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Building a killer product team: How great managers lead their team to success

One of the most important roles as a product leader is building the right product team. In part two of this two-part mini-series, Rocketship.fm takes a look at what high performing product managers and product leaders are doing inside of their organizations to manage and lead a high-performing product team.

How to structure your consumer product team

You can center your Product Managers roles around key metrics. Giving the example of an e-commerce company, Barron Ernst describes how each Product Manager can be responsible for a part of a full transaction funnel, i.e., from customer acquisition to purchase. In this scenario, an individual or group will work on landing pages and others will work further down the funnel on the storefront and checkout experiences. Each of these areas will have 1-3 key metrics and overall success of the Product Management team will be evaluated on how all these metrics perform.

How to structure a modern, customer-driven product team

According to David Cancel, the way you distribute responsibilities in a product team will depend on whether you are product-focused or customer-focused. He argues strongly that you must be the latter in order to ship products that people want. To do this he suggests that Product Managers divide their time between several technical teams and stay mostly focused on customer advocacy. Usually, the Product Managers will be supported by one or more designers.

The role of the product manager

Marty Cagan describes in his lengthy ebook from 2005 (worth a read) several roles, such as identifying and assessing opportunities, strategizing and developing a roadmap, internal evangelism and being the customer advocate. A well-functioning team will work together on these with individuals assuming specific tasks that are relevant to their skill set (technical, design, business etc.). In a blog post around the same time (a quicker read), he’s described higher level roles, including product specification, design, and marketing.

We’ve changed our product team structure 4 times

As Buffer grew, the team tried many strategies for organizing their product teams. Starting with simply everyone being on a single product team, they then moved on to a decision-maker process where individuals own various areas of development, then to a fluid process where teams were assembled dynamically to tackle a specific purpose. Finally, they arrived at a process, inspired by the Spotify team, where squads are deployed for specific goals and chapters allow individuals with similar functions to learn from one another.

Managing product managers

An inadequate product manager on your team is destructive. Unlike in other roles, there is usually no one to pick up the slack when that person is failing. Consequentially, the product fails and the customer loses. Marty Cagan insists that all new product managers, even highly experienced ones, should complete a three month period of studying their customers and technologies. And underperforming product managers should be identified early and let go if they do not improve.