Keeping teams from every department on the same page and moving the same direction at the same time is tricky. Vincent Migliore, Solutions Manager at Pardot knows the challenge all too well, but also the solution: a Product Management Awesomeness Council, at least that’s the solution his team at Pardot turned to. He joined us back in November at UserConf to share how PMAC came to be.

What follows is a full transcript of Vincent Migliore’s speech at UserConf SF 2014:Product Management Awesomeness Counsel

“So the Product Management Awesomeness Council: an Origin Story. So, actually when I showed someone on my team my slides they were like, “You are going to start your presentation with a photo from the shittiest Star Wars movie ever made” and I was like, “Listen if it wasn’t for the shittiness of the new trilogy we wouldn’t really appreciate the old ones,” so that is where I am going with this.

So I don’t like corporate buzz words a lot, but there is one word that I like because it’s just very clear and everybody knows what it means, and that’s alignment. So I have got a question for you guys, if you and your organization, you feel like you are aligned between all departments to understand your product roadmap, where it’s going, and why you’re making the decisions you’re making for the features you’re putting into your product, I want you to give me a “whoop!” and it’s not a “woo”, there is a “p” at the end of it, so if you feel like you are doing all of that, give me a “whoop”.

[small portion of audience “whoop”s]

Alright, and if the opposite is true and you guys are not aligned, departments don’t really understand why features are being put into the road map, or why certain departments want certain features, give me a “whoop”.

[large part of audience “whoop”s]

You can do better than that. Do it again, give me a “whoop!”.

[louder response]

Alright, so this is for you guys. So, a little about me, I am based out of Atlanta, Georgia with Pardot. So I’m an improv actor, so top left, I do a bunch of weird shit on the weekends. Here are photos of my dogs, Luigi and Daisy. They are beautiful Boston Terriers. I just like this photo of me getting my wisdom teeth taken out, and then my first celebrity encounter in Decatur, Georgia. That’s Bill Murray, I took a very creepy photo of Bill Murray just a couple weeks ago. He was in a bar right down the street from my house, and the bald head is Brian Doyle Murray, his brother.

I work for Salesforce, Pardot specifically. I have been there for four years. We were acquired twice in an eight month period, which I highly don’t recommend you go through if you can help it. So I have been with Pardot for about four years, we are a B2B marketing automation platform, so we help accelerate sales pipeline, make sure that sales gets good leads, and then marketing can put metrics behind their work and know actually how they are converting their prospects into customers. So I manage the customer support team at Pardot, we are the Pardot solutions team. Here are some of our fun folks over here, this is just our normal uniform day to day. So yup, that’s us.

So I want us to go back in time a little bit, to like 2010, like I mentioned we were a small, scrappy start up. We are a software as a service application, so that’s perfect, it’s awesome because you can itterate really quick, you can release new features, and it’s wonderful. We thought we were a highly collaborative company and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Everybody knew each other, we would have all hands meetings where we would get into the room and understand what everyone is working on over the course of a week, but I will get to why we weren’t truly collaborative. We thought everyone was contributing to the product roadmap, we all had ideas, we saw things go into the product, but again I’ll get into why that might not have be the case.

We despise meetings, we did not like meetings. So all of these people here are pulling our product and pulling the engineers into what they want to see in the product. Our marketing team at that time was one person, but they had used Pardot all the time, it’s a marketing software. They had a lot of insight into how our customers are using the product and what they would like to see in it. Of course are client advocates, they do a great job, they maintain the relationship for our customers. So they are hearing a lot directly from the customers about what they want to see in the app. Sales, they might be losing deals that was touched on earlier, because there might be certain functionality that’s not in there. Of course are clients, they are the number one reason why we are around, so we want to listen to their ideas. Our implementation team and of course our support team, we are the main interaction points for our clients and of course the CEO can come in and have as much input as they want to decide the future of the product. So all of these people are pulling the engineering team into a bunch of directions, so this caused a bunch of problems.

One, support would find out about features that got pushed sometimes from our clients, just by doing direct interaction with them. You can see we use Hipchat, facepalm, that is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to you as a support person is to not know that something had been pushed out of the app. Has anyone ever had that happen to them before? Give me a “whoop!”.

[large portion of the audience “whoops”]

That’s what I thought. Alright, so because of that features are getting pushed out without proper client enablement materials, there’s no training materials, there are no knowledge base archives, there are no friendly videos, what’s up Wistia. There are just a lot of things that are not going right when you do not have that proper communication. Teams weren’t thinking like product managers, we didn’t really understand the big picture. This process is completely unscalable, so if we want to get to where we were when I started we were thirty people, now through our acquisitions and growing we are up to over three hundred. But it’s just not a scalable process to just go into the break room and have a chat with an engineer over some coffee, and be like, “You know I was just talking to a customer, they would like to see this in the app”, you both get really excited about it and then he goes back to his computer and no one else knows about it.

Other people, other teams, felt like their needs weren’t being represented. Like I mentioned, our marketing team was one person. How does one person fight an army of salespeople bombarding the engineering team with ideas? It’s impossible. And when product managers tried to meet with teams it just took a lot of time, and it became almost venting sessions about what was wrong with our application. It wasn’t a good use of time. It’s really important, was touched on earlier about, to know what’s not just top of mind but what is actually needed in our application. Another problem that we ran into, and also one of the biggest things, we didn’t really know how to tell our clients what was coming. So we couldn’t have these informed conversations with our clients to help them to solve their problems with future functionality that would be coming down the pipe. So what happens in a black hole stays in a black hole and that’s kind of what happened there. We would share ideas in silos but it wouldn’t get talked about across departments.

So we formed PMAC, the Product Management Awesomeness Council. We had the acronym before we knew what it stood for. We knew product management was in there, so we went and threw awesomeness in there. Here is another Star Wars photo of the Jedi council. They look great. I don’t even know who half of them are. If you can identify them, congratulations, you are super nerd. So this is what we did. We got one representative from each team across Pardot. And this is marketing, this is sales, this is support, everybody we were talking about, we got one from each and these were not necessarily managers. Managers are a lot of times are super busy, and this needs to be people who can actually give undivided attention in these meetings and have informed conversations about the product. Each representative from their teams went and talked to their teams and had a meeting, and they made a wish list. They discussed, “what is it we want to see in the application and why?” So very important, they why is very important. So we made our list and we prioritized them. So then we all got into a room together, all the teams, all the representatives, and we exhaustively talked about our wish lists and talk about why things happen and when we also agreed that we were going to meet every two weeks and go from there.

So I had dogs before, and here we go for the cat people. So then what happened? We had amazing meetings, they were wonderful. We found out there was actually some recurring themes across teams, and that made it really easy to prioritize what we should do next because if marketing needs something and sales is losing deals because of something and support is hearing about something from our clients because it is causing them pain points. It’s just so easy to understand how you should prioritize certain feature or piece of functionality for your application. So we created a unified road map document that was shared across all the teams so everybody could see all the priorities and know exactly where we stood on all of them. And again, we kept these meetings very specific. So it’s about the what and the why, not necessarily how we were going to do it. We needed to identify the problems we were trying to solve first. Four product managers kind of met separately to discuss how we were actually going to do it. Then we had status updates in these meetings. Our product managers would run these meetings, and they would get with the engineering team and talk about the level of effort that was needed for all of these ideas that we want to do. And that would let us know when to expect when certain features or functionality to come out. And every time we met we would reevaluate our priorities and re-rank them if we needed to.

So now we all knew what the hell was going on. The team reps left the meetings and we had separate meetings for each individual teams, so it was just updating them on what PMAC had discussed. With everyone on the same page we were able to decide how releases should go, what kind of client enablement materials we would need, and everybody knew the timing for those. So whether it was an email campaign or video that was about to get launched, it didn’t matter, but there were no surprises. Again with the dance, one of my favorite ones. But everybody knew the release plan and it was perfect. Plus it was a great early feedback system for product managers. We would use this meeting as we would discuss our priorities and rank them, we might have been getting a little bit closer to the release of some of these items, so we could see some early ideas of what the functionality would look like and product managers were getting really quick ideas back from everybody. How it was looking, how it was progressing, and they could make changes if needed. So this is also a great opportunity for non-managers in your company to grow their careers a little bit. As support people, everybody knows that the day to day of support is a grind. It is a grind. Everybody is coming to you with problems all day, nobody is writing in to tell you how awesome you are, except for maybe like one person and everybody always has that one person who is always really nice.

But it was great and we all understood all other sides of the business. We understood why marketing wanted certain features in the app, we all understood why sales wanted certain features in the app, and it was great. It made us closer as a company. There was more time for product managers to actually do research into how we were going to implement some of these ideas. The features just turned out to be better by having this highly collaborative environment, and everything was just better. Then of course it trickles down to your clients. If we’re having a better conversation internally, it is only going to result in a better client experience which is the number one most important reason why we are doing this. And then we scaled, it stopped becoming one off conversations in a break room and we were able to iterate on this, and as we added more departments and get bigger we were able to scale and do this more.

How am I on time? Let’s see, oh my goodness, let’s see. I don’t know my password. Oh god I got four minutes. Ok! Let’s do this, let’s keep going! Alright so tips for your council. I realize that the lay of the land for your organization might be different than at Pardot. So you’re going to have to make relationships. This is really the only way this is going to work, and get people on your side, right? One at a time, one department at a time but yes, every single team needs a seat at the table. That’s all of them, that’s every department. Mace Windu is my favorite probably, out of all of them guys. He’s got the purple light saber. So just make sure it’s the right people as well because again you want it to be people who have that product knowledge and understand the needs of your specific department. Make your case with metrics if you can if you’re using for support, if you are using ZenDesk or, you can pull a lot of great metrics from there to really understand the types of issues you are seeing most frequently. It is a no judgment zone. This is not about sitting around a table, and being real heated and passionate about why you want something, it’s about just understanding each other. So making sure that we take turns and if we need to pass he stick around the table, “You can only talk when you have the stick”, that’s totally fine. But yes it’s a transparency zone, we need to know what’s going on across the company if we are going to truly be successful. Set proper expectations. People need to know that going into the meeting you have already talked to your team, you already have a grasp on what you guys want, and that you already understand the follow up afterward. So getting back to your team, explaining what you talked about in the PMAC meeting, and then going from there. Having the one updated shared document is key, making sure everyone has access to it is key. You might only want one person to edit, maybe the product manager in charge of this, but make sure that everyone is able to look at the same thing and pull it up at any time. And use this really for big picture items. Not necessarily tiny bugs, we’re not talking about changing happy to glad in the app, we’re talking about big picture items that are causing huge trouble for your clients.

So, thank you! If you like to talk to me I will be around all day, you can use this email address (vmigliore AT right here, that’s wonderful. You can follow me on twitter @vincemig if you like, it’s a lot of talk about beer, the New York Yankees, and Decatur, Georgia, but please do follow me if you would like to and thank you for your time.”