Product teams: real world advice
A practical guide to Directing in the product world
Do you have a product team? Are you getting the most out of them? Have you recently hired a Product Owner or Product Manager? Did you promote a trendy Business Analyst into a PM role?
If you’re not sure then there’s nothing to be ashamed of, the rise of Product has been very organic, lots of organisations have been finding what works for them and building great products… Lots more have been doing the exact opposite. There’s very little consistency and much to learn, so here’s a handy guide to building functioning Product teams that can make your vision a reality.
1. Know what your product people do
A Product Manager used to be the person in ‘the business’ who was responsible for the financial success of the product, they pitched development projects for budget approval and oversaw the general day to day operations, and critically; made big decisions when the wheels fell off.
A Product Owner is an old role from SCRUM/Agile Delivery, this person was typically the business sponsor (sometimes even a Product Manager), who would dip in and out of development meetings signing things off and answering functionality questions.
These days, whatever you call them, they’re likely to be a full time employee who’s charged with all of the above. Get to know your people in this role, how did they get there? Do they have a business or development background? Where are they sure of themselves and where could they use some guidance? Pay special attention if your Product Managers aren’t agile savvy… make sure they have the support they need to manage this complicated process!
2. Let your Product Manager be the CEO of their product
This concept is a few years old but many programme leaders are still struggling to let go. Your Product Manager is responsible for both fortnightly feature releases and long term strategy, so don’t engage with them like a Project Manager who’s only responsible for keeping delivery on track.
- Understand that the role covers a huge breadth of internal and external tasks. If they’re not communicating out enough it might be because they’re struggling to keep up with delivery pressures, or vice versa — delivery might be slow because they’re spending too much time preparing for steering committees and updates.
- Task your Product Manager with building superior market knowledge, they should keep their ear to the ground and have good instincts that you can rely on.
- Teach them how to make trade off decisions in line with your wider strategy. Where can they dig their heels in and where should they compromise? Being the voice of the customer and the voice of the business at the same time is easier said than done.
3. Hire the right people
Don’t waste your time with interview questions like ‘What makes a great product?’. Look for people who give interesting answers and have real opinions about the following:
- What was the last product that knocked your socks off?
- What app do you love that isn’t famous?
- What does AI First Product Management mean to you?
- What do you think our most important product will be in five years?
The trick here is to find someone who genuinely cares about products, and not just someone who’s worked in agile teams and fancies a go, or sees the role a stepping stone to senior leadership.
4. Do away with ‘The Business’, ‘Development’ and ’Support’.
You need to combine these units. The ‘Product Team’ is responsible for success across their product’s lifetime, not only just the design/build stage. If something goes wrong who should be in the war room? EVERYONE. Imagine something’s broken on your website and you need a workaround today. Your Product Team is ready to go, the designers whip up a lightweight UX and the DevOps build, test and deploy all in 12 hours. Everyone wants to be involved because everyone’s invested in the product’s success.
Meanwhile a traditional Ops team just takes the service down because they can’t get hold of anyone for a decision…
5. Don’t let senior internal people badmouth your product teams.
Some projects are bigger than others, and they’re often more important, but as a leader your duty is to stand up for your people if they’re under fire. This is especially important if you have a small product team running an innovation piece — it’s so disheartening when the office bigmouth is walking around shouting ‘why are we even doing this?’ about your work.
Make sure you can clearly articulate the value of all your products, and if you catch any of your senior reports scoffing at a small innovation project then here’s some choice sass you can try out:
“That’s why I’ve put my brightest minds on it”
“These innovation projects aren’t in the way, they’re leading it”
“Would you tell Jeff Bezos his innovation projects were a waste of time?”
“You’re just afraid they’ll show you up”
Your product team is a mini business within your organisation and you are their angel investor. Guide them, believe in them, nurture their agency — then watch them take over the market with brilliant products that your customers love.
If you’re interested in Product Design and how SPARCK can help you, why don’t you get in touch for a chat?
SPARCK combines the best creative innovation of a strategy house with the experience and capability of a leading, privately owned, technology consultancy, BJSS, with over 900 technologists. We help companies shape and deliver new products and services — and create their future.
Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org