Best Practices for Cross-Functional Collaboration in Tech Partnerships

Elizabeth Garcia

Over at the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance, we hosted a discussion with product, partnership, and engineering leaders to discuss best practices for cross-functional collaboration in tech partnerships. Our CEO Cristina Flaschen talked with Roger Haas from Pantheon, Jamie Boardman from Mailchimp, Kenneth Marks from Olo, and John Greene from Airship. 

You can join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to see the full event recording, but we wanted to share some of the insights, which included how leadership teams should think about aligning KPIs for different departments, as well as, common goals and pain points from each department. 

How should leadership teams think about aligning KPIs for different departments, so that tech partnerships can serve the organization’s objectives? What are some common missteps you’ve witnessed when setting KPIs?  

All the panelists agreed that it’s important that there is a sense of a mission that organizations are working towards from the top down, and horizontally across departments. 

Kenneth and Jamie, however, brought up the point that this can be counterproductive when specific initiatives or tasks start to come from the top down, instead of deferring to those who are managing teams across the organization to decide how their teams will move the needle towards KPIs. 

Jamie described how at Mailchimp they don’t set performance indicators that are too far downstream from the work that individuals are actually doing, and they avoid over communicating the goals of their KPIs. 

He shared that in order to allow teams to be able to work with something that's tangible and measurable, whatever the KPI, it's up to teams to decide how the work they're doing will contribute to meeting those KPIs. 

“For example, the KPI itself may have something more related to revenue. For us at Mailchimp on the product partnership team we focus on the number of connections to Integrations or apps. Product marketing may have their own kind of upstream metrics like social Impressions, open rates on emails, etc. We know that those connections are highly related to revenue, but we don't want these different things to focus on the revenue aspect of what they're doing, we want them to be able to work with something that's tangible and measurable to the work they're doing.” 
- Jamie Boardman, Director of Product Partnerships at Mailchimp. 

Roger from Pantheon shared the necessity of gaining clarity around what your CEO and C-suite think when they think about “partnerships.” He described that partnerships can be revenue defined, marketing defined or product usage defined. 

Roger advised organizations to stack rank against these different definitions when determining their KPIs, and to avoid getting locked into specific KPIs given that these definitions can change as your organization goes from early to late stage. 

John brought up the difficulty of aligning with typical product KPIs and to define metrics specific to partner integrations and implementation. He explained that with a public API, it's not always clear how and why customers are using integrations and that has to be accounted for when structuring goals. 

Related Content: Lessons Learned from the Leaders of Larger Ecosystems

From the perspective of each of your functions, what should other departments know and understand about your goals and pain points? What might they be missing when it comes to building tech ecosystems? 

From a Product Manager’s perspective, Kenneth suggested that other departments shouldn’t only view PMs as the only people who make business cases for opportunities that exist within the organization. 

He suggested that there should be a sense of shared responsibility when it comes to bringing up customer problems, potential solutions and business opportunities, because this allows the organization to have multiple ears to the ground to get solutions to customers quickly. 

“I think every department can do its part to get as much information when there is a problem. Put that product manager hat on for a second, elicit  as many requirements as you possibly can, and keep that information flowing into the product, because there's likely always more information that can help us determine that something should be more of a priority than it is today.”
- Kenneth Marks, Associate Director of Product Management at Olo 

From an engineering perspective, John described that he often has to explain the difficulty that comes with scaling resources when adding new integrations. 

He explained that often when adding a new integration, one or more resources on the team has to become a subject matter expert in that partner company, their technology, and use cases. John advised organizations to be cognizant of this, and to define the line between what their organization does and what a partner does. 

From a partnerships perspective, Jamie and Roger shared similar sentiments about other teams understanding that partnerships are balancing many partner requests internally and externally. They explained that because partnership teams work with many different teams, it can become difficult if there is not a clear process for managing requests, or if other teams are not clear on what the priorities of the partnerships team are. 

Jamie shared a process they have at Mailchimp to manage internal requests, where other teams can fill out a form in detail with information that partnerships can use to evaluate, opportunity size it, and compare requests to what's already on their roadmap. 

To limit the amount of requests that aren’t in line with what the product partnerships team is actually working on, he suggested having an information campaign internally to educate people about what product partnerships generally are, what their goals are, and why. 

Related Content: Justifications for Investing in Tech Partnerships - From Product Leaders

Communication Practices and Software That Helps Enable Cross Functional Collaboration 

Office hours were a common practice that Kenneth and John both shared at Olo and Airship. 

“From the product manager side, we have weekly office hours where people can come to bring us feature requests or a complex issue related to an integration. it's time for others to come in and learn from the product teams.”
- Kenneth Marks, Associate Director of Product Management at Olo 

Kenneth explained how office hours allows people to see product as approachable and empathetic, and that it gives other teams a chance to gain clarity around the PMs decision making process, and what information they want to know in order to determine the impact of an opportunity. 

John spoke highly of how retrospectives run by program managers at Airship have allowed his teams to come out of projects with actionable intelligence and improved collaboration. He described that they use a retrospective tool called Retrium when leading retrospectives with anyone who touched a project, including engineers, designers, product managers, etc. 

If you're interested in hearing the full discussion, join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to gain access to members only resources and a recording of this event.

You can also register for more upcoming roundtables on interdisciplinary topics relevant to those working in technology partnerships.

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