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Method Implementation for Cross-Functional Teams
How do you create a cohesive approach to product methodology when working with cross-functional teams? What is the value in developing a consistent language, vocabulary, and framework to a cross-functional organization?
Neal Watkins of BAE Systems gives us his advice based on his five-year experience with his product team at BAE and describes his newly defined processes, the importance of a universal language within a company, and how he’s learned that the correct input drives the correct output in regard to creating products that customers love.
As the Chief Product Officer of BAE systems, Neal joins Rebecca Kalogeris, VP of Sales and Marketing at Pragmatic Institute, to tell us his biggest takeaways and bits of advice for others on the Product Management journey. From leveraging a team’s core capabilities to depending on their functional outputs for success, Neal describes how he tailored his organization’s methodology and application to fit each of the roles that within the larger organization.
Rebecca Kalogeris: Hello and welcome to the Pragmatic Live podcast series where we tackle the biggest challenges facing today’s product management product marketing and other market and data-driven professionals with some of the best minds in the industry. I’m Rebecca Kalogeris, vice president of sales and marketing at Pragmatic Institute, and your host for this episode. And today we are joined by Neal Watkins, chief product officer of BAE systems applied intelligence and we’re going to do one of my favorite segments which is really digging into customers and hearing their journey. And so, Neal, Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got to BAE systems, and the journey that you’ve been going on.
Neal Watkins: Hi Rebecca. How are you doing?
Rebecca Kalogeris: Excellent
Neal Watkins: I’m good, good, good, good. So my journey really started some 20 plus years back, kind of as I kind of went out in software development started developing code on see BMS machines on DCM language, and from there I was fortunate enough to be able to rotate and flip between different product-oriented roles across software companies.
From pre-sales to consultancy to support to product management and product marketing and then into technical leadership roles. And that really kind of led me on my journey to, I guess, having exposure to both customers in a variety of different roles, both in a positive and a not-so-positive sense if you think about pre-sales, all the way through to product support. And it also gave me exposure to both kind of core products as well as new Nathan products as they were released or developed out to the market. So it gave me a real 360-degree view of products and product functions and really one of the key things that need to be delivered by those teams to really create customers.
Rebecca Kalogeris: The goal of all of us, and everyone listening, right, is how do we create Products that customers truly love – So when did you join BA systems?
Neal Watkins: So I joined BAE systems. About five years ago, and it really gave me the opportunity to take some of the skills and experiences I’d learned from Silicon Valley companies apart. Marketing. Marketing happens to be one of those kinds of capabilities and framework that we use with US companies and bring that back to bear for a folksy is the UK organization and really help them focus around kind of the key market categories of cybersecurity and fighting financial crime with his customers and kind of with the partners.
Rebecca Kalogeris: So when you joined five years ago, I, well, let’s start, to take a step back first. So when you say that that you kind of had product for this division, as we know from talking to people what role the product plays the product team plays what responsibilities there they handle various a great deal. So what in terms of the product lifestyle is your team focused on?
Neal Watkins: Yeah, so I’m really fortunate that I have enjoy and responsibility of products from incubation, all the way through to end of life. And I look across kind of strategy portfolio investments and kind of pull a product delivery, as well as future innovation and incubation of new products and new ventures. So I get a great kind of perspective across lots of different stakeholders, both internally and externally that all have a unique point of view around the market problem and the solution that we deliver
Rebecca Kalogeris: All horizons, really, in terms of revenue and. Oh, that’s great. And then so okay so when you started five years ago. What was the state of product?
Neal Watkins: The state of products, was it didn’t really exist as a product function. It had organically grown through our projects and programs and delivering solutions to customers. And it started to kind of think about how do we deliver these solutions to kind of multiple customers. So how do we deliver it to more than one customer? And it was starting to think about how do we recreate repeatable solutions that we can deliver at scale. And I think for me when I joined that was really the beginning of the products journey. And that’s really where we kicked off the engagement with Pragmatic
Rebecca Kalogeris: Okay, so then if you keep that thing element Pragmatic which we always love to hear what was it that drove that piece? Why was that an important part after the assessment?
Neal Watkins: Yeah, the strategic context back then was we didn’t have a consistent way of working. We didn’t have clearly defined processes we didn’t have clear job roles. We had different languages. And we had people at different levels of maturity in scale and capability. And what we really wanted to do is really bring the product function of the product organization all on to the same page and actually kind of give them a way of working, that really focused on driving the right inputs to a core process that then drives the right outputs that then hopefully creates products that customers love
Rebecca Kalogeris: So when you say there weren’t clear roles and understanding. And that’s a very common thing that we hear. Was that true internally within the product people on the team themselves as well as externally and how did you if that was the case? How did you share that information out with the rest of the org?
Neal Watkins: Yeah. What was fascinating joining BAE system in the UK is just kind of see what different roles individuals like came from the ended up in a product function. And we had people that came through as business analysts. They came through as project managers seven program managers, program directors.
We have some people on BD. Some people on marketing – a real diverse set of individuals. But nobody really came up through the ranks of Product Management, which is different from my experiences with Silicon Valley companies where you get people that actually pursue product management early on in their career, all the way through. So kind of this product function really didn’t have the product DNA of a mature established product organization.
But it has a lot of passionate individuals that really wanted to identify the right market problems to go. So, and actually, find a differentiated way to solve them for customers and made sure that that represented a customer group that we could then go and sell at scale.
So I think kind of this whole kind of area of jobs in job roles really evolved as we took on the Pragmatic framework and people started to get as a capillary, they could put around the tasks they were performing which they kind of felt like they didn’t have in the past because they were grounded in different disciplines.
Rebecca Kalogeris: And I think that vocabulary, having a vocabulary that they all share is so important.
Particularly when they come from different backgrounds, but it’s part of that setting expectations jointly and using words that mean the same thing to each other. So that if I say I’m going to work on requirements. You and I have the same view of what that looks like.
Neal Watkins: That’s 100% correct. And one of my favorite quotes from one of my product managers kind of five years ago was “if somebody had shown me this framework previously. I wouldn’t have had to make up my job role in my job description. And they almost felt like their job has been laid out for them. Actually, it’s clear. Now I should be doing it every week.
As opposed to trying to work out how do I go and build a product for customers. So that was really enlightening for me and it really amplified the value of bringing a consistent language vocabulary and framework to bear for our cross-functional organization that was working both within individual products but was also working across product lines and across our portfolio, where we were making both kind of broader investment decisions as well as kind of in product investment decisions.
Rebecca Kalogeris: So sounds like, well, you didn’t have a lot of experience people in the role you had a lot of passionate people. And that’s always strong, how was the transition when you started to bring in the training and the framework and the common language for them what are, what are some of the early wins that you saw, and maybe some of the obstacles that took a little bit longer?
Neal Watkins: Yeah, no, that’s a great question and the early wins really revolved around some of the templates and artifacts. That kind of came through the Pragmatic framework, so like the solution conditioning document and not really being clear on kind of market problems to personas again really being clear on kind of what the product marketing touches on and I think all of these different, small kind of micro items really helped to create some big wins in the organization because it brought the methodology and framework to life. But not for the sake of bringing the framework for life. It brought it to life in the context of the products we were building for our customers. And I think that was really some of the early wins.
And what we then found, is it kind of them became infectious across other functions in the organization. Which meant that the marketing team when they were building web content and campaigns and the sales team when they were building their sales decks and doing sales enablement – they to leverage kind of that single kind of page of truth around kind of what the problem what the problems are, what the product does and what we should really be leaning into is differentiated. So the capability into which buyer and then user personas.
So it almost became kind of a set of kind of core capabilities that then kind of evolved into different functional outputs, depending on the functional group. So I think that was some of the quick wins, we saw when we started rolling out Pragmatic, the first time around. So it almost became kind of a set of kind of core capabilities that then kind of evolved into different functional outputs, depending on the functional group. So I think that was some of the quick wins, we saw when we started rolling out Pragmatic, the first time around.
Rebecca Kalogeris: Great. And what about some of the things that were maybe more of a hurdle than you expected. There’s always something.
Neal Watkins: Yeah, yeah, no, definitely. When we definitely have scars and definitely a few hurdles that we both jumped over and fell into. So I think some of the biggest hurdles that we had initially was maybe not being cross-functional enough and whilst we didn’t keep Pragmatic secret. We focus the training on a core group of about 40,50 individuals that were really product management product marketing and product owners. And what we found is that there was a broader group kind of beyond those job roles that really got a lot of value from understanding the methodology, the approach, why we were making certain decisions, why we were using a certain language. There was a real cross-functional piece that I think we missed out on early on. And I think we’ve done a better job of being more inclusive to those audiences kind of as we rolled out the frame was the first time around.
Rebecca Kalogeris: I think that’s a great point. Product touches so many of the other departments that making sure they also understand is key. So if you discover that the first time. How did you address that sort of as you’ve continued down the process?
Neal Watkins: Yeah, I know a great question and I think the second time we rolled out Pragmatic again relates to another one of the hurdles that we had to overcome. Which was as employees over kind of a probably an 18 to 24-month window moved between job roles internally and as we added new employees to the team, I don’t think we did a good enough job at orientating individuals to the words of both the Pragmatic framework as well as how we applied the Pragmatic framework in BAE systems and it was really important. The second time around that we learn from the mistakes of those first two hurdles.
So the second time around. When we rolled out to a group of about 50 people we included people from finance, people for marketing, people from engineering few people from pre-sales. We were really inclusive to I guess the kind of key families and friends of the product organization that had some level of interaction with what we were doing where it was enough interaction that it was meaningful for their role to understand the methodology, the approach and how to apply it. So that was really important for us.
The second piece was we actually added our own day to the end of the session. So normally when you follow a pragmatic kind of you think you can do a free day session with a free kind of course in back to back. We actually added a full day for our for ourselves, which was okay, you’ve now learned all this great stuff. Now, how do you apply it in the world that we operate in? Have you apply it to our processes, our kind of cadence and calendar, and the key deliverables that we have across our organization based on what we need to deliver and also how we govern our business and govern our function. And I think that really bought into life for the team. And I think what was really important for me is we use members of the team that had already been executing against the methodology to actually share their examples to illustrate how they were used in it and to really bring kind of the cross-functional team along on this is how it works. And I think that’s really where the power came from.
Rebecca Kalogeris: I love that idea of having both of having a fourth data sort of translating it into your environment and kind of create that next step action plan, but also to have internal champions that almost serve as gosh, if you think about a university set up a “teacher’s assistant”, who’s going to show them what they’ve done and help them along the way as well. I think is, is a great addition to the program.
Neal Watkins: Yeah. So when we think about them as change agents and product advocates and these are individuals that kind of go out into the business. And they’re the ones that really advocate for what we do and how we do it and really try and get the rest of the organization to really kind of embrace the approach and methodology. And I remember probably kind of 6-12 months back, I went out and did a survey of the product function and kind of one of the key things that came back is kind of where we need your help at a leadership level to make sure all of the managers and leaders across the business, regardless of their job role really understand the approach, they understand why we’re doing it, they understand the sort of information we’re looking for. So they can help us connect us to customers in the market and today areas of business go we can help them help themselves.
Rebecca Kalogeris: That’s great. So in these five years. And of course, as you’ve changed the product organization, as you’ve as you become sort of adopted the methodology in the framework, are there some wins in the market that you think that you can really kind of point back to this approach?
Neal Watkins: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of great wins on both our mature products as well as related to some of our new ventures that we’ve been developing within the business and I think kind of on the new product side, we had the team lead a major product launch for one of our financial crime prevention products net reveal earlier on this year around the April timeframe we did a big major product launch a comes over in Hollywood, in Florida, and we really kind of that was really the combination of probably 18 months worth of work of actually trying to make sure we were clear on the key market problems, the personas how the market was changing in terms of regulations and requirements and how we then bold that today through a kind of Next Generation product from platform.
So that was really kind of a great piece of work and the team have been driving that out to the install base and to new customers, since the launch. So that’s really kind of not only doing incremental improvements, but really a major shift in platform and technology, but also a shift in the way that we solve the problem for customers around, kind of, how do you detect, investigate and then kind of escalate some form of suspicious activity that relates to financial crimes, whether it’s money laundering wherever he rolled, whether it’s a sanctions violation, whatever that might be.
That is a type of problem. We really focus our attention on so that was really great on kind of the core mature side of the business.
Neal Watkins, cont’d: And the second example really relates to our futures team and our innovation function and our futures team really works on kind of creating new concepts that we can go and test in the market. And as we test them and as we get feedback from customers and early adopters we then create business cases and business canvases that we then use to actually go and drive a seed investment that we then use to stand up a prototype to work with customers again get to our product to a point of sale of EVA organic investment or minority stakes spin out or some form of JV. And last year we did our first minority stakes spin out, we have a product called Edwin secure, which is based out of New York kind of working with a pre-hype team. And that’s now going great guns. We’re getting his first customers onboard on a live platform and also they’re looking to go and pursue their, their first round of external funding.
We also had another venture at this time and in turn, organic venture that we drove called Sock OS. So sock operating system that really deals with this whole concept of alert overload and alert fatigue and how do you make sure you get the right security alert in the hands of the investigators to go and stop the threat as opposed to just wait for the traffic of false-positive signals and again we’re, we’re now just onboarding out for 10 customers and we hope to go and raise external money against this in the next quarter to go and stand this up as a separate venture out in the market. So I think there are two very distinct examples that really leverages the discipline the foundation and the ideas that make up the premise of Pragmatic.
Rebecca Kalogeris:Wow. Well, congratulations. Those are great successes and I think great examples. I’m glad you shared them.
Neal Watkins: No great and like the congratulations is really for the team, the product team that worked so hard on building these capabilities every day. And they’re so passionate about the mission, that’s so passionate about their heroes and being in the market with customers. And the key thing that we emphasize these kind of listen with your two ears and don’t kind of over speak with your mouth and read between the lines to get to the customer jobs, get to the market problem, and then bring it to life with solutions in the product roadmap and releases.
Rebecca Kalogeris: Alright, so we. This was great and you shared a lot of stuff if you were talking to a fellow product leader at another company and you could kind of distill all five all the years of learning down to maybe one or two, two things that you kind of wish you’d known that you might give them as advice on their journey?
Neal Watkins: Oh, that’s a tough question. So I think the advice I would give them would be when you’re thinking about product management and product and methodology, make sure you tailor it and personalize it for the market category that you are pursuing and the maturity of your product line and your product organization. And don’t try and make kind of a one size fits all approach because, for me, it’s really about how you apply these capabilities as opposed to how do you just follow a kind of a two-dimensional methodology. So I think that would be the first learning and the second one would be will be around how do you ensure that you keep the skills and the capabilities alive and you continue to nurture them and foster them on an ongoing basis. And I think kind of where we’ve got to in the past is, we’ve kind of done iterations.
But where it needs to move to is it needs to be done in fluid motion and it needs to be done kind of every day as part of every interaction and we need to make sure we bring everyone along. So I think kind of that whole area of nurturing, making sure it’s fluid with the ways we work, and making sure it’s inclusive to the whole organization would really be key for me. And then the last piece is, and it’s one of the most important pieces which is around, make sure that you get kind of relevant unfiltered feedback from customers that you can translate to the market. So you can use that to help you steer the ship and also work out what direction to take next, and I’m a big believer of staying kind of relevant being in the field and being in the market and to use that sharpness to help you make decisions and help you steer the ship, kind of in the right way.
Rebecca Kalogeris: That is Great advice. And I’m so excited that you shared your product story. I’m so excited to show your kind of pragmatic story with us and I think that our listeners hopefully learned a lot, but that they’re not alone with some of these struggles and some great advice from someone who’s been through so I really appreciate having you on, Neal. Thank you.
Neal Watkins: Oh, that’s great. You’re smart treasure. And if anyone wants to follow up, then you can find me online on social media, more than happy to kind of share some of the learning and I kind of hope everyone gets as much value out of Pragmatic as I have, and also the team have So Rebecca, Thank you for having me on the podcast.
Rebecca Kalogeris: Alright, thank you, Neal. And thank you everyone for listening. That does it for today’s episode. And don’t forget to join us next week when we tackle. Another great topic designed to help you elevate your product, your company and your career.