I’ve been experiencing quite a bit of change lately to the make-up of my day-to-day product team—a team that has worked together very effectively for over a year. Primarily due to circumstances beyond the team’s control, many team members have departed, and others have been reassigned to new roles/teams. While change is healthy and normal, it’s been a challenging & bittersweet transition for those of us who have enjoyed our time working together.
As new teams are formed, it’s brought to mind what roles make up what I consider my ideal digital product team. Of course, every situation is different given the size & type of organization that you work in and product you’re delivering, but with years of experience working with several teams — some kick ass, others dysfunctional — I thought I’d share the composition of my all star team. The following are roles that may be filled by individuals, or a team, or one person can fill multiple roles. Tech Leads can be Product Owners; Designers can code; a UX Lead can conduct user research. What matters most is that each role has a clear & effective owner:
The PO is an excellent collaborator, leader, and team builder who works closely with their team to make decisions about the effectiveness and direction of the product. Ultimately, they have the final say regarding the path forward. This person may be the CEO of a startup with a single product, or a PO within a larger organization working in tandem with other POs. The PO is strategic and expertly communicates how the product can succeed and ultimately grow the business.
The UX Lead partners closely with the PO & Tech Lead to define the customer journey and product vision, ensuring the product focuses on solving a defined problem and delighting your target audience. They’re focused on designing and constantly improving the end-to-end user experience — relying on research, user feedback, and data to drive decisions. The UX Lead constantly helps the team focus on the needs of the target audience in order to deliver on the product vision.
The Designer tends to be more hands-on — working closely with the UX Lead, content, and development partners to bring the user interface to life via interaction and visual design. Depending on the organization they may be a Creative Director, Art Director, or a Production Designer. They’re often stewards of the brand, designing and incorporating any brand elements (imagery, typography, iconography, etc.) into the aesthetic of the product.
Content strategists and copywriters use language to help make a meaningful connection between the product and the end user. A writer on your team can definitely be an asset while crafting customer journeys. Language used in alerts, emails, instructional copy, labels, etc. can bring clarity & tone to a product (and a brand) to help set it apart from competitors.
The Tech Lead is the third leg of the product leadership troika (along with the PO and UX Lead). Often a CTO at a startup, the Tech Lead is responsible for defining and implementing the technology solution that will bring the product to life. They help define the vision and translate it into definable steps that can be built by their development team.
There are often multiple developers on a product team — each collaborating and specializing in a specific technology (web, back-end/database, native apps, scripting languages, etc.). Developers work closely with the Tech Lead and PO to define a technology roadmap. Developers focused on building the UI also work side-by-side with design partners to ensure that the design works and looks as intended.
This role goes by different names and can vary depending upon the process the team follows. The PM or Scrum Master works with everyone to define a schedule and sets expectations by breaking the work into manageable sprints. They often help with the creation of Agile or Job stories and maintain the product backlog. Ultimately, this person is a master facilitator and communicator — running stand-ups, retrospectives, and ensuring all parties are on the same page about deadlines & deliverables.
The User Researcher helps define & validate user problems, can determine whether or not a product or prototype is desirable to the target audience, and can spot potential usability issues. A good User Researcher can help interpret analytics, and work collaboratively with the team to suggest potential studies (A/B, lab, quantitative, etc.) to improve an existing product or to highlight brand new areas of opportunity.
Again, some of these roles can be filled by a single person, and the team can vary in size depending on the product. Perhaps you need multiple designers, a large research staff, and multiple dev teams, each with a dedicated Scrum Master. As a product grows in scale and complexity, I’ve often found it useful to have QA staff as well, but for this example I’m assuming that everyone on the product team will be responsible for quality assurance and identifying bugs.
Bringing together a collection of talented people who are able to fill these roles, trust & respect each other, and have passion about the product they’re building is a beautiful thing. It makes it a pleasure to come to work, should be your primary priority, and will set you and your product on the path for continued success.