Illustration commissioned by Slack for an article on strategic leadership and communication in product organizations
Transformation

Using Slack as a CPO: How Slack can help you lead a product organization

Learn how our Chief Product Officer uses Slack to keep her team aligned and focused from anywhere

Author: Tamar Yehoshua, Chief Product Officer, SlackOctober 29th, 2020

This is the third installment in an ongoing series called Channeling Change. In this thread, Slack’s Chief Product Officer, Tamar Yehoshua, explains how she uses Slack in leading the company’s product organization. Check out previous posts from our CFO, Allen Shim, and our Head of Internal Communications, Amanda Atkins.

This past March, just after my one-year anniversary at Slack, I wrote about the nuts and bolts of how we use Slack at Slack. That post has since sparked many conversations, and I’ve been surprised (and pleased!) to hear how useful it’s been. As more organizations shift their workflows into Slack to better tackle remote work, I wanted to share some of the specific techniques that I use at Slack to improve access to information across the product organization, reduce the number of meetings, and engage customers during our product development process.

Unite through a clear vision—from anywhere

In today’s environment, organizations are depending on leadership to model effective communication, and managers are responsible for translating vision into the day-to-day cadence of work.

Especially when teams are distributed, clear and consistent communication is necessary to ensure that everyone is aligned around the same priorities and knows what’s going on. Instead of siloed email inboxes, at Slack we use channels to move information into the open so that everyone can find what they need, when they need it, and can stay connected and productive.

This encompasses team communication, organization-wide announcements, updates on new initiatives, and all kinds of collaboration in between. Channels are like an on-demand archive for data and knowledge. For example, at Slack, once our company-level objectives are determined, we spin up a dedicated public channel for each one where updates on progress are posted regularly. Along with everyone else, I can quickly get up to speed on our latest metrics or ask a quick follow-up question in a thread.

Share the high-level message

Any leader knows that developing a strategy is only part of the battle. Reinforcing its key messages and making sure they’re adopted across the organization is the real challenge. By using public Slack channels for announcements, I can share important messages with my organization, and each of the leads can then take my key points and deliver them in their own team channels. This broadcasts a consistent message across the organization about what’s important to us and to our customers at any moment, and why.

Here’s an example of a post I sent to kick off quarterly planning in the #announce-pde channel (PDE = product, design, engineering):

Example of a channel message to large team on quarterly priorities

This kind of message provides:

  • Guidance on which focus areas and levers will be the main drivers of our strategy during the upcoming quarter
  • A foundation for my teams to build on for their planning sessions
  • An opportunity for our partners across the company, including sales and marketing, to understand where we’re focused and why
  • A reference point that anyone can use to cross-check their work

When I post in an announcement channel, I know my message is likely to be seen—not only because we’ve named the channel appropriately but because we’ve restricted posting permissions so that there are no distractions. We could go one step further and make membership in announcement channels mandatory, but we haven’t found this necessary.

We can also measure the reach of my messages with Slack’s message activity feature. This helps me plan further reinforcement and follow-up communications. Here’s an example:

An example of messaging analytics in Slack

As you can see, my team and I are able to analyze the views, reactions and shares through time, and even the reach of my message outside of the product organization, in the form of views by different departments.

Related content: Develop your communications strategy in Slack.

Take care to manage the details

Once our objectives are set, we use Slack to track progress against our goals and build in accountability and continued alignment. For tracking status, we rely on our public #monday-meeting channel. The process starts with a quick synchronous Monday morning check-in. While the meeting is attended by only a handful of area leads, the materials reviewed and the meeting’s notes are posted in the channel for anyone in the organization to see and comment on. This transparency is important to keep everyone aligned and updated, both inside and outside the product organization.

It helps us work faster, too. We post blockers, action items and follow-ups to ensure that work isn’t stalled and that problems are flagged and resolved—without waiting for the next Monday to roll around.

Customers also benefit. The Monday meeting is where we share delivery plans for our new features and discuss how customers are reacting to recent launches. Teams keep the channel updated during rollouts, and this kind of transparency in a public channel helps us address any potential issues quickly and easily. By staying proactively attentive, we can be more responsive to our customers’ needs.

Gain efficiencies with automation

To maintain visibility on upcoming product releases, we created a custom workflow with Workflow Builder. The workflow is triggered by product managers in the #release-marketing-product channel, who are then prompted to upload a release overview, key enablement materials, and images or gifs of the new functionality. That information is synthesized and piped back into a must-read channel each Monday. The automated weekly post shows what’s shipping this week, next week and within 30 days, and each item links to important resources for our cross-functional teams.

Anyone in the organization—especially our global sales team—can understand the timing and availability of each new feature and what’s included in the release. This is just one example of how we use workflows and Slack platform integrations to make routine parts of anyone’s job a little faster and easier.

And example of a workflow created to help drive awareness and alignment around feature releases

Related content: Learn more about the Slack platform and how you can use Workflow Builder to improve execution and delivery.

Stay close to customers with Slack Connect

To build a great product, you’ve got to understand your customers. At Slack, we work with our customers through every step of product development. I meet with customers often to better understand their needs and am active with many of our accounts.

And it’s easy for me to find information about any Slack customer. For every customer account at Slack, we have a Slack channel that’s integrated with Salesforce. I simply type “/accounts” plus the customer name to instantly receive basic information and a direct link to Salesforce, where I can dig in more. It’s one of my most-used slash commands and saves me so much time when I need a quick piece of information before a meeting or prep session. Something as simple as knowing which customers I can and can’t talk about publicly really comes in handy when I speak with the press or at virtual conferences.

Example of our slash-accounts command

For many of our accounts, we use Slack Connect—the secure communications environment that lets you move all the conversations with your external partners, clients, vendors and others into Slack—to work directly with our customers in a channel shared between our organizations. Instead of wading through layers of the customers’ organization to pass on a simple message—something that could take days with an email chain—I can pop into the shared channel to communicate.

We also use Slack Connect to gather customer feedback on features that we’re developing. We have a network of Slack Champions in which we share early prototypes or pre-releases of upcoming features. This is one of the most effective ways I’ve seen of co-creating with customers, in a tight interactive loop. And we used Slack Connect to develop Slack Connect with our customers!

Slack Connect example

Related content: If you want help setting up Slack Connect channels with your customers this way, please reach out to our customer experience concierge.

Empower your teams

The modern workplace is changing before our eyes. We have to keep our teams engaged, aligned and nimble, while at the same time staying focused on innovation. I want my team all pointed toward the same goals, while making sure information is transparent so they can figure out the best route to get there.

Slack has become my most important tool to empower the product organization. I use it to eliminate unnecessary meetings, to communicate within and across teams, to make information broadly accessible, and to engage our customers in the product development process. To get the most out of Slack, I leverage the power of Slack channels, Slack Connect, custom workflows, and integrations with external tools. Having come from a world of email prior to joining Slack, I’ve found this a transformative and empowering experience, and I can’t imagine going back.

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