – Lean, Agile & Design Thinking: Principles over process – Edinburgh, Scotland — Join me for a half day masterclass as part of the always awesome Turing Fest. This is a low-cost event so don’t miss out.

September 18-19 – Certified (Smart) Scrum Product Ownership (CSPO®) with Jeff Patton – Munich – Join us this time in a new city in Germany as Jeff Patton and I bring a modern, experienced and customer-centric view to product ownership and agile product development.

September 23-24 – Certified (Smart) Scrum Product Ownership (CSPO®) – London – 2 days with Jeff Patton and myself and a certification at the end of the class. What else could you ask for? 🙂

October 1 – Leveraging Lean UX to Lead Successful Agile Design Teams – Milan, Italy – I’m teaching my Lean UX workshop as part of the Intersections conference in Milan. Join me at this fun event and hands-on workshop.

November 25-26 – Professional Scrum with UX 2-Day Workshop (Scrum.org Certified) – Madrid – The new PSU course Josh Seiden and helped develop is coming to Madrid with me as one of the facilitators.

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