How Our Product Team Uses Cross-Functional Collaboration to Make a Better Product
When our product team is considering a new feature, we do everything we can to make sure it solves the user’s problems in a way they’ll find valuable. Though, no matter how much thought we put into product ideation, validation, and development, we’re not the people responsible for selling it, supporting it, or helping customers be successful with it. Those functions come from other UserVoice team members: marketing, sales, customer success, and tech support.
Cross-functional collaboration ensures we get the perspectives of everyone in our company who interacts with our product, so we can build the right feature the right way. If you’re currently working on a siloed team and are struggling to deliver product features your users find valuable, try adapting your approach to include diverse viewpoints from people across your organization. We handle our projects this way, and it hasn’t let us down yet.
We Believe That Cross-Functional Collaboration Leads to a More Closely Aligned Company
Whenever we launch a new feature, we want to create something every person in our organization can feel proud of. That’s why we collaborate throughout the development cycle: on the product team, we want to understand how other departments will interact with each feature. We also want them to understand what we’re building, why we’re building it, and who we’re building it for, so they can flag potential problems early on in the development process. Sharing that context across departments gets us all aligned on the same goals—which, ultimately, leads to a more valuable product for our users.
However, getting companywide alignment isn’t easy to do, especially in a remote workplace. According to Buffer, 20% of remote workers said that collaboration and communication represent the biggest challenges to remote work. Interestingly, another 20% said that loneliness is the biggest struggle—and, because building a cross-collaborative structure improves cohesion and alignment across the company, it helps solve both problems.
Cross-functional collaboration also gives the product team a chance to check our assumptions about how well we’ve communicated the details of a new feature or product change. When we talk with sales and marketing, we check whether we’ve explained:
- The value that the feature delivers clearly enough so that they can sell it effectively
- Why this feature is a priority for us to develop at this time
When we meet with our customer success and tech support departments, we’re looking for their insight on whether:
- The proposed feature will solve users’ problems
- We’ve provided enough information for them to drive user adoption and help customers succeed with our product
We Encourage Cross-Collaboration
On the product team, encouraging cross-functional collaboration is one of our responsibilities. That’s because the product team owns the product and the strategy behind each update—we hold the knowledge about why we want to prioritize this feature over another, so it falls on us to share that information. I always look for chances to check in with other departments and explain more about what we’re working on. Those opportunities can look like:
- Sales or marketing staff who don’t understand who the intended audience is for a proposed feature
- Customer success or tech support team members who aren’t clear on which problem the feature is intended to solve
For me, collaboration starts within our product team. I take inspiration from my product manager counterparts at UserVoice all the time—they have skills and knowledge in some areas I don’t, like marketing, for instance. I often use that collaborative relationship as a guide when I’m working across departments.
We also use a handful of tools to help us collaborate in real-time. Most of our shared documents and presentations live in Google Workspace, which makes them easy to share and update, and we use whiteboarding tools like Miro and FigJam (from Figma) to capture people’s comments and suggestions during cross-functional meetings. Figma itself is also a great tool for collaborating on design projects.
We Collaborate With the Teams That Have the Deepest Understanding of Our Customers
We involve many teams that play important roles in our product’s success, but we put a lot of emphasis on marketing, sales, customer success, and tech support. These specific departments have multiple touchpoints with customers, which is why it's so important to include them in the conversation. They need to understand the product well enough to be able to drive growth and maintain retention.
We meet regularly with our sales and customer success departments early on in the feature development process. We want to get their insight on specific problems that are impacting growth and customer satisfaction.
From our sales team members, we’re looking for information that will help us support business growth, like:
- What’s currently blocking the top of funnel progress for our product
- Features and functionality our competitors are producing
From our success department, we’re interested in learning:
- What’s causing problems for customers
- What’s missing from our product that our customers would like to have
- Reasons for low user retention, downgrading, or churn
Later in development, we work closely with our tech support team. They provide a real-world point of view on how users will likely interact with our product features, so they can spot potential problems quickly—after all, they know from experience what problems our users typically experience. That makes them invaluable during quality assurance testing.
We may also turn to our internal team to act as stand-ins for our customers. For instance, our customer success department has similar needs to the users of our customer feedback tool—they understand better than anyone which functions would best serve them in their work.
We Plan for Roadblocks
When you’re developing a complex feature, it can be difficult to get everyone behind what you’re doing. Communication is always harder for complicated product updates—it’s natural for any team to face hurdles when talking about very technical, detailed concepts.
We plan ahead for potential roadblocks by communicating quickly, especially when we’re working on a complex feature. Having a streamlined process for cross-functional communication helps us here—we simply follow our established process before problems develop.
However, product development can be unpredictable, and sometimes we have to change course from what we originally planned. In those situations, it can be hard to decide when you need to revisit your cross-functional teams for input or when you can make the decision yourself.
If we need to change our plans, I think about how difficult our decision might be for someone in another department to understand. If it’s complicated and needs a lot of details and nuance to explain, I go back to discuss it with our cross-functional teams before moving forward with any changes. If it’s simple (and we’re short on time), we may make that decision within the product team.
Break Through Departmental Silos
If your company doesn’t practice cross-functional collaboration, you might run into some stubborn departmental silos. The best way to break through those is to start out with a structured approach to collaboration (rather than an ad hoc one). That means:
- Schedule a regular block of time and get it on everyone’s calendars
- Set clear expectations for your attendees about what their role is and what they can expect from you
- Keep meeting regularly, even if people are hesitant to participate at first
- Be open to their feedback and make adjustments as needed
Once you get your coworkers into a comfortable rhythm, they’ll get more engaged in the process. Keep in mind that cross-functional collaboration benefits everyone involved: your product team gets valuable insights from the people working directly with your customers, and those other departments get to share their input on the product and influence development. Be sure you’re always providing value to your cross-functional team by giving them the information they really need to hear and by including their expertise in the direction of your product.
We Deliver a Thoughtful Product
Our goal is always to deliver a purposeful, valuable product for our users, and we’ve found that cross-functional collaboration helps us achieve that. It’s our opportunity to work closely with the people who understand our real-world customers the best: the sales and marketing professionals who help them purchase our product and the customer success and tech support professionals who help them succeed with it.