With all the talk about agile technologies and optimizing work processes, it’s easy to take for granted the critical role of a good product team in the agile development process. At the end of the day, these are the people who will make or break the product, so the team composition needs to be such, where people are happy working together and bringing out the best in each other.
I recruit my product team very carefully, taking great pains to pick capable team-players who can fuel the creative process constantly. This post is really about product management team structure – how to own your UX product management, content, research, data and other implementation teams to make sure product execution is nothing short of perfect.
My Job is to Keep Everyone on the Product Team Focused on the Job at Hand
It is really easy to get lost in lengthening tasks and when that happens, team members often lose sight of the big picture. Product managers don’t have that luxury – we need to be focused on the vision all the time, because straying from the roadmap and priorities may result in mutant products of sorts.
So it is my job to keep everyone’s eye on the ball and remind everyone of our goals as a team. With regard to product team management, that means constantly talking strategy and making sure everyone is thinking of the product in strategic terms. Including everyone in the strategy circle does a number of things for team-building:
- Helps develop a sense of ownership – team members who are required to think of the full picture tend to feel more strongly about the product. They are not only responsible for a small part of it; they are responsible for ALL of it.
- Contributes to growing a vision – with ownership, comes vision. That is the greatest asset my team can have: always outdoing themselves with ideas on how to improve and overcome challenges, how best to grow and reach far and wide.
- Cultivates future product managers – yes, I want to take part in shaping the next generation of product managers. I’d like them to grow, professionally, with an open mind and a knack for thinking big. Sue me.
The technological aspect is of course crucial to successful team building, collaboration and streamlining product development as a team. It helps to have Craft’s team management tools that allow assignment of tasks to full teams and individual team members, e.g. issue tracking for QA. Communication is made so much easier and redundancies are practically obsolete.
Recruit for the Team and Product You Want
After years of trial and error with many, many product team, I learned that above all, I prefer a winning team than a team of winners. I know, it sounds like a corny motivational slogan, but it couldn’t be truer. Here is my million dollar tip for recruiting a winning team for agile product development:
Recruit professionals according to what you need your team to be, and not according to how many stars you want on your product team. A good team, that works together well, needs to be balanced. Members need to complete each other, and not try to outshine each other. Stability is a critical factor in the agile process – where the process is dynamic, the team facilitating it has to be grounded and stable.
In product management, team roles clarity is essential. Over time, I identified a few traits to look out for in product team members and keep them in mind when putting together the team:
Resourcefulness and flexibility – those two are essential personality traits for an agile team member. The process is so dynamic, everyone needs to be able to change directions, be passionate about ideas without falling in love with them, and adjust to change quickly.
Experience – finding an experienced project manager is 80% of the recruiting effort, because that is the one role where all the creativity in the world doesn’t replace a seasoned project professional who will keep the ship afloat.
Ego – can’t have more than one ego-driven team member, and usually that one is too much.
Leader, Rather than Manager
If it’s all the same, I prefer to leave the micro-management to the project manager. It’s a great privilege I have as a product manager – being able to deal almost entirely with ideas and the essence of the work, rather than the task management.
That said, I am well aware of my own shortcomings and limitations, which is why I try to surround myself with talented professionals. It’s so much easier to trust your team to do their jobs than to perpetually hound them about it.
Part of that deal is developing a tolerance toward mistakes that stem from independent thinking – “better to ask for forgiveness than ask permission”. Here, too, Craft comes to the rescue: being able to do your task management inside the product platform helps to minimize human errors and spend less energy on the management and more on the creativity.
Empower Team Members Control their Work Environment
Different roles have different needs, and so do different people. Whereas the R&D team needs a highly concentrative, sterile environment – the UX designers are always in a state of bouncing ideas off each other and other people, and need the feedback.
It’s important to let different team members control their work environment, so that they can create the optimal terms for maximum productivity. This applies not only for different roles, but for different types of people.
For instance, my team’s project managers work well from home: they have all the communication tools they need at their disposal and are comfortable managing things remotely. But most of the QA team prefer to come to the office, for a more structured, formal work environment, even though they have all the tools they need on their personal devices.
One size does not fit all, as we discover more and more, as the workplace become more global and distributed. Buffer made some pretty funky, radical decisions as part of their mission to optimize their distributed product team.
While I do not compromise on quality and availability, I encourage my product teams and team members to create their work environment as best works for them, so that the entire team – and product – will benefit from their productivity.