Product Trios: A collaborative, decision-making leadership group

Matthew Godfrey
Dec 14, 2018 · 5 min read

As well as formalising the role of a Product Designer at Redgate, we’ve recently introduced a new model for product leadership AKA ‘Product Trios’ with the intent of forming stronger, more collaborative leadership groups across the division.

What is a Product Trio?

The Trio is a collaborative model for product leadership that has been successfully adopted by a number of product companies, including the likes of Google, Airbnb and Atlassian, in an effort to establish a balance of concerns and perspectives as between Design, Engineering and Product.

The philosophy is that strong representation and collaboration between these three key product disciplines will ultimately bring about the best product decisions and drive innovation. Each would have a stake in representing one of three key product concerns:

  1. Desirability: Degree to which our customers need and value a solution
  2. Feasibility: Degree to which we can technically architect a solution
  3. Viability: Degree to which it would be a sound (and aligned) commercial investment

Why does our current model need to change?

Having consulted with a number of teams over the past year on various topics including the planning process, OKR setting, prioritisation, direction and decision-making we identified the following key insights that have led us to revisit our current team leadership model:

1. Product leadership spread across three roles with unclear expectations

Product Managers, Technical Leads and more recently Product Designers all have influential roles in and around product teams. Each is being asked to bring their relative skills, expertise and perspectives into a variety of product discussions. However, where and to what degree they should have input in either longer-term or day-to-day product decisions is unclear and where there is conflict, it’s not obvious who should be involved and how key decisions are taken.

2. Imbalance of concerns and perspectives as between these influential roles

Where this model works really well is when there is a healthy balance of commercial, technical and design perspectives. Each should bring a strong point of view on the viability (product), feasibility (engineering) and desirability (design) of a given solution. We’ve seen this balance skewed in different product areas, often as a result of specific interpersonal dynamics and unclear expectations (see point 1).

3. Customer research activities (and resulting insights) have been fragmented

Great research and thorough analysis should underpin all of our key product decisions. You can read more about this in my article on evidence-based product decisions. However, we’ve seen a number of cases where customer research has become fragmented and is being run across a number of unrelated and disconnected streams, by different people in the same product unit. This creates waste, conflict of opinion and most worryingly, a divergence in our shared understanding.

4. Product decisions are not always well understood or a product of collaboration

On numerous occasions, teams have felt themselves to be the recipients of product decisions, rather than having arrived at these by consensus, or better still, as a product of those best placed to take that particular decision. At the very least, teams should be informed about and brought into the ‘why’ and actively involved in any activities to determine the ‘how’.

5. Responsibility for product direction and ownership has fallen on the Tech Leads

Since introducing the Techical Lead role it was implied that along with people management and technical leadership, that they would also provide the team with day-to-day product direction. This places a lot of pressure on a single individual, who may (or may not) be well equipped to also perform a product leadership role; particularly in the absence of a clear product strategy or in teams with limited support from Product Management.

How will it work in practice?

To address many of these issues with our current model, we believe that creating a more explicit peer group for product leadership, in the form of the Trios, will help our teams to arrive at better product decisions; ultimately leading to better products for Redgate.

Each product (or solution) team has its own Trio, which would comprise of three key roles, namely, Product Management, Product Design and Technical Leadership; with Development Leads providing a key enablement role to both support the Trios, and develop teams wider agile delivery practices.

We believe the formation of these groups will foster greater collaboration, clearer lines of decision-making and a more balanced view of our solutions; as well as:

  • Clearer expectations around product leadership
  • Creating a stronger peer support group
  • Greater transparency of product decisions
  • Improving teams strategic alignment
  • Enabling better prioritisation of effort

A flexible model, biasing expertise

Further to the proposed changes, we’ve also made an attempt to recognise the need for the model to flex depending on the stage of the product in its lifecycle, the focus of current development activities and the type of decision to be made.

Whilst the intent is that the Product Management, Design and Engineering perspectives are balanced and equal in their contribution, the reality is that their relative experience and expertise bias towards different phases of a typical design process.

For example, during discovery (figure 1) where we seek to understand the customer, their needs and the resulting the opportunity; whilst this type of research typically plays to the strengths of Designers and Product Managers, at this stage we’re placing places less emphasis on technical concerns, where the Technical Lead’s focus is likely to be directed towards more immediate delivery goals.

Conversely, during delivery (figure 3) where we are working to validate and implement a first slice of a potential solution; whilst this plays again to the strengths of Technical Leads and Designers, it is likely to be at a level of detail that Product Managers are less likely to engage with day-to-day, allowing them to focus on broader commercial concerns and planning activities.

Next steps for Product Trios

Prior research would suggest that a number of our teams are already working fairly close to this model, and as such, the recent changes are likely to be more subtle. However, we’ll be working closely with our Development Leads in the new year to further develop these relationships and support their efforts, catalysing around key activities like Q1 OKR setting.

If you’d like to know more about Product Trios at Redgate or have any insights from your own experiences, having either worked with or as part of a similar team model, we would love to hear from you.

Ingeniously Simple

How Redgate build ingeniously simple products, from…