Divide and Conquer: How Product Teams Shape the Products We Create

By Simple VP of Engineering, Will Maier

Seven years ago, our CEO Josh’s joint account annoyed him so much that he started a company. 31 days ago, we told the world that we were about to ship our vision of Shared Accounts. Somewhere in between, we actually did the work.

More precisely, Simple’s Shared Accounts product team did the work. A product team is a small group of people who have all the skills and know-how to build products that connect to our mission and vision. They come together to discover a path towards their goal and build, measure, and learn until they succeed.

For us, working on a strong product team feels like time traveling back to 2012 when we were first launching Simple. We taped a sheet of butcher paper on the office wall, grabbed a thick black paint pen, and wrote a short list of things we needed to ship for our first customer. All of the people checking things off that list fit in a small room: we each knew what we had to do and we could see the people who could help us get it done.

There are almost ten times as many of us working on Simple today than when we launched four years ago. And adding new crafty and hardworking people means the work actually gets harder. The room gets bigger, the butcher paper gets longer and the writing smaller, and the knowledge of what to do and who can help fades in a combinatorial explosion of communication paths.

Product teams make the room smaller again. We try to find the smallest possible group that still has all the skills needed to do big things. Staying small means people on the team can build trust, create safety and accountability, and make decisions together quickly. That just feels good, but it also works better for Simple and for our customers because trust allows teams to take good risks, safety and accountability help them learn, and rapid decision making makes everything move faster. Product teams aren’t a silver bullet, but they have proven a successful model for growth companies time and time again and many other companies work in this way, too.

When we started work on Shared Accounts, the team dove into a world of questions and ideas that Derek created. As a product manager, he leads the team towards its overall goal by prioritizing, telling stories about how customers will share their accounts, and weighing tradeoffs. Ian joined Derek, leading the other engineers and using his deep knowledge of our technology to make Derek’s stories possible. And Jeff crafted the experience, designing the way our customers will interact with the technology we’ve built.

This core team was joined by many others. The way they worked together shows what’s possible when small teams with clear goals keep pushing. Just like Shared Accounts, our other product teams are racing to the finish line in 2016. And we’ll continue to evolve the way we build as we start next year, ready to earn even more of our customers’ trust as we fulfill the promise Simple made seven years ago.

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