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What Makes a Good Product Culture?

Manash Bhattacharjee

Head of Product at PepsiCo

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There Is Not Much Benefit in Having No Product Culture

When I joined my current company about three years ago, we did not have a specific product organization. As a product folk, the first question that would come to your mind is: what are the organization's goals, and how do you create a culture around it? This is one of the most common challenges among product managers and directors at startups or even larger companies. The bottom line of the problem is creating goals, team culture, and bringing people together to form the core competence of the product culture.

Set Goals and Create OKRs

One of the first approaches was to look at goal creation as a stack. In a stack, there are five competencies to create the strategy stack, and to begin with:

  • organization goals
  • organization strategies
  • product goals and visions
  • product strategy
  • roadmap

I followed this approach in order to ensure that the product was aligned with our mission and vision. Using OKRs, we set the seal on whether we are tying up all of that from top to bottom across all five areas.

To dig deeper into this, culture is formed based on several understood and written norms. On top of all of that are the product people. Good product culture is built based on the empowerment of the intelligent people that you would hire. Now the question is: How can companies hire the right set of talents and groom them accordingly?

Starting from the interview process for product managers, designers, or operations resources, we focused on whether they were customer-oriented, collaborative, and actions for advice. To close the loop, we also had an emphasis on diversity and inclusion — 60% of individuals in my team are either women in tech or people from underrepresented communities. Implementing such measures in both the hiring process and people development and grooming other people from non-tech backgrounds leveraged the route to create the product culture.

Talking down from creating a strategy stack that helps align the organizational goals to hiring people, we are halfway there to build the product culture. Once you have the people on board, there were three themes for our product culture:

  • We were very heavy on lean software development, an offshoot of any startup. We went to the market, learned from it to implement the strategies.
  • In order to improve the decision-making process, we created independent pods. People in product and design sometimes work more closely in pods than in their functions.
  • We also found ways to recover from the failures quickly.

Last but not least, we used post mortems, retrospectives, and open communication to recover from challenges. Ensuring that people were aligned with the broader prospects of the goals and vision.

Step in as a Leader When Needed

  • Once you have created a product culture, each team embraces the culture differently. While some can adopt good practices, others may struggle in agile. Always consider the concept of 5Ws, and try to keep digging into the root cause analysis.
  • Think about what you can do to address the issues at the moment versus how you can avoid them in the future. Identify an approach, and in the meantime, if you need to fix some KPIs, don't hesitate to go that far.
  • As part of the product organization, whenever we see that some specific failures are happening on a large scale in a team, and the team cannot fix it, leaders need to step in to get the team moving forward.

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Manash Bhattacharjee

Head of Product at PepsiCo


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