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In a recent episode of his podcast Seeking Wisdom, David Cancel explained his preferred model for product teams which is based on the idea that “Everything you’re building is wrong. And the only way to figure out what’s right is to constantly talk to and involve customers.” Jay Acunzo summarizes this podcast episode and points out why you should be wary of “agile and waterfall” and that you should organize around customer and team happiness. (via @jayacunzo, @dcancel)
As Amplitude has grown, they’ve tried a variety of different product organization structures. After all that iterating, the structure they found most effective is based on the product North Star. Justin Bauer explains why “organizing a product team is hard but having a north star makes it easier” and describes how to find your product’s north star and organize your product team around it. (via @justinjbauer)
Rich Mironov has a fairly straightforward theory about how to organize teams: “Handoffs are the enemy of insight. The distance — the number of conversational hops between the folks who build product and your users — is the most important function about whether you’re going to succeed or not.” Jen Marshall provided this transcript of Rich at the Product Talks Sydney Meetup Group where he talked about how to use that theory to structure your product teams. (via @RichMironov, @brainmates)
Richard Banfield points out that while the media likes to present the story that “Top-down, command-and-control organizations with billions of dollars and thousands of employees are getting their butts kicked by small, agile teams with only a handful of employees, informal org structures and very little resources” that isn’t actually what’s happening. “Some large companies, with their associated scale and bureaucracy are doing pretty well, while many small companies with all their nimbleness and flexibility are struggling to stay alive.” In this article, Richard explores how adaptable and integrated product teams can generate success whether your organization is big and robust or small and adaptive. (via @RMBanfield)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.