Frontiers
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Launching (and relaunching) Product Development Teams

The role of the product manager

At any growing tech startup, development teams are bound to change and change frequently.

People and energy flows to areas of the business with significant impact opportunities. Additionally, people often flow to the areas where the fires are the hottest.

Parts of the product on fire attract teams (if they’re worth saving!)

These natural trends of tech startups mean that teams are constantly getting burned down, reworked, rebuilt, and relaunched.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve been on close to 15 different development teams. The longest time period any of them stayed truly static, people-wise, was 4 months.

Believe it or not, this rapid change or team “turnover” is very healthy.

Sure, good habits and domain expertise can get built over time with a consistent team.

But so can complacency, a lack of holistic perspective, us vs. them mentalities, and declining Product Manager creativity.

Upside Approach to Teams

At Upside Travel, we don’t hesitate to move developers and Product Managers around to best attack the goals of our business.

In the past year at Upside, I’ve product managed 7 different teams and worked with more than half of our developers.

Over the last 5 years, at Upside and Vistaprint Digital, I’ve learned a lot about what gives team building and re-building the highest chance of success. A lot of that learning came the hard way.

4 Keys to Successfully Building (and Rebuilding)

  1. Shed The “Baggage”

If you’re putting together a completely new team for a new product that has never worked together before, you don’t need to worry about this.

But chances are more likely that you’re assembling some people who have worked together, some people who haven’t, to work in an area of the product that previously had a team working on it.

Shed the baggage of that previous team and their approach.

Avoid being overly negative as you shed this baggage by acknowledging both the positive and negative impact they made. I highly recommend a retrospective meeting here to reflect on the prior team and their approach.

2. Shake Things Up (A Lot!)

If you’re rebuilding a team or joining a new one, don’t be afraid to break some of the traditions that existed before.

Be respectful, but things like changing where the team sits, the team name, the way the team works, and the cadence of meetings are all fair game.

Even the way the team communicates with other teams should be re-evaluated.

Top to bottom, shake things up, see what’s an improvement and what should be kept the same.

Avoid “that’s the way we’ve always done it” at all costs.

3. Build a Shared Set of Values

Without a shared set of values, your team will drift aimlessly and lack a true intrinsic purpose. Spend time with your team thinking about what matters.

Which of these is most important to your team?

Moving fast (and not worrying about quality so much)?

Being dependable and avoiding downtime at all costs?

Creatively testing lightweight greenfield ideas that could become major future opportunities for the business?

How does the team treat each other, communicate with each other?

How do team members respectfully share alternate ideas when they disagree?

How does the team view success?

4. Bond Over New Creative Ideas

Look to (and work with) your new team for creative ideas to reinforce your shared set of values. Search for ideas that align with your business and team goals.

Recently, I re-launched one of Upside’s teams and here are just a few of the creative ideas we’re testing.

  • Developer Day: 1 day/week, developers on the team get to choose whatever work they want to do (instead of being bound to the sprint commitment). Generally, the work picked up is Tech Debt, Design Debt, or small features.
  • Weekly Health Check: Each week, I’m posting a health check that includes metrics on Product Stability, Quality, and Performance in all major Slack channels at Upside. More visibility = more feedback = more improvements!
  • “Be a Customer Day”: Once per sprint, we’re taking an hour to purchase travel as a “customer” on Upside. We’ll each choose a customer persona and book travel. We’ve already found that approaching the product with this different lens leads to significant ideas for improvement.

How Do You Build Your Teams?

I’d love to hear what has and hasn’t worked for building teams at your tech company! Share with me at: @amitch5903

Need Help Preparing for a Product Manager Interview?

I’ve interviewed over 50 Product Managers and can help you prepare for your interview. I can help prepare you for interviews with any company size and industry.

Book time with me on Clarity!

Product Interview Prep with Alex Mitchell

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Alex Mitchell

Alex Mitchell

Product @Kinsured | 5x Product Leader/Founder | Syndicate: bit.ly/mitchell-ventures | Author: @producthandbook @disruptbook