What is an operating rhythm?

What is an operating rhythm?

Establishing an operating rhythm is a great way to bring transparency and build trust.

Many product managers feel that their senior teams interfere with what they do. This can range from simply telling them which features the business wants next (undermining the ability to drive progress though experimentation) to constantly badgering them for more information on metrics, timelines and the like.

So, who’s really at fault?

Put yourself in the shoes of the leaders. Their job is do the right things to make the company a success. At best, if you don’t feed them good information, they will make poor decisions. At worst, it could kill the company. You have a responsibility, as a product manager, to be proactive in making the best information you have available all the time.

The constant flow of information both up and down the value chain is a key responsibility of the product manager role and more than that just plain, simple good practice.

Core to the principles of agile ways of working, but really just common sense, is the concept of inspect and adapt. In the Scrum framework this manifests itself through events like the daily stand up, product review & sprint planning. Every, say, two weeks, the team gets together to see what they have done and adapt the future course if necessary. If things are going wrong, you catch it early. Phew! If they are going right, good news!

We can extend this principle to the whole of product as a discipline. Many people take the basic tenet behind sprint planning (inspect and adapt) and just apply to a longer timescale. Let’s work it backwards.

Annual planning

At least once a year, come together to make sure the longer-term products vision is well understood, feasible and valuable. Whilst this should always be under review, taking the time to formally go through it annually is a great idea. Some people call this a company kick-off as it basically aligns and sets the agenda for the year ahead.

Quarterly planning

Did we do last quarter what we said we’d do? Are we on-track? What did we learn? Do we need to re-set expectations? Are we still doing the right thing? The term quarterly planning can be a bit misleading as it’s not necessarily about planning rather just syncing up, making sure everyone is aligned and taking decisions needed to keep on track to the company’s strategic goals.

It’s worth noting that in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) this is known as Product Increment Planning (PI Planning).

Monthly planning

Often a less formal inspect & adapt based session within product as a progress marker.

All of this builds up into what’s known as an operating rhythm.

Some schools of thought suggest that this should all be done as a matter of course with no formality needed and it’s a great approach. Too little process is as bad as too much, so a happy medium is needed. If you currently have no operating rhythm, consider having one. If you have too much process, consider how much of it is waste and try to eliminate some.

Ultimately, an operating rhythm is just the Russian doll of feedback loops. It help give information to those who need it before they have to chase for it, increasing confidence in you, putting you under less day to day political scrutiny and freeing you up to invest your time into making valuable products that support the needs of both the business and its customers.

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