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Think IT Event: Changing the Game - Adopting a Product Operating Model

On Friday, we hosted an in-person Think IT Event at Thrivent to discuss Changing the Game: Adopting a Product Operating Model with Kari Roof, Director of Product Management, Digital, Shari Steeno, Vice President of Enterprise Technology Solutions, Barb Johnson, Director of Product Management, Jeff Einhorn, SVP, Digital Integration and Engineering Productivity, and Brett Brunick, Chief Digital and Technology Officer. Thank you to everyone who attended the event and participated in the discussion!

Below you will find a summary of a few questions that were discussed.

About Thrivent and our Panelists

Thrivent is a Fortune 500 financial services organization, providing advice, investments, insurance, banking, and generosity programs and solutions so people can make the most of all they’ve been given. The panel is made up of individuals who have deep roots within Thrivent, and some who are just breaking the surface. Whether they have been there for 18 years or just 1, their goals and missions are the same: helping people achieve financial clarity. In order to do so, technology plays a huge role in making this a possibility, and without this team, the technology would not be where it is today without them. This task has been no easy feat, switching from an Agile model to a Product Operating Model has been a huge undertaking that has taken years with more to come.

Why bother working in a product model?

Prior to switching from Agile to Product, it was obvious that nobody was having fun. People on teams that weren’t in decision-making roles felt that they didn’t have a seat at the table, and this caused people to give up. They knew they needed a change to encourage people to be more motivated and bring a little bit more fun into their day to day. Using the product method, allows the teams to get close to the client. As Shari said “The client is really the center of it all. If there are more than two steps between the client and teams, it is too many.” They would all agree that the product operating model has been critical in transforming the business over these last two years.

 How do you help the organization understand what the product is?

When trying to help the organization understand what the product is, to start they must find who is the value of the thing you are proving. In this case, Thrivent’s great financial products are what people want and value. Making sure to bridge the gap between clients and the team. Making sure the organization understands where the value is might be the most important part of helping them understand what the product is.  

What are the successful patterns of mindset and culture? What are the anti-patterns if any?

To start off, mindset is not an overnight thing. It takes courage and perseverance. When Kari made the switch to Thrivent, she had to completely relearn the way she approached assignments. She started working with fewer people and wrote down their tasks as objectives. In just a short amount of time, she felt like she had gotten a lot more done than ever before. They also received great feedback from their clients, which made the mindset shift easier to do by keeping her team going.

What does it take to pull off an engineering culture in a product model?

Having engineers empowered to lead the decisions has been an adjustment that didn’t happen overnight. It took some time for teams to be comfortable to make those kinds of calls. For this kind of adjustment to happen successfully, you must have the right talent to make it happen. There must be the right mix of people who have done it and haven’t to help keep things moving. According to Jeff, “If you are in an organization that is just starting, admit what you know and what you don’t. If you don’t, you won’t learn. Be open and people will help you.”

What is your approach to talent?

For Barb, she loves to follow rules when things are laid out in black and white. That has been engrained in her throughout her career. One thing she has recognized in this model is that there are a lot of gray areas, and as you are moving through this model, it can create areas of being very uncomfortable. The key to that is being open and having a dialogue about it and where you can create clarity. At Thrivent, they have spent a great deal of time reorienting around their jobs and the roles they play in the company. She says you must get out of the theory.