“As a product manager we can get too focused on the building of features and not enough focus on establishing relationships across the company.” — Justin Dilley, Head of Product at FullStory
How does cross-functional collaboration work at a growing software company like FullStory? Hanna Woodburn, Product Marketing Manager at FullStory, sat down with Justin Dilley, FullStory Head of Product and former product manager at The Home Depot and Amazon, to discuss this and other issues in our recent LinkedIn Live that originally aired on May 22, 2019.
Justin and Hanna focused on cross-functional collaboration, and covering topics including:
What cross-functional collaboration looks like at FullStory.
The challenges of cross-functional collaboration—including remote work.
How to balance building strong cross-functional relationships with a high-performance company culture.
Watch the full session below—or read through the transcript, which you'll find below it. And follow FullStory on LinkedIn and Twitter to catch more sessions as we cover topics from product management to product metrics, OKRs, and more.
Watch the Replay
Read the Transcript
Hanna Woodburn: Hi. Thanks for joining. I'm Hanna Woodburn. I work in product marketing here at FullStory. I'm so excited to be here with Justin Dilley, our Head of Product. This is our first LinkedIn Live session. So we're thrilled to be here. This is the first of a series of conversations that we're going to have with product managers about skills and tips and challenges that they face. So thanks for joining me today.
Justin Dilley: Yeah, super excited to be here and chatting with you guys in this LinkedIn Live situation, and chatting with you about all things product management, Hanna.
Hanna Woodburn: That's awesome. So like I said, this will be a first in a series of sessions. It is obviously live, so if you have questions, please leave them below. Leave us comments. If you don't follow FullStory yet on LinkedIn, give us a follow and we'll get started. So for people who aren't familiar with FullStory, we are a digital intelligence platform and we help eCommerce and SaaS companies understand their digital experiences and improve it. You're the Head of Product. How long have you been at FullStory?
Justin Dilley: I've been at FullStory just a little over a year. I joined in March of last year as product manager number one.
Hanna Woodburn: That's awesome. Yeah, I remember you interviewed me, it was your second or third week. So what did you do before you came to FullStory?
Justin Dilley: So I've been in product management for the last, I don't know, maybe five-ish years. Before FullStory, I was at Home Depot. I was a product manager leading their mobile app team. And then before Home Depot I was at Amazon, doing a number of different product related roles, everything from their Kindle Fire tablets to their dash replenishment service. And so I've got a pretty broad history of B to C and B to B experience in the broad management world.
Hanna Woodburn: Awesome. So this conversation is about cross-functional collaboration.
Justin Dilley: Great topic.
Hanna Woodburn: I love this topic because we work together, product marketing and product management work really closely at FullStory, and it's just a topic that's near and dear to my heart. And I know that you care about it a lot as well. So when we think about product management and cross-functional collaboration, what has that traditionally looked like?
Justin Dilley: I think for most product managers that means working with your engineering team, working with your design team, you would consider those your core team that you work with every day. I think one of the things that's most interesting about product management is it's naturally a very cross-functional role just by its nature. At the end of the day most product managers don't have a full team reporting to them. And so the way they get things done is actually through influence of other people working cross-functionally across the organization. But I think traditionally when people think about product management and cross collaboration, the core team is really design, engineering and product management.
Hanna Woodburn: So who are you working with cross-functionally at FullStory?
Justin Dilley: That's a good question. It's interesting, at FullStory, it's maybe slightly different than some of the other roles that I've had before, where in traditional roles or in other roles that I've had where you have more of a traditional product line reporting structure, where you work for a director of product management who works for a VP of Product Management, and you might own a specific product line and you'll go deep with your engineering and design colleagues, but you don't have as much interaction maybe outside of that core team. I think one of the nice things that I really love about FullStory is the structure that we have in place allows you to, and essentially forces you to in a lot of ways, to think beyond your core team of design and engineering, and think about marketing and sales and product marketing and interacting with those folks that again, aren't necessarily traditionally your sweet spot of who you collaborate with.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah. So if you're thinking about, you're hiring product managers here at FullStory, what are the skills that you look for that make someone you're like, okay, this person's going to be really good at it, at getting buy in from different parts of the organization and working really well cross-functionally?
Justin Dilley: Yeah, that's a good question. I think the handful of things I look for in a product manager, one is a good solid technical foundation. I mean FullStory as a product is just naturally a technical product. And so being able to converse on a high level and a pretty low level with smart engineers and really functional designers I think is a super important skill set. And then the second thing is really that cross collaboration skillset. Somebody that has the ability to influence the organization without a ton of formal authority. So looking for folks that have built that skillset within their product management career. And then maybe the last thing is kind of spidey sense, like what is their real spidey sense for what a well designed and built product is. And probing in and around some of those areas.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, that's great. I think from my perspective, you guys do a really great job of working cross-functionally. And one of the things that I think about in terms of cross-functional collaboration is it's so relationship driven, you need to have those strong ties to other parts of the business. And part of that is just having good relationships with people. That's a great way to get information shared and to get buy in and things like that. How do you balance that sort of relational component of cross-functional collaboration with trying to ship new features and the goals and KPIs that you're tracking towards?
Justin Dilley: I mean I think you certainly have to do both in a lot of ways. And I think it really comes from a foundation of trying to establish a relationship based on trust. Where I trust you and you trust me and we're operating from the same set of principles, if you will. And that takes time. And you definitely have to work at that. And so you want to balance that and it's easy, I think in some ways, as a product manager to get too focused on the building of features and not enough focus spent or time spent on establishing relationships across the company or even just communicating with your cross-functional peers.
Justin Dilley: It's really easy to get siloed into your team and not necessarily think beyond, hey, we've got a product marketing team that needs to be looped in on new features and functionality we're rolling out. We've got a giant sales team that we're working with. They need to be educated on what we're building and when it's going to ultimately roll out to customers. And so I think it's definitely a balance and I think what I try and do is spend some intentional time actually not as focused on the building of the features and maybe a little bit more intentional time spent on creating those cross-functional relationships. And again, a foundation of trust, I think is something that's big and that really can go a long ways when you think about building a successful company and certainly building successful products.
Hanna Woodburn: Just a reminder, this is live. So if you have any comments, if you have specific tips about cross-functional collaboration, please share those below. Any questions for Justin? Add those as well and we'll get to them later in this session. So we talked a little bit about working with sales, and we have a growing sales team here who we're constantly trying to enable. How do you think it's best to communicate with sales teams, in particular when you're a product manager?
Justin Dilley: Yeah, I think one of the traps that I think a lot of product folks fall into is in the over promise and under deliver stance where you talk about building features and functionality and you're constantly getting feedback from sales about what's resonating with customers, ultimately what they want to see in the product. And I think it's making sure that you establish a clear set of principles into how you talk about what's on your roadmap or the things that you're currently working on. How do you inform sales or get sales enough information to make sure that they feel comfortable talking about the generalities of some of the things that we have going on here at FullStory, but making sure that that process is really two way. Where it's not just product saying, Oh, here's the roadmap and this is when you're going to get these features delivered in this particular quarter.
Justin Dilley: But it's really that conversational element about, hey, here's what we're thinking about. You guys talk to customers every day and you're having the hard conversations about where our product is a good fit, but maybe where it isn't a good fit and how do we really close the loop on that feedback. So sales feels like they do have and they should have a voice in informing what we work on next. It's that balance of getting their feedback and input, synthesizing that into a clear coherent product roadmap is one input and then pushing that back out to them and it's that constant process of getting their feedback and then pushing on your information to them that I think is what I spend some time on and what the team spends some time on.
Hanna Woodburn: I feel like there's a trend that we're seeing here of, great communication is critical.
Justin Dilley: Yeah, it is. I mean I think when you think about cross-functional relationships, communication is at the heart of everything and it can be a bit of a failure mode, I think, for product managers when they get too insular with what they're working on and they don't take the time to step back and say, actually I should poll the product marketing team and they might be able to help with messaging on this or help me think about this brand new functionality that I'm working on. How might this resonate with customers? Or maybe I'll pull somebody in from the sales team to get their perspective because they're talking to prospects. And again, I think by making sure that you're spending that intentional time establishing, building and facilitating the relationships cross-functionally, I think it makes you a better product manager.
Hanna Woodburn: So if you see a product manager become insular and they're just focusing too much on getting stuff done and not really looking outward to what else is happening in the business, how do you coach them through that?
Justin Dilley: Yeah, I think there's some things to kind of break the mold there, and one is getting them to spend some more time with cross-functional peers in context to having customer conversations. So one of the things that I talk to my team about all the time is, jump into a sales conversation with somebody on the sales team. Join a product marketing exercise that you guys go through on your side. And I think that gives you a very different perspective and can break a little bit of the routine of saying, okay, well I'm going to go do my customer discovery work or I'm going to work with my engineering and design team to build this particular feature. It's getting them out into the field with sales or just on conversations with sales. Getting them more integrated into the marketing team I think can break a lot of the badness of not having those cross-functional relationships.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, I think that's something that I experience as well when I am feeling like, okay, I'm just too focused on what I'm doing. If I hop on a sales call, I immediately see areas where, oh, we could be adding value as product marketers or, gosh, I didn't realize this was a question that's coming up, or people really love this part of the product. It's very illuminating and I think that it's something that really all of us who work on customer facing products should do regularly for that reason.
Justin Dilley: Even getting out of the office, you and I have spent some time at conferences and on the road, and I think that's actually a really interesting place to pressure test your five second message, your 30-second message, your two minute quick demo. And as a product manager, getting out of the office, getting into that conference environment and just having to explain what FullStory is, how it works, why we're different, how we can add value, and then be able to actually show customers, gets you a very different perspective in a lot of ways on what you're building as a product manager.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, definitely. That totally resonates with me. If you're watching and that resonates with you, please let us know. If you have any tips for fostering cross-functional collaboration that have been really successful for your organization, leave those below, as well as any questions. So let's talk about roadblocks to cross-functional collaboration. It's really great, yes, everybody should be doing this. However, there's only so many hours in the day. What are challenges that you've seen for fostering cross-functional collaboration, especially as the team grows and scales?
Justin Dilley: I mean I think just naturally as the team gets bigger and bigger and bigger, it's hard to stay connected one on one with individuals. And so if you think about your core team as beyond just the product family here, we call them families here at FullStory. We'll get into that a little bit probably. But just focusing on, let's identify who my core team is that is not just a part of the people that I might traditionally think of working with day to day and it's like, okay, my core team's actually product marketing. Maybe you've got an advocate from sales, maybe you have somebody in the marketing team, maybe if somebody in our business operations team, but thinking broadly about them as being the core team is a challenge for sure in terms of being able to spend your time throughout the day. But I think that is the real way to stop the cycle of not getting feedback from other folks and not having an input from the other team.
Justin Dilley: And so again, I think it really comes down to just being intentional about what you want to do, who you want to involve in it, and then ultimately making sure that you progress on that. But I think in terms of challenges, I'm trying to think. Challenges that I recently faced, I faced, this is just a personal growth area for me, is outward communication, really broad communication. In my role, I spend a lot of time working with the rest of the other heads of family here. And you know, being able to find my voice as a product leader and being able to communicate out broadly across the entire product team, but also the company, and really finding the right rhythm and cadence and messaging about what we're working on, ultimately why it's important and why it matters to everybody here at the company, at FullStory. And so that's something that I find is a natural roadblock to establishing those and definitely something that I work on pretty frequently.
Hanna Woodburn: So you've hinted at our structure here, which is certainly unique. Why don't you talk a little bit about how you think that helps foster cross-functional collaborative?
Justin Dilley: I mentioned this before, in traditional kind of product management organizations where you might be aligned by a product line and you'll report up through a traditional product management structure. We've got a little bit of a different organizational design here at FullStory. So we call it the matrix, as you know, and it's organized on two axes, one axis being the practice axis. So that the practice of product management, the practice of engineering, the practice of design, think about that access as being your more traditional reporting structure, who you identify with, what your title might be on LinkedIn. And so that's on one axis. And then on the other axis we have families. So these are organizations set up to achieve a set of business outcomes. And so I'm the head of family for the product family, which can and does include a number of different folks from different practices.
Justin Dilley: So we're heavy in engineering and design and product management, but we also have designers in the design practice live in the marketing family. And so there's another head of family that leads up the marketing family, but the ability to have somebody in the design practice or the engineering practice live in multiple families, I think breaks down a little bit of the silos that get built up when you're in a traditional product line organization.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, definitely. How do you see cross-functional collaboration evolving at FullStory? Do you have a sense of what it looks like in the future?
Justin Dilley: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I'll tell you one of the things that I've been spending a lot of time thinking about is as we establish more of a remote culture here at FullStory. That's something we're really big on, is how do we find the best people. They don't necessarily have to be here in Atlanta, and let them be remote. It's really finding the right tools and mechanisms to communicate and establish those cross-functional relationships for folks that aren't here and the folks that you don't see every day, folks that you may just see on a video conference and they may only come to Atlanta once a quarter. And so being able to establish some norms and processes around coming up with and establishing a really effective remote work culture, and establishing those cross collaboration exercises. Again, I think if you're not spending the time actively doing it, then it just falls by the wayside. And so you have to be intentional about spending time and it makes it even harder when folks are remote, for sure.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, that's definitely a great point. I think that as we do move to have more people remote, it's one of those things where you think a lot about, oh, are they going to be involved in this meeting and how do we dial people in and make sure that we're communicating clearly with them. But it changes the dynamic of those relationships as well. And so you have to be hyper focused on fostering healthy relationships in a lot of different ways.
Justin Dilley: It was interesting. You know, we just moved in to new office here and we were remote as a whole company for a week, and it was really challenging to operate in a way where you take for granted that you can't just walk over to somebody's desk and ask them a question and get some of those collaborative meetings done. And that was a real trying exercise, I think, in a lot of ways. One of the things that I found was really nice is we did this video kickoff, run the OKR process and we did that video kickoff for the company, kind of asynchronously. I thought that was actually a really effective way at communicating, in some ways collaborating across the entire company. And so I'm hopeful we can do some more of those. And I think that helps remote folks as well.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, definitely. I have so much more empathy for remote people after that week because it definitely was a struggle. So speaking of empathy, we have a few watchwords here at FullStory: clarity, empathy and bionics. Which of those do you think is most applicable to your work on cross-functional collaboration? Is there one that sticks out above the rest?
Justin Dilley: I think if I was going to stack rank them, in some ways it's probably clarity, empathy, and then bionics. I think establishing clarity among the decisions you're making and why you're making them and ultimately getting work done, if you're not clear and you don't have clarity, that can such a big problem for achieving all of the great things that we want to achieve here and value we want to add for our customers at FullStory.
Justin Dilley: And so I think a lot of it starts from the base of clarity, and then empathy is maybe just a very close second, is both empathizing with your peers, and empathizing with your customers and making sure that that is really well understood and rooted in being truly empathetic about everything that they have going on. There's always the, Oh, the last minute requests that you have that comes in, or you have to say no to somebody. I mean, those can be really hard things, and if you're not super empathetic to what they're trying to do or the outcome that they're trying to achieve, I think that can create a real problem for collaboration.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, for sure. So we've talked a lot about why a cross-functional collaboration is good for us internally. Do you think that helps us build better products?
Justin Dilley: I think so. And I think even extending collaboration into the customer realm, like having customers involved more frequently beyond just the walls of FullStory. So thinking about FullStory as being able to execute on a particular set of things and achieve an outcome that we want. But how do we bring our customers into that conversation? And that's one of the things I think a lot about and we've got our hugging family, which is really our customer support and success, as a really high leverage area for us to go and have that conversation with customers and be collaborative with them.
Justin Dilley: I think it's really easy to think again about cross-functional collaboration as just your core team, and maybe you're thinking about it as the company, but how can you start to pull in customers and make what you're working on and the things that you think are important? Make that a little bit more of a two way dialogue with your customers, I think is something that we spend a lot of time thinking about, and empathy to your point is one of our watch words. And so empathizing with our customers and being able to loop them in on these things is something that I think is super important.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah. That's awesome. I love that. So one last question from me and then we'll move to questions from the audience. Can you think of a time when cross-functional collaboration was an absolute failure? Doesn't have to be here at FullStory. It could be any time in your career where it just didn't happen and it was not good as a result.
Justin Dilley: I won't go into too many specifics, but there was a product that I was working on, and we were basically getting ready for the final launch process. We were putting kind of the finishing touches on the product and we were ready to kind of release it to the world, only to find out that the marketing team, who would do all of the marketing of what we were building, was just not ready. And at the end of the day we hadn't really brought them along. And so it was really a problem for me, in that I didn't do a good enough job communicating expectations on dates. And dates are always this shifting thing and so just really could have done a much better job communicating with them.
Justin Dilley: I mean, it ultimately all worked out and we scrambled. But that's a real way to damage a relationship in a lot of ways. And so I think about that instance when I'm working even with product marketing today and working with you and your team and thinking about, I don't want you guys to be the last ones to find out about our plans as a product team and wanting to make sure that you guys are riding shotgun, I think is is a big learning that I learned from this experience.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, that's great. All right, so we'll turn to questions that we have from the audience. If you have questions, you're watching this, please feel free to type them in. So the first one is, how has data and metrics storytelling enabled cross-functional collaboration towards a same sense of purpose?
Justin Dilley: Well, I mean I think data is a common language among the teams and can be a really good tie breaker if you're not really sure which direction to go. And so if everybody is looking at the same data, using the same source of data, it can be a way to really drive clear, effective decision making. You know, people talk a lot about being a data driven organization, and I think that is something that's super important. I think in some ways that gets a bit abused to be only looking at data. And so I think it's very much a balance of being a data informed organization, and really thinking through how do you use data to understand your customers to understand what their pain points are.
Justin Dilley: So when you're building products or thinking about building products that everybody's on the same page of what the problem is. And I think that can be kind of the great democratizer out there. If you can get everybody to clearly understand and articulate what the problem is with data and then figuring out why that's a problem we're solving, again with a set of data, that makes the entire product development process just a ton easier.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, I think that resonates with me as well. If I think about how we've worked together and just thinking through, how do we go to market with a feature, having data about how people are using it in a Beta and what their feedback is and what are the stories that we're starting to get out of those users is really helpful for me to say, okay, this is the vision they have, and then help translate that vision into the sales team and the marketing team and make sure that we're all reading off of the same sheet of music.
Justin Dilley: Yeah, exactly. And again, I think it can be that common language among different teams and can really be a way to hammer home some certain points about like, we really need to hit customers with this particular message because boy, you know, there they gave us feedback or we see in the data that we have at FullStory. And so I think it's a really, really good approach.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah. And it also can say, we need to change this or fix this. It's great for motivating on that end too. All right. So Jacob has a question. Are there any specific tools FullStory uses to help the functionality of their communications?
Justin Dilley: That's a good question. So we're a pretty big slack heavy company, and I would say in general we spend a lot of time thinking about asynchronous communication. And I think that's one thing that if you think about building muscles to help with communication, is it really is that asynchronous communication. And so for us, the core tools that we use everyday are slack and Gmail and the whole G suite of Google docs and Google slides. Our main kind of project a database is a tool called the clubhouse. And so there's a ton of asynchronous communication that happens, either direct feedback in a document or a note on a particular clubhouse card or epic. That's how we manage most of our features and functionality that we're delivering to customers. And so I think it's really getting good at that asynchronous communication. It's easy to schedule a 30 minute meeting, but you don't always need that 30 minute meeting. And in some ways you can get a lot more done asynchronously, and so I think that's a good muscle to build when you think about collaboration and communication is building those asynchronous muscles.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah. How do you create buy in for those tools? Do you ever experience resistance where people are like, I don't want to log my tasks in clubhouse, or, I would rather use email over slack, or how do you change the social norms?
Justin Dilley: Yeah, that's a good question. I think if you focus on, there's always a problem when you think about the product development process, there's a problem, hey, we don't have a good sense of how big certain things are. Maybe we're not great at our project management muscles. And so if you can get folks to agree on, yeah, this is a problem, then you can start to suggest particular solutions and they don't always have to be a tool. It could just be a Google doc or a slack channel. But I think having everybody come from the same place as, this is a problem. I'm not able to do my job as effectively as I could. Then you can start to open people's minds and then selecting certain software, their minds will be just naturally more open.
Justin Dilley: You can say, Hey, well this tool actually does exactly what we would want and we all agreed that this was a problem, so let's give this a try and try and Beta test it. And then I think you have to give people the flexibility to do things that work for them. I think if you come up with a, everybody should do it this way, that doesn't really work for everybody, and I think you end up in a place where you've got a process or a tool that just doesn't work for anybody. And so having some built in flexibility into what people can use from a tool standpoint, how they use it, just making sure that you've got enough flexibility built into that, so that everybody feels like, Hey, for my team or my area, I can get what I need out of this.
Hanna Woodburn: Yeah, definitely. There's a comment here that I think is great. Celebrate your successes with cross-functional collaboration. When you launch or complete a project, make sure you give the kudos for the success of the team working together. That's from Steve with Bradley Corporation.
Justin Dilley: Yeah, that's great. Yeah it is something that is easy to forget. We at FullStory, we do this Friday meeting, we call hug it out every Friday, and we've got a little section as part of our standing agenda to do toasts and I know that the team takes that really seriously, where it's your chance to recognize a coworker or a set of coworkers for something that you did during the week, and you can recognize them across the whole company. It doesn't have to just be centered around a specific product launch, but taking those moments for, people end up, I mean I know I do. You spend your blood, sweat and tears on something and taking a little bit of time to celebrate those successes and celebrate failures in a lot of ways, I think it's pretty important. Great comment Steven, thanks.
Hanna Woodburn: One last comment, Angela from Curtis says, Justin, I love your product. What are your thoughts on good process versus bad process as your company grows?
Justin Dilley: Oh man, that's good. That's a really tough question. I think in the good process camp is coming up with a set of, for lack of a better word, processes that everybody feels like, this is the way to build successful products. So for us at FullStory, where that comes to life is we establish a set of annual, quarterly, and then five week-ish OKRs, and so if you spend time on the outcomes that you want to achieve or the objectives in the OKR process and then think through what the key results are, that will help you achieve those objectives. That's a really good process to stay focused on making sure you're building the right things. And then a bad process in a lot of ways is not communicating. You know, I've talked about it, we talk about that, and Hannah and I talked about that here, is if you get so insulated into just your product team and you don't pop your head up to communicate broadly across any organization, I think that could be a bit of a bad process.
Hanna Woodburn: Great. Well, thank you so much for sharing your time and insights with us today.
Justin Dilley: Thanks for chatting.
Hanna Woodburn: I really appreciate it. Thanks to everyone who watched and submitted comments and questions. Please feel free to continue the conversation on our LinkedIn page. If you liked this content, follow us on LinkedIn. There'll be more LinkedIn Lives coming next week, and we'll be talking with more product managers about topics relevant to them. Thanks everybody.
Justin Dilley: Thanks guys.