How Knowledge Management Can Improve Product Team Efficiency

How Knowledge Management Can Improve Product Team Efficiency

Product teams have to play many roles in an organization, to the point that they are often stretched thin. Ensuring every team has the most up-to-date product information, descriptive language, and assets they need to do their jobs leaves product teams scrambling to find time to do their most important work: building, improving, and maintaining products and features. That doesn’t even consider planning for future product and feature releases on the roadmap, and more, including product vision. 

It’s key for product teams to have good communication practices in place to proactively push information out to other teams, leaving them with fewer interruptions in their days and cross-functional collaboration that empowers everyone to do their best work. Product teams should be accessible for high-level planning and other vital collaboration, not for answering the same questions that could easily be found in a central source of truth for an organization. 

Product teams that take knowledge management seriously set their organizations up for success, ensuring everyone can access the information they need for smoother workflows and improved collaboration. That in turn increases productivity and has positive cascading effects across an organization, including overall company vision.

This post walks you through setting up the information access you need to become an efficient team across your organization.  

Centralizing Documentation and Conversations

Creating a central source of truth for product teams that proactively pushes information out across an organization is a game changer, both for those teams and for cross-functional collaboration. Every team needs to consider the unique needs of their organization to design a system that works best for them, taking into account how things may need to change as the company grows.

It's the foundation that takes a regular product team and turns it into a high-performing product team.

Consolidating Product Documentation

The central source of truth can be whatever makes the most sense for your organization depending on your industry, team structure, resources, and other factors. The key is to have a single place where everyone knows they can go to get the most up-to-date information about current products and features. Ideally, any updates are pushed out automatically across teams, saving product team members vital time from writing internal updates and manually updating each cross-functional team. 

Choices range from ad-hoc living docs maintained manually by a product manager on a scrappy team to customized software purpose-built for an efficient product team. What you choose depends on the resources you have available, the current stage of your company, and what your goals are. 

Getting key stakeholders to understand the value of this single source of truth– especially one that proactively pushes out updates and saves product team members time so they can work on truly important organizational initiatives– can be the thing that pushes a company to the next level. 

It's taking a product vision and making it real for every team in an organization, allowing them to see how their work contributes to it.

Streamlining Internal Communications

Once a single source of product truth is established, decide how updates will be communicated across teams. Even if you’re using a platform that pushes out automatic updates, efficient product team members will still want to ensure key information is shared in established cross-functional team communication platforms, like collaboration apps. 

Reinforcing updates in this way– and backing them up with “office hours” where product team members are routinely available to address any questions– ensures other teams get information in a way that’s timely and best empowers them to do their jobs. 

This also allows product teams space to discuss why certain decisions were made, since prioritizing one feature or update over another will always involve trade-offs. That empowers customer-facing teams like customer success, sales, and marketing to have more productive conversations with customers and prospects. 

Cross-functional communication like meeting notes should also be accessible in these places, documenting decisions made plus internal and external messaging around them. That way every team member can refer back when needed, without having to reach out directly to the product team and interrupt their workflows. 

Enhancing Cross-Functional Collaboration

When teams know where to access the latest information about product and feature updates and roadmaps, they save time and energy on both sides of the interaction. It also reduces several members of the same team reaching out to the product team to have the same thing explained to them multiple times, increasing cross-functional collaboration and efficiency. 

As soon as teams are trained to find what they need outside of proactive updates, they can train newer team members to do the same. That builds a transparency and knowledge-sharing culture that empowers employees, leading them to do their best work. 

These are product team efficiency best practices in their ideal state.

Visualizing Team Capacity and Workstreams

There’s no one right answer for how teams should structure their internal communications systems, but most tech stacks should include some combination of project management tools, messaging apps, good old-fashioned email, and any other collaboration tools that meet the specific needs a team might have. 

This is what takes a team that performs well into a high-performing team structure.

Tapping into Project Management Tools

A range of project management tools exist, from simple organizational to-do lists to purpose-built product team software. Organizations should build out their tech stack considering not just what their teams need to succeed today or this year, but also as they scale. 

What do team workloads look like right now? What will they look like by the end of the year or next year? If the current tech stack can’t handle mapping out those workloads and help teams visualize their progress, it might be time to consider an audit and an upgrade. 

Ideally, project management tools will also help teams identify areas of dependency, including any repeated bottlenecks. This helps identify potential blockers ahead of deadlines and plan for how to mitigate them. 

Improving Resource Allocation

Teams with well-established knowledge management are set up for better distribution of work and remain more nimble in the face of changing project demands. If all the pressure to communicate vital roadmap decisions to key stakeholders alongside doing the most important work to build products is taken off of senior product team members, they’re able to do their best work. 

That means doing deep work that drives the business forward and ultimately contributes to revenue, instead of burning out doing duplicate tasks and repetitive manual updates across teams. Burned-out product leaders are less likely to anticipate shifting project demands, let alone have the energy to deal with them. 

Systematizing Cross-Departmental Touchpoints

For teams to work together cross-functionally, they need to establish regular touchpoints. Based on the size of your teams, your overall organizational structure, and the communications systems you already have in place, decide on what the best cadence is for cross-departmental touchpoints on product updates that align teams on product vision.

Establishing Regular Connect Points

If it’s a good time for your entire organization to revisit communication touchpoints, consider what systems you have in place and how they could be improved based on the goals you’ve set. If you’ve invested in a tech stack that pushes out product updates proactively, for example, your synchronous meetings would need to be less often than for a smaller, scrappier team who may want to hash things out differently as they scale. 

Either way, the key is to maximize synchronous time by establishing an agenda before each meeting, doing as much pre-work as possible before the meeting, and setting aside time during the meeting to do the actual work. Follow-ups should include meeting summaries and action items, to get the most out of face-time (whether it's actually face-to-face, or over video).

All of this serves to foster open dialogue; employees know their time is being used wisely to make important, collaborative decisions, and not being wasted on having a list read off to them that could have been an email.

High-performing team systems

The highest performing teams put systems in place around which meetings need to happen regularly, how they can collaborate asynchronously before and after meetings, and which platforms they can best use to capture the information each team needs to do their jobs best to contribute to overall company goals. 

When organizations map this out across teams and take the time to build a system that scales as teams grow, every department can participate and refine their contributions as needed. That boosts morale, increases the chances that successes and challenges are shared and addressed, and helps ensure that overall goals are met. 

That's how high-performing teams are built.

Promoting Focused Deep Work

For teams to do their best work, organizations need to consider how to set them up for success. This can and will look different depending on the industry, team construction, and what goals are both for teams and across the org as a whole. 

Some general best practices to consider are: 

  • Meeting-free days or a system for time-blocking, allowing employees to do deep work without interruption.
  • Building a focused work environment, whether that’s in an office or giving employees what they need to create an environment that allows them to focus at home (or both, in a hybrid office).
  • Emphasizing work-life balance, across all departments and roles.  

A lot of this requires embedding streamlined workflows into company culture, rather than writing down some stretch goals in a company values document that will be read once before an All-Hands. Company leadership needs to model this behavior and consider establishing guidelines like minimum required paid time off (PTO) instead of unlimited PTO to ensure employees are getting the breaks they need to do their best work. 

Organizations that have an in-person office requirement- either full-time or hybrid- should consider the layout and design of their offices and how that helps or deters deep work. Are employees able to get away from distractions? A lot of modern office layouts are open concept which can be very difficult to focus in. Organizations should offer multiple options for focusing in those kinds of environments, from the ability to book private rooms to technology stipends to purchase noise-canceling headphones. 

What might seem like an extravagant expense on its face can add up to consistent growth and revenue for the organization as a whole when its employees are set up for success. 

Tracking Team Sentiment via Quick Pulses

Organizations don’t need to get overwhelmed with setting up these systems either; quick pulses can be put in place to see if everyone feels like they’re able to do their best work, including getting all of the information they need from product teams. 

Conducting Regular Pulse Surveys

Internal company surveys are a great way to see how employees feel, especially if they are guaranteed to be anonymous. Set up a schedule to see how systems and processes are working cross-functionally, particularly if they’re new. 

These can include questions about team morale, how team members are feeling about their work and their impact across the organization. Be sure to include open-ended questions about what else they might like to see. It’s crucial that they don’t feel like they’ll be reprimanded or punished for anything that they say, or the responses won’t be authentic and helpful to the overall growth and success of the company. 

Promoting a Healthy Work Culture

If feedback isn’t as positive as the organization would like, that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. It does mean that it’s time to reevaluate comms across teams and the org as a whole. If you’re striving to become a product-lead organization, cross-team communications are a vital piece of that. Communications systems that you’ve had in place before a significant cultural shift may not work as well during the transition and employee feedback is key to tweaking things into the right place. 

Concentrate especially on feedback from product development teams if you have a way to flag that while keeping the feedback anonymous.

Final thoughts

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to organizational communications, but there are a lot of best practices that can be applied. This is true of any organization, but especially when it comes to those who are shifting toward product-lead initiatives and need availability and access to product team information.

The key to success is evaluating where your organization is in terms of its current structure, from team construction to communications systems. Once a single source of truth around product information is established, every team needs to know how they can access that information if it’s not proactively pushed out. 

The ideal state is one where a single source of truth contains everything all customer-facing teams need to do their jobs and every update is pushed out automatically. That saves product team members from having to give manual updates and it saves customer-facing teams from having to seek out the information they need. 

High-performing product teams need to design what works for them in a way that will scale as they grow– and allow for creative play alongside deep work.

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