The Open Source Product Manager

The Product Team Self-Assessment

A collaborative approach to identify where you should focus to improve as a product team.

Julian Connor
Oct 15, 2019 · 5 min read
Image by Julian Connor

High performance product teams continually improve the process by which they discover and deliver great products. Running a self-assessment process, such as the one outlined below, brings structure to this improvement journey. Regardless of team maturity, this approach highlights areas which deserve focus in a way which empowers the team to own the outcomes.

Approach Overview

The self-assessment uses a survey to create a common context across the team, followed by a workshop to explore opportunity areas and agree actions. Each team member is given the opportunity to complete the survey. The team is everyone who works on the product, which at a minimum typically includes the developers, product manager and designer. Depending on the organisation it might also include other functions, such as data. The survey uses the classic 5 point Likert scale (strongly agree to strongly disagree) with an option to add any further comments or feedback at the end.

The Survey

The survey itself is broken into 20 questions and aims to capture the essence of best-practise for a product team across 5 themes:

  • Vision and focus — We have a clear strategy and direction
  • Set up for success — We have the tools and resources to be successful
  • Ideation and customer focus — We apply good product thinking to the discovery process
  • Best practices — We follow good development standards in delivery
  • Team cohesion — We provide a safe and inclusive environment for every member of the team

The Questions

(Each scored on a classic 5 point Likert scale — strongly agree to strongly disagree)

Vision and focus

  1. Vision. My team has a clear and compelling vision which we can feel passionate about striving to achieve.
  2. Focus. My team has a consistent strategy and approach and is given sufficient time to develop a meaningful understanding of the problem space, technology options, architecture and stack.

Set up for success

  1. Honestly cross-functional. My team sits product, design and tech side-by-side and gives each equal voice in discussions about what to build, why and how.
  2. Tools and resources. My team has access to the range of necessary skills, tooling and resources to build winning products.
  3. End-to-end involvement. My team provides opportunities for all team members to be involved at every stage of the discovery process, regardless of role, so together we can contribute thoughts to make the product better and identify technical challenges in the proposed solutions.
  4. Empowered. My team is able to move fast and try out new ideas in order to innovate without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

Ideation and customer focus

  1. Sources of Inspiration. My team gains inspiration for what we build from a range of sources, including observing our customers, analysis of on-site behaviours, discussions with stakeholders across the business and by considering how new technology can be applied to our problem space.
  2. Idea validation. My team uses a range of techniques, both quantitative and qualitative, to test ideas to understand what’s really worth building before we start to code.
  3. Understanding of business constraints. My team has clarity not just on our users and customers, but on the business constraints which exist and understands why some great solutions might not be feasible right now.
  4. Iteration and focus. My team understands we won’t always nail the solution first time, but we give ourselves enough time to iterate and reach the desired outcome
  5. Customer and user engagement. My team frequently engages with end-users and customers to test ideas and receive feedback to ensure the products we build are the right ones.
  6. Customer obsession. My team is obsessed with making our users and customers happy.

Best practices

  1. Time and commitment. My team delivers the work it commits to, but to achieve this my team takes the time to understand the requirements, limits work in progress and creates space for thoughtful work without disruptions.
  2. Instrumentation. My team understands that if we can’t measure it: it didn’t happen and therefore ensures all work is appropriately instrumented and decisions about the product are data informed.
  3. Continuous delivery. My team integrates and released continuously, understanding that small increments results in a more stable solution for our users and less painful releases
  4. Housekeeping. My team monitors the accumulation of technical debt, understands how decisions in how the product is built will contribute to this, and has processes in place to prioritise and work-down the accumulated debt.
  5. Standards. My team sets and self-enforces quality, craft and collaboration standards.

Team cohesion

  1. Celebration of success. My team celebrates achievements (real achievements, not success theatre) and learns from failures.
  2. Continuous improvement. My team regularly conducts safe retrospectives, identifies opportunities to work more effectively and holds itself accountable to deliver these ideas.
  3. Psychological Safety. My team fosters a safe work environment: safe to learn, safe to fail, safe to take risks, safe to have diverse interests, safe to push back and dissent, safe to on-board new team members etc.

After the Survey

Following the survey, the results should be collated and a workshop/retrospective planned. The following points provide a guide on the flow of that session:

  • Reviewing the results: what do we do well? where do we need to improve?
  • Identifying priorities: which areas are particularly important to the team? why this area? are there areas which are unimportant? why?
  • Generating ideas: what does good look like? What’s our ideal end-state? how far could we get in the next 6 months? What do we need to do to get there? are there dependencies out of our control? Are we able to make a change?
  • Planning work: what needs to be done? who will own this? who needs to be involved? how long will it take? are there any dependencies?

Cycle Back Around

Finally, this type of activity is most effective as a recurring review — where the assessment is rerun periodically — for a number of reasons:

  • It creates a feedback loop which accelerates the teams continuous improvement journey.
  • It enforces a natural time-box to deliver improvements to the teams ways of working.
  • It is highly visible, allowing the team to see and discuss the changes which have been made since the last review.
  • Over time it provides opportunities for the team to refocus as previously poor performing areas improve.

I hope this provides some inspiration for anyone out there working to make their product team better.

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Julian Connor

Written by

Product Director at Domain. Previously product, strategy & data at Indeed + The Guardian. Recovering management consultant. @julianconnor on Twitter.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +564K people. Follow to join our community.

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