A Professional Services as a Product Organization (PSAAP) is a company that treats its services as products and employs specialized product teams to develop and guide them. The goal? To create space and freedom to do meaningful, productive work at all levels of the organization, not just at the top. Here’s how to organize your business as a PSAAP company.
Understanding the Product-Focused Model
For a Professional Services as a Product Company, a product is (or can be) anything the business sells or does. In practice, PSAAP companies start by identifying their key offerings and building product teams around those offerings. As the business grows, new needs and new ideas emerge, and the list of products and product teams grows.
Northwest is one example of a company that follows the PSAAP model. Explore our services and you’ll discover a wide range of offerings, from Registered Agent Service to LLC formations, Phone Service, Trademark Service, Business Address services, and more. Each of these services is one of our products, and each product has a dedicated product team of its own.
Even our website—the website you’re interacting with right now—is a product in the hands of a dedicated product team.
What is a Product Team?
A product team is a group of specialists fully dedicated to creating, managing, and improving a single product. Think of the product team collectively as the product’s owner. They live and breathe the product day in and day out, and together they cover the range of skills necessary to drive the product’s development on their own.
The number, structure and size of your product teams will reflect your company’s needs, but every product team includes a few key roles. These roles include:
- The Product Manager
This is the strategist who monitors and guides the development of the product at a high level. Product managers set long-term goals, plan projects, determine priorities and ensure that the product team’s objectives align with the company’s larger objectives.
- The Project Coordinator
This is the organizational guru who keeps all of the product team’s projects focused and moving. Project Coordinators interact with every branch of a product team, closely monitor tasks, and help make sure the product team’s goals are met in a timely way.
- The Product Designer
This is the subject matter expert who understands the service’s inner workings through and through. Product designers work directly with the delivery team to make sure all changes and advancements to the product fit with what it is, how it works, and what the product team wants it to become.
- The Delivery Team
These are the specialists who turn the product team’s dreams into reality. For a website like Northwest, the delivery team mainly includes tech workers—developers, content writers, SEO specialists, and more—but the makeup of a delivery team can be as diverse as the product’s nature and its needs.
- The Stakeholders
These are the people most directly impacted by the product team’s work and who influence and help guide the product team’s decisions. Stakeholders are most often the company’s owners and managers, but anyone in the company can be a stakeholder when their goals overlap with the goals of the product team.
- Customer Service
These are the folks servicing the clients for the service you’re offering. It’s mission critical for a true PSAAP organization to connect operations with the tech workers. The tech workers need to have a live feel for how the tech is performing and if operations can meet minimum expected levels of service for any given product. The tech workers need to work on what matters, not a curated project list.
- Product Director
A Product Director needs many, many years of technical expertise in the realm of that product and have an interest in leading and managing a large group of people. A Director truly owns the product for the business and is the final stop in making a specific product a viable commercial offering and connecting the product to a board of directors or executive team at a company.
How Product Teams Work
Every effective product team consists of individuals working together, building consensus, and driving the development of the product. But how does a product team actually function, and what guides its decisions?
Though every product team has its own character and invents some of its own special processes, the following key features usually apply to all:
The Product Vision
Every product team should have a vision for their product, a complete picture of what the team and its stakeholders want the product to do long-term. The Product Vision is a statement, a paragraph, or a series of high-level descriptions—whatever works for you—that guides the decisions the product team makes and gives meaning to those decisions for stakeholders and the rest of the company.
For example, here’s the current product vision for Northwestregisteredagent.com:
Provide premium registered agent and business formation services and the most wide-ranging, comprehensive free business resources on the web.
Product Visions are living things. As a product team grows, builds consensus, and makes new discoveries about the product’s possibilities and its value, the team works together to adjust the Product Vision to reflect the new directions it needs to go.
Product objectives are the product team’s high-level goals, descriptions of the major ways the product team intends to pursue the Product Vision. Objectives bring the Product Vision down one level into the world of project planning, and they work make sure those projects align with the Product Vision.
There’s no rule for how many objectives a product team should have. If a team has more than 5, though, it’s worth analyzing the relationships between those objectives to make sure one or more objectives isn’t really a project in disguise.
Project Planning & Tracking
Projects are ways of achieving objectives. They are objectives broken down, you might say, into parts or plans for getting specific tasks done, and there are typically several key features involved, including:
- an overview of the problems the project is trying to solve;
- the project’s specific solutions;
- a list of features or tasks necessary for reaching those solutions;
- key performance indicators (KPIs) set in advance for determining if and how the project has successfully achieved its goals; and
- a time-line (a projected start date and end date) for bringing the project to a close.
There’s no simple formula for project planning, but the goal is clear: create projects tied to your product objectives and break those projects down into specific, actionable tasks that turn everyone’s daily work into a meaningful pursuit of the Product Vision.
We find that if you come up with more than 4 directives or highest priority things, you’ll almost never make it to the 4th one. So it’s most important to continually ask yourself, “What’s my biggest problem today, this week, and this month that would have the highest impact on this product’s future?”
The Product Life Cycle
If it’s a project, it comes to an end somewhere. This isn’t true for the product itself.
Every product’s life follows an endless cycle of:
- identifying problems
- proposing solutions
- analyzing the potential risks and rewards
- determining the time and the resources the solution needs
- doing the work
- testing the work
- evaluating the work
- refining the work
- analyzing the results
It’s also an endless cycle of learning and self-assessment. What the product team learns from its work will influence (and often change) the Product Vision, alter product objectives, and reveal the need for the creation of new, unexpected projects necessary for the pursuit of the team’s evolving vision.
It also means nothing gets left behind. A team that’s infused with a collective vision isn’t just checking off tasks sent down from above. They know the meaning of what they do, can recognize what has succeeded and what has failed, and so aren’t waiting around to be told what’s next.
Leadership in a PSAAP Organization
There’s an inbuilt leadership structure in every product team, but that doesn’t mean leadership is limited to the Product Manager, Project Coordinator, Product Designer, or Product Director (or, for that matter, to the company’s primary stakeholders).
No, leadership depends on the situation and the skills and experience that situation requires. Anyone on a well-functioning product team can rise to the occasion and feel empowered to lead.
This is probably the key value gained for any company that organizes itself as a PSAAP company. It not only provides the right structure for helping talented people pursue the same goals. It also maximizes opportunities for team members to step out of their assigned roles and take the helm.
Do product-focused companies lack traditional managers?
Not necessarily (it’s as you will). At Northwest, we have mid-level and upper-level managers who oversee various aspects of what we do, including our numerous product teams, so organizing your company around the PSAAP model by no means requires flipping your company’s management structure upside down.
The goal of a product-focused company is simply to avoid the trap of creating soulless to-do lists and endless streams of tiny projects only a handful of people truly understand. The PSAAP model counters that by spreading the sense of ownership over a company’s products throughout the company, such that the people who do the work are also among those making decisions about what work gets done.
In short, PSAAPs acknowledge that innovation requires visionaries at all levels of the company, and the more the better. A well run product is connected all the way from operations customer service employees to the director of that specific product. This group at some point in the development of the product becomes a collective stakeholder and knows the product much better than any stakeholder could.
You’ll know a vibrant well run product when the executive group, or the people in a Scrum game or Agile thinking organization might call a “stakeholder,” are surprised by the innovations the product group comes up with. Most importantly, the executive team has to buy into the PSAAP concept and give the product group the freedom and space to run the product how they feel is best.