The Hidden Life of Information in Product Development
Have you ever run into a situation where the sales team sold a feature that doesn't actually exist? Or perhaps a new feature was released that didn't perform as well as expected because the development team misunderstood or misconstrued the customer requirements. These situations can be really discouraging for your team and can even have a big impact on the success of your product.
So, how does this happen? Where did the misinformation come from? These are important questions to consider when examining the product development process and how information is created and shared within it.
In this article, you’ll learn all the various ways to improve information flow throughout the product development process to prevent misunderstandings and miscommunication. We'll also explore strategies for identifying, sharing, and collaborating on valuable information, and how to structure your product team to support this.
Is Your Team Playing the ‘Telephone’ Game?
Do you remember playing the game Telephone as a child? The game is simple: a group of people sit in a circle and one person whispers a phrase to the person next to them. That person then whispers what they heard to the next person, and so on, until the last person in the circle shares what they heard with the group. The phrase at the end is almost never the same as what was whispered at the beginning.
This game highlights the hiccups that can happen when messages are passed from one place to the next, without being sure that the real information has fallen through the cracks.
So, is your team playing telephone? How can you tell? Start by asking yourself a few questions:
Do your customers find it challenging to understand your product’s features and functionality?
Is your support load quite heavy or does your customer success team spend a lot of time tracking down information in order to resolve tickets?
Does your team spend a lot of time in meetings sharing or repeating the same information from one department to the next?
If the answer is yes, an information problem might be the culprit here and it’s time to get to work on a solution.
Identify the Information Weaknesses in Your Team
If you think your team is playing the Telephone game, it's no one's fault – but it is everyone's responsibility to make a change. If not, you'll keep running into issues over and over again.
Luckily, there are many ways to course correct, and it all starts by understanding the types of information you create and maintain in your team, and how it exists over time.
The anatomy of information
Identify and categorize the types of information being created and shared within the team. By understanding the types of information we have, we can use that to learn where to store and access the right things. Some common types of information include: insights, decisions, feature sets, limitations.
The anatomy of information refers to the different elements that make up the process of acquiring, processing, and using information within a team. To effectively manage information, it's important to identify and categorize the types of information being created and shared. This allows the team to understand the information they have and where to store and access it. Some common types of information include:
Insights: Moments of realization that change the team's approach
Decisions: Choices made based on information
Feature sets: Define the capabilities and functionality of a product
Limitations: Specify the boundaries or restrictions of a product
Many more information types exist and understanding them will help the team create and access the right information and make informed decisions.
The lifecycle of information
This refers to the creation, collaboration, sharing, updates, maintenance, and archival of information. Some information, such as UI mockups or tech specs, may only be valuable for a short period of time. However, this information is still important to have at key decision points. Other types of information, such as the actual UI or product documentation, may have long-term value and be necessary to reference and update even years down the line.
By understanding this process and being able to recognize what information is short-term versus long-term, we can ensure that all valuable information is properly identified, collaborated on, and shared well by everyone.
How Big is Your Information Problem? A Few Exercises to Check
After identifying the types and the lifecycle of information in your team, it’s time to figure out how big of an information problem you have on your hands. Here are a few exercises you can do right now to check:
Ask someone in your team to track down a standard piece of information for you – like a feature description or concept – and observe their behavior. Count all the tools, steps, people, and places that they interacted with in their search and check the accuracy of what they came back with. This will give you a good idea of how many touch points there are for a single piece of information and where potential bottlenecks may be.
Look for Patterns
Keep an eye and ear out for reoccurring information pain within the team. Common complaints such as "We missed something in the build again," "I'm spending hours on support cases for this new feature," or "The sales engineers keep bugging me for information" can indicate areas where information is not being effectively communicated or shared.
Start With What You Have
When a teammate asks a question, avoid responding on the spot or in your own words and instead try to point them to a place where the info is documented like an internal knowledge base. This will help to ensure that everyone has access to the same information and can refer to it as needed. If one person has this question, chances are others will too. And if the information isn’t documented, it’s time to create it!
By taking these steps and regularly reviewing your information management process, you can identify and address any issues that may be hindering the efficiency of your team. Keeping information up-to-date and easily accessible will help ensure that your team can work together effectively and achieve your business goals.
Maintaining Healthy Information Through Process, Tools, and Habits
In order to maintain healthy information within our teams and organizations, we must focus on changing our processes, tools, and habits. Here are a few things you can do right now to encourage a healthier information culture in your team:
Be Open with Your Information
Open up your communication channels and make information accessible to as many people as possible. Obviously not everything can be shared company-wide, but if there’s no good reason to restrict it, then open it up! When your team has access to information, it saves you time and empowers them to solve problems on their own. Everyone wins.
Internal wikis or knowledge bases can be a lifesaver here. At K15t, we’re big fans of Confluence for exactly this reason: it’s easy to use, accessible to everyone, and it’s flexible enough for every team to be able to create and contribute information in the format they need.
Create a Single Source of Truth
Remember the telephone game where information leaked through the cracks when it went from one place to the next? Avoid that problem by creating a single source of truth and making sure everyone knows where that is. When something needs to be shared, always try to link directly to that source instead of copy / pasting the information from one channel to the next.
By using dynamically-linked and updated information as opposed to static information, we can ensure that everything is stored in one place and that we have a reliable, accurate, and up-to-date source of information for our teams and organization.
Create a Culture of Information Sharing
When it comes to information sharing, no tool or process is going to be effective without creating a culture around information sharing – and that’s where the real work begins. We can’t implement this kind of culture overnight either. It will require time and effort to explain, encourage, and remind your team why good information hygiene is important and the kind of impact that it will have on them and on your customers.
Here are a few tips to start creating a culture of information sharing:
See something? Say something! Did you see a chat thread in a tool like Slack or Teams where decisions were made or concepts were discussed? Did a support engineer resolve a customer problem that could occur again? Ask them to document it and share it from your single source of truth.
If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen: So many ideas are shared or decisions are made in the hallway, at the water cooler, or nowadays in virtual spaces like Zoom calls. While these are important spaces for innovation and connection, they can be detrimental if the outcomes aren’t captured and shared with the broader team. One way to avoid issues or misunderstandings is to ask your team to document these ideas or decisions in a structured way.
At K15t, our mantra is: “If it’s not in Confluence, it didn’t happen!” This became especially important when we moved to remote work in 2020 and realized how many decisions had been made or how much information had been shared across the lunch table or in the kitchen. Documenting in Confluence made sure these insights were captured even when we lost that in-person contact.
Keep it clean: A healthy information culture requires a bit of work to keep information up-to-date and accurate. One way to ensure this is to assign responsibility to the individuals who manage information in your teams. Encourage them to check on their information regularly, update things that are outdated, and archive or delete anything obsolete. Our team at K15t is constantly working to calm the information chaos that can build up over time. We know first-hand that it’s difficult to do, but your team will thank you for it!
Your Product Information? It’s Priceless.
Information is such a valuable and underrated part of the product development process, and teams should treat it as such. Miscommunication and misunderstandings can lead to trouble when enabling your team or supporting the product in the future, so it's important to ensure that information is shared and collaborated on by everyone on the team. By doing so, you can drive the success of your product, empower your team, and better enable your users.
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