April 30

The Role of Product Teams in Large and Small Organizations

The following insights were gleaned from a presentation at INDUSTRY given by Dheerja Kaur of theSkimm @dheerja. Download Product Management TACTICS eBook for more.

Product plays a very different role within organizations both big and small.  Defining the role of product through the different stages of a company and how we instill product thinking throughout the organization can help us build the right product team for our companies.

But let’s face it — injecting product into an organization is hard. Focus on how product can help the various people within the organization — not how it’s taking away their responsibilities.  Product “swim lanes” are an easy trap.  Really, it will take people reaching over to different lanes in order to see to it that our products are managed successfully.

Instead, focus on building a culture that embraces flexibility and agility. There is no perfect way to organize a product team. Assume it will constantly change and be okay with that.

When it comes to the characteristics to look for in ideal team members, EQ and self-awareness are just as (if not more) important than hard skills. Can product managers help the people around them and know how to motivate them? Can they balance leading with conviction while being open to challenging viewpoints?

It’s also critical that product people are truly obsessed with their customers — especially at the early stages.  It’s at these stages where iteration is so important and a true desire to fulfill needs for customers can help a product team find the right solution to iterate to.

At the very early stages, focus on building product thinking and culture from the ground up. The entire company should live and breathe user first. But the product team should be the champion of the user and encourage this mindset.

In truth, there is no “right” way to build products. Use each opportunity to develop your philosophy on product development that leans into the ethos and assets of the company.  Don’t worry about following “the” best practice, but rather find the right practice for your team and your company.

As your team starts to grow, find inflection points in the company’s trajectory and identify how product development should look and operate differently. Things will need to change, but embrace change and find team members that also embrace that change.  The product people you bring on board early on should be product people that are eager and ready to see the product organization grow.  Build a diverse product team that complements and challenges each other.  Identify and lean into the “X factor” of a product manager in your organization.  Is it the “technical” product manager?

Is it the “user-obsessed” product manager?  Whatever it may be, look for that key characteristic.

To view Dheerja’s full presentation, visit:


Paul McAvinchey

About the author

For over 20 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on in the exclusive Member Hub, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly newsletters that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.


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