Managing Change: 7 Steps for Smooth Product Development

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You cannot take a product to market all by yourself. Heres a rundown of the six stages required for product development—and seven steps for managing change to prompt the progress you need.

by Stephanie Simpson

Managing Change

Like the stages of grief, you have to go through similar stages in the product development process. Here they are:

Stage 1: Excitement.

Lots of emotion here. More magical thinking than critical thinking. Most people are wearing rose-colored glasses. The sky is cloudless. Life is good. Anything seems possible, including the likely opportunity of changing the world. “Look at this new idea! It’s going to be so exciting to start something new! We can really make a difference! Hurry up! How quickly can we do this?”

Stage 2: Reality.

The emotional tide has gone out. People are brainstorming and the sky has gotten cloudy. Rumbles of thunder. Second thoughts. Third thoughts. Foolish grins on everyone’s face. “Ugh. We have a lot of other things on our plate right now, and we didn’t make any room for this. There are not enough hours in the day. Should we be spending this kind of money to do this? Maybe what we’ve already got is good enough.”

Stage 3: Acceptance.

The storm has passed. The sun comes out. Possibilities emerge in the light of scaled-back ambitions. No need to change the world. Producing a successful product is almost as good. “Ok, this is the right decision. We have to make room for this in our schedule. We have to move more slowly than we originally thought, but it is very important for us to be doing this.”

Stage 4: Ownership.

Planning is hard, but working at it can produce results. It’s not impossible. The resources are there. Here are the pluses. Here are the minuses. Eyes wide open is key. “I can’t do this in a bubble if I want to be successful. I need other stakeholders to share ownership and support this.”

Stage 5: On-boarding.

Buy-in is crucial. Personal commitment is crucial. Agreeing on the big picture is vital. Agreeing on the details is even more important. The devil is in the details. All hands on deck! “Finally other people are with me and agree this is important too. They are helping make this work. We have resources assigned and ready to go.”

Stage 6. Momentum.

The plan is firm, the destination fixed. People are pulling their weight. Progress is incremental. Deadlines are met. “Things are starting to move and people are working in their comfort zones. Life is starting to feel normal again.”

Here are 7 steps to encourage progress:

1. Make champions at all levels.

It is imperative to have a C-Level champion to be successful, but it is just as important to have champions at every level who are helping cheer on the change. These cheerleaders help counteract the naysayers.

2. Onboard all new people.

New people are always coming on board. Take care to bring each new member into the team with thoughtful communication. A very good, concrete document that explains what the project is will go a long way in telling the story and getting people aligned with the project vision. There is a fine balance between too many and too few details at this point. Be sure to allow enough room for the new person’s input. The details should serve to confirm that the project is going to be a success and outline where they can help to further the process.

3. Let naysayers air their concerns.

There will always be naysayers. When you encounter a naysayer, finding the core issue and trying to come to a compromise is the best way to success. Naysayers can build a lot of negative press, even if it is just around a minor aspect of the plan. Naysayers are not your enemy; keeping them involved can help you achieve the goal.

4. Get everyone to agree on a roadmap to move forward.

When you come to a crossroads, get everyone together in person, so you can get all the competing ideas and priorities on the table. The main goal of the meeting should be to come out with a solution that works for everyone. You may have to compromise on dates, or scope, or budget, but the team should be able to create a roadmap plan that everyone agrees to and takes ownership of.

5. Give every person something to own.

Ownership is a powerful tool for change. Giving every member of your team a part of the process to own helps them feel more in control, and the project less overwhelming. There is always something someone can do, so don’t be afraid to get people involved as soon as possible and give them something to own.

6. Ask for dedicated resources.

One challenge of managing a project is that most of the time there are not enough dedicated resources. It is imperative that your C-Level champions help you prioritize the schedule. There might be an instance where another priority is pushed off the schedule to make room for yours. The meeting about prioritization has to happen. If you don’t become a priority, you will likely fail.

7. Communicate your direction and any changes along the way.

Last but not least, clear communication all along the way is extremely important. Any change in direction, regardless of significance, should be communicated. Something you think is insignificant can be very significant to someone else. It’s okay to make changes to the direction. In fact, there will almost always be changes in direction. But when the changes happen, communication at all levels will help people stay engaged in the process.

Stephanie is a Client Services Director at argodesign, where she leads cross-functional teams of Creatives and Technologists to deliver successful programs spanning the lifecycle of product design and development. Her passion is to help bring creative ideas to market through effective communication, selling, and management.  

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