Retail is shifting rapidly online and by 2025 we're expecting it, at Pepsi, to really take over some of our physical retail chains. Our ambition is to replicate how Amazon built its strength by selling books first but then moving into other categories, then building a logistics infrastructure, and then going on to build services. This means that technology needs to play a huge role.
The challenge is that people are used to doing certain things a certain way. Large businesses are typically supported by tech functions. And I use the words ‘supported by’ very carefully because they are not used to tech leading them. These are executives who've built their bread-and-butter businesses which are actually the core of the company. So they don't really think of tech as a worthy investment. But as consumers shift more and more online, we need to change our stakeholders' mindsets and instill a new culture of trying to lead the organization with the help of tech.
This meant that we had to build some credibility and conviction with these guys, partner with them, understand them better, and then eventually make them understand why what we were saying was important.
Product is all about influence; it is how things get done. We've all heard about customer obsession and empathy toward users. But influence requires relationships with internal stakeholders. So it's important to start cultivating networks within the organization; the salespeople, marketing, your peers, your executive sponsor your project and so on.
Influence is critical because you can't always rely on the merit of your idea. You can have the loudest voice, and you can have the perfect amount of data, but if you can't convince somebody to implement your ideas, then you have lost. Convincing somebody requires having all of the little techniques right. Have the meeting before the meeting. Don't go into the meeting with this big announcement and scare everyone. Give people some time to process what you're talking about so that they can cultivate some of those questions for themselves and come back to you with more questions. That's one of the key techniques on how you can actually build your power within an organization.
Credibility is based on performance
COVID led to a lot of supply chain constraints. We were tasked with understanding the constraints and how we could help solve some of these problems. When you think about e-commerce it's relatively straightforward. You receive an order, you try to figure out if you can fill it. If you can, you send it out and you get paid. If you can't, you'd let them know that you can't, right? That's it. But there are so many little complications that actually build up.
So we started doing stakeholder interviews, user research, shadowing, and asking multiple questions. We were having 18 different meetings in one week with the same five people. Meanwhile, they were already struggling with the constraints that COVID had placed on the supply chains. So the executive sponsor came to me and said, “Deepika, we have to shut this down. I understand what you're building, but it's not really going to add any value if you keep disrupting my people”.
I needed to win her over to have any legs for my project. We were starting brand new and we needed them to help us with domain expertise and insights. So the first thing that we did was identify two big quick wins. We had an idea of what we could deliver quickly and we communicated that very clearly, adding that everything else is going to be phase two. We cut the 18 different meetings to literally one 30-minute call every week to check in with the users. And then we delivered. We started with our largest customer, and then quickly added two other customers. And boom, we had a platform that was working beautifully.
The response was fantastic: “wow, she listens, and feedback is taken”. We responded very quickly, and more importantly, we gave them something of value. That helped us win some solid grounding in terms of credibility.
We were learning the foundations of the business and delivering on things the business had told us. But we needed to think about how we coil improve in the future. And this is where our retro culture helped.
In our retros, everybody has a voice and nothing is swept under the carpet. We actually make sure that the voices are heard and issues are addressed right then and there. We take specific issue retros sometimes or we'll just do a weekly retro for all the pods together. And that has ensured that there's a clear conversation happening all the time.
We also set the tone of being very vocal and self-critical in these meetings. By looking back often we can really understand what our flaws are but also what our strengths are. And more importantly, we can cultivate a feeling of trust which is especially important if you are navigating so many changes as we were.
We did a really good job communicating internally within the team. But we realized that others within the company didn’t know anything about us. So we had to constantly communicate outward.
Sales and others would come to us with their priorities and everything needed to be done yesterday. Their customer or use case was always the most important one. In a utopian world, if we didn't have any resource constraints or financial constraints, we would do everything but that wasn’t the case.
So we communicated our roadmap and our OKRs that we had broken down from the leadership goals and we made sure that those artifacts were available to them at any given point in a consistent manner. Clearly communicating our framework, which is loosely effort versus impact, helped to align everyone on why we were focusing on particular areas and when we could help them.
It takes a village
Each person plays their part. Product management plays a crucial role in monitoring market trends and competition to plan for the future, while the development team focuses on current business priorities.
To build relationships and foster a successful team effort, being generous and establishing trust are key. Celebrating others' successes and making them part of your own, and creating a culture of open communication and trust helps build loyalty within and outside the organization.
At Pepsi, the aim is to innovate by merging new startup ideas and changing the way logistics is done in a way that is unique to Pepsi's value proposition. Innovation means questioning established ideas which can sometimes grate at the people who have built the existing processes and whose support you need. I've noticed that when you admit that you don't know what you're talking about but you're giving someone the respect of saying, “you know, you've been in this business for 40 years, can I ask you this dumb question” it can actually help them get a fresh lens on how to solve certain problems.
Making changes in traditional organizations is not straightforward. By building relationships you can get the buy-in to start. By delivering quickly you can build credibility to continue and by continuously improving and communicating your wins you can increase your scope to deliver more value and impact to the company.