Case StudyProduct Team: Defining Operating Principles - Defining Product Principles

Toast, a rapidly growing company, faced challenges in scaling its operations efficiently. The product managers often found themselves bogged down with repetitive tasks, inadequate collaboration across teams, and a lack of consistent language and processes. These issues were exacerbated by the company's rapid growth and the increased complexity of managing numerous interdependent teams and functions. The need for a cohesive approach to align teams and improve operational efficiency became evident, prompting the company to define and implement a set of operating principles.

Defining Product Principles

The Solution

To address the challenges, Toast adopted a comprehensive approach centered around the definition and implementation of operating principles. This initiative, led by the Product Enablement team, focused on several key strategies:
- Understanding the Landscape: Conducted an initial analysis to understand the existing workflows, pain points, and areas needing improvement. This involved meeting with various teams across the organization to gather insights and identify inconsistencies.
- Defining Operating Principles: Developed a set of operating principles to guide the teams. These principles included clear guidelines on collaboration, documentation, and communication. The goal was to create a shared language and consistent practices across the organization.
- Building a Product Operating System: Created detailed documentation (30,000-40,000 words) outlining the ways of working, industry comparisons, and best practices. This served as a reference to ensure everyone was on the same page.
- Encouraging Collaboration: Fostered a culture of collaboration by establishing concentric circles of teams. The inner circle comprised the core product team (engineers, designers), while the outer circles included support functions like documentation, customer success, and sales enablement.
- Implementing Flexible Models: Advocated for flexible and adaptive models rather than rigid templates. This allowed teams to tailor processes to their specific needs while maintaining overall alignment with the company's objectives.
- Continuous Improvement: Emphasized the importance of continuous improvement through regular feedback loops, retrospectives, and adapting processes based on real-world outcomes.

Outcomes achieved

The adoption of operating principles at Toast led to significant improvements in team collaboration and overall efficiency:

  • Improved Collaboration: The clear guidelines and structured models improved collaboration between product managers and other teams, reducing friction and enhancing productivity.
  • Consistent Language and Processes: The establishment of a shared language and consistent processes helped teams communicate more effectively, minimizing misunderstandings and redundant efforts.
  • Scalable Operations: The flexible models allowed for scalability without imposing undue rigidity. Teams could adapt practices to their specific contexts while aligning with the broader organizational goals.
  • Increased Trust and Morale: By focusing on reducing cognitive load and promoting trust through reliable and transparent practices, teams experienced higher morale and job satisfaction.
  • Enhanced Documentation and Training: The detailed documentation and training initiatives ensured that all team members, including those in customer success and sales, were well-equipped to support and sell new features.
  • Continuous Learning and Adaptation: The emphasis on continuous improvement fostered a culture of learning and adaptation, enabling the company to stay agile and responsive to changes.

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