In recognizing that my internal team members did not have the time and/or expertise to help with a few of our upcoming and impactful product initiatives, I decided to reach outside the company and use trusted resources to temporarily expand my team.
My team has been working at full capacity and is focused on the exact right priorities to continue delivering strong product releases to our customers. There is always more work to do though and sometimes business priorities stretch beyond the team's existing capacity.
There are also budget constraints that are preventing me from expanding my team in a way that would help me address the projects that have bubbled to the top of the company's wish list.
What drove this decision
Good problem solvers can find creative ways to get around roadblocks. I was grappling with a backlog that was starting to look increasingly daunting and could not rely on the familiar and dependable resources that were tied up with other important work.
So I took some time to review the most pressing items and determined that there were opportunities to make short-term progress that would relieve a bit of the pressure. We could find the resources just outside the company's borders and engage the expertise we needed to catch up.
The decision: Recruit available experts from the company's extended circle of trusted colleagues to help tackle a few pressing product engagements.
We all know smart, dependable people and we try to hire them to permanently join our teams when we have the chance. But these are highly sought-after resources and it's not feasible to hire all of them - how many organizations need 5 senior-level specialists in given functional area? And besides, many of them have already been scooped up by other lucky companies and are happily employed in good positions.
But sometimes, you can catch these folks between gigs and if the stars are aligned, you will have the opportunity to pull them into your group, even if it's only for a brief period of time. I was fortunate enough to have several of those opportunities at the same time and decided to act so I could move forward with my product plans.
Plan of attack
I had been mentally cataloging important projects that were product-related but would not be easy to fold into the main product work stream. Most fell somewhere between must have and nice to have. So to improve my chances of being able to outsource these initiatives to interim resources, I adjusted the scope for each by decomposing larger efforts into smaller increments with shorter iterations to better accommodate less predictable schedules.
As I continued to network with smart product people outside my company I had been on the lookout for available resources with the specific projects in mind. This week, I was able to pull in some strong people to tackle a few of my projects. Coincidentally, each had recently switched into job hunting mode and were delighted to have some part-time assignments to fill the gaps between recruiting activities.
I seized the moment(s) and put them to work immediately to start these three projects:
Build a plan to move from proof-of-concept to prototype
There is a new product proposal that has been gnawing at me for the better part of a year now. I've written about it before (see here) as it continued to gain steam (see here) despite my attempts to slow it down (see here).
This is not the time to argue the merits of this particular proposal but in the spirit of compromise, I have agreed to take the next step in building a true working prototype from the previous proof-of-concept. I was prompted more by the additional learning we could achieve around the technical feasibility than I was in gathering important user insights from an interactive, UX prototype (that would most certainly come later).
I found a talented and credible Product Manager to lead this technical prototype project and paired him up with an expert from one of our technology partners as well as with one of our own Engineers. Collectively, we reviewed the project's scope and made only a few small tweaks to build a 30-day plan that was mostly likely to deliver the outcome.
Revamp product documentation
I don't think I'm stretching the truth when I say that the Product and Tech teams have collectively stepped up our game this year. In addition to reducing the duration of our release cycle to deliver more updates more frequently, we have also focused on pushing out more high priority feature enhancements that are based on direct customer feedback.
What we haven't done well is keep up with all the supplemental collateral that typically accompanies product releases.
What we haven't done well is keep up with all the supplemental collateral that typically accompanies product releases, most notably our official product documentation. There are, I'm ashamed to admit, deficiencies in our collection of knowledge articles with out of date material, flimsy coverage of major components, and complete documentation gaps around key new features.
So I asked a really smart person to help us out. She came in, took one look at our Knowledge Center and decided she would do more than just fill in some obvious gaps. I had asked for help in getting the team caught up - what I got was a proposal and estimate for overhauling the whole depot. Her plan was so impressive that it took me no time to get the entire project approved.
Several weeks back, I had pulled in one of these same folks to help me think through an analytics-related offering. The response to that deliverable had been overwhelmingly positive, both internally and with customers. Based on that success, I reached out to her again and asked for assistance in mapping out a high-level plan to get us to the point where we could actually produce those results in a production environment for customers.
She was the domain expert and needed little support from me other than to know how best to position the final recommendation and how to apply the appropriate polish to effectively sell it to my stakeholders.
Eventually, I'd like to expand the Product team to be able to tackle even more of the "product backlog" but these short-term engagements have allowed me to make some good progress in the meantime. Outsourcing work can be a great tactic when time or skills are in short supply. My own experiences have been positive, but a great deal of that success is directly tied to finding and securing great resources, inside or outside the company.