How to Organize a Product Team

Nov 19, 2021

13 Min Read

Product management is a demanding and critical profession in today’s technological organizations. Developing a high-performing product team is never easy. Scaling a product team is a considerably more difficult task. However, doing all of this remotely may be the greatest accomplishment. A company’s performance is directly related to product management, and they have built a high-performing remote product team.

This article presents some thoughts and best practices about how the 15-person product team works with the product community.

Values

Companies should take cultural fit seriously and hold themselves to a high standard of ideals. Specific cultural or value conflicts may be rectified via in-person encounters in an on-site context. However, they should not have this luxury in a distant setting, and changing habits and attitudes are much more difficult. As a result, they demand individuals to behave in the manner which they want from the start. While everyone should adhere to their business principles, they place a premium on ensuring that individuals are:

Accountable

Each product manager is expected to function as the founder of their specific team or product. Product management is perhaps the most challenging field in the technology industry since practitioners must wear several hats and motivate people without formal managerial authority—simply via influence. Often, you rely on other teams that may not perform as planned. Their product managers are expected to jump in and do whatever it takes to fulfill their objectives. To raise your next investment round, you must ship your product and demonstrate traction. Investors are unconcerned with your team’s failure to produce. It is a matter of life for you to deliver.” Product managers must possess this feeling of ownership and go above and beyond to accomplish their objectives.

Motivated and Goal-oriented

Companies wants everyone on their team to set lofty objectives and motivate others around them to achieve them. The company is looking for drivers, not riders—individuals who are driven and motivated to make a difference. However, desire alone is insufficient. Rather than that, product managers must make a concerted effort to effect change. They must be tenacious in their pursuit of removing any impediments. Being impactful is critical in a distant setting. There is no face-to-face communication. They don’t have a way of knowing how many hours someone works, and they do not need to—what counts are the outcomes.

Helpful

As a team, everyone should be always striving to improve. A senior team member will lead different team excellence activities, including all team members. These contributions are included in their career planning and remain necessary for advancement to the level of senior product manager.

Dedicated and Passionate

Fatigue and burnout are sensations that occur when your output falls short of your intake. If you feel as if you’re doing something pointless, you’ll want to decrease the amount of time you spend on it. Companies want employees motivated not by the number of hours they work but by their influence—people who are inspired by their outcomes and accomplishments.

Relentless

Companies should encourage everyone on the team to strive for continuous improvement and excellence—to have a more significant contribution, develop as professionals, and acquire new abilities. They desire individuals that are never happy with the current quo and are continually striving to better themselves.

Interviewing Methodology

It isn’t easy to join the product team. Their job application to hire conversion rate is less than 0.1 percent. Conversion rates from the first interview with a recruiter are less than 5%. The company uses a rigorous six-step interview process to guarantee that they hire individuals with the best combination of hard and soft talents, as well as cultural fit. They seldom consider an individual’s prior experiences or subject competence. Rather than that, they employ generalists with a good understanding of the product, excellent execution abilities, and a commitment to their fundamental values.

The company has a significant edge over conventional businesses, given their talent pool spans the globe. This increases their skill pool significantly and enables them to lift the bar higher. The company’s recruitment strategy aims to decrease false positives (incorrect hiring) at the price of more false negatives (rejection of suitable candidates). The expense and implications of employing the wrong individual are so severe that they pass if they have any reservations about someone. Even if a candidate gets excellent feedback from all interviewees, they expect one of the interviewers to be a vocal advocate for the applicant before making an offer.

Product Management Methodologies

Remote employment necessitates the use of robust procedures and structures. In an on-site workplace, inefficiencies or lack of methods may be rectified or avoided entirely by in-person contacts. This is not the case in a remote setting, and to solve this, their product management approach is divided into two primary steps: product discovery and product delivery. 

Product Exploration

SPACE FOR A PROBLEM

It all begins with recognizing and comprehending difficulties. Throughout this phase, product managers undertake extensive user research with both external users and internal stakeholders, with the sole purpose of identifying and understanding their concerns. This is a year-round procedure that is repeated.

Each product manager is adamant that their stakeholders remain in the issue area, and they strongly object if they propose top-down solutions. Stakeholders should approach them with issues, and it is the product manager’s responsibility to collaborate with all necessary parties to provide the best solutions.

Additionally, Companies should encourage product managers to create intriguing issues on their own. They are glad to mention that some of its most significant challenges were raised directly by product team members. For instance, after speaking with several customers and talent, they discovered that many of them want assistance and direction throughout an engagement, even after the recruiting process is complete. Consequently, this has become a pillar of their product strategy and 2020 Objectives for Results (Objectives, Key, and Results).

SPACE FOR RESOLUTIONS

For the most critical issues, product managers have many brainstorming sessions to generate viable solutions. User research is also essential in this stage, as they return to the user to verify proposed solutions. This stage generates a list of possible remedies for each identified issue.

EVALUATION AND PRIORITIZATION OF OPPORTUNITIES

Companies evaluate the possible effect of alternative solutions as well as a high-level cost estimate. Then they prioritize based on the probable return on investment (Return on Investment). They want to have a product opportunity evaluation for each endeavor that examines the possible effect, cost, risks, market, and users. The opportunity assessment serves as a pitch for the business. It should be clear to anybody reading it what issues they are attempting to resolve, how they intend to do so, how much it will cost, and the advantages.

Template Opportunity Assessments You Can Adopt

ABSTRACT

Provide a brief overview of the concept and some high-level context.

VALUE PROPOSITION

What specific issue will this resolve? Clearly describe the problem. If you have any flowcharts, diagrams, or links that may assist in defining the case, provide them here.

TARGET MARKET

To whom are you resolving this issue? Describe the target users (personas) for whom you are attempting to solve a problem.

MARKET WINDOW

When? Exactly when is the most significant moment to start this product development project?

Objective, Key, and Results (OKR)

What are your goals and outcomes? Which company or function is this OKR assigned to?

IMPACT

What is the magnitude of the opportunity? Indicate your influence in terms of cash or time. You should strive for a numerical effect and explain their methodology for calculating it.

METRICS

How are you going to define success? Kindly describe the metrics you will use to assess the initiative’s progress, ideally per milestone. Indicate here whether the program has a single overarching “guiding light” measure.

OKRs

Companies have wholly embraced the OKR goal-setting framework as a corporation and product team. Typically, the issue identification step is a significant influence towards establishing the appropriate goals. Several of these goals originate from the company’s strategic aims. However, it operated bottom-up as well, with their research and discovered issues informing the OKR process.

When it comes to crucial outcomes, they often establish them immediately after recognizing the critical concerns. For instance, suppose that after performing a study with their talent, they discovered that some did not stay long because they had difficulty obtaining work. As a consequence, the following OKR would be created:

  • Assist talent in securing more jobs with less effort
  • As assessed by “less than X percent of talent leaving the network within Z months after joining”

User Research

User research is one of the product team’s OKRs. Each product manager must undertake a minimum number of user interviews and other forms of user research each year. The company is now establishing a user research team, although product managers will be responsible for research and insight collection. A product manager must be linked to their customers.

Product Discovery’s Outcome

Companies end up with a list of goals and key outcomes and a list of future initiatives that they feel will assist them in accomplishing those objectives and actual results.

It’s critical to emphasize that product managers should not commit to individual projects but rather to certain OKRs. Initiatives are a means to an end. Product managers can initiate new projects throughout a quarter and modify their action plans in response to progress and data received.

Product Distribution

SPECIFICATIONS

Product managers collaborate with business stakeholders, designers, content writers, and engineers to ensure that the following services are provided:

Briefs or specifications for the products that should be manufactured:

  • Designs
  • Artifacts of content
  • Plans for release or milestones
  • Before development can begin, stakeholders must approve the proposed solution’s design and content

DEVELOPMENT OF PRODUCTS

This is the actual phase of development. The company mainly uses Scrum, with a few teams using Kanban.

ASSESSMENT OF IMPACT

Measuring everything is ingrained in their product culture, and they attempt to quantify the effect of each introduced innovation. Product team would quantify it objectively (e.g., via increased conversion, speed, or engagement) in an ideal world or qualitatively through user research. Product managers are obliged to complete an impact assessment form for each initiative in which they indicate how the result of the industry relates to the opportunity assessment.

Product should choose to continue investing in a particular effort based on the collected effect evaluation and qualitative feedback. If the decision is favorable, they return to the phase of product discovery.

Organizational Structure: OKR Working Groups

Each technical team controls a business domain. For instance, talent acquisition, talent screening, talent activation, and talent retention all fall under this category. The idea is that each team is accountable for a distinct segment of their customer experience and has expertise in that company segment. They always make an effort to pair a product manager with a single technical team.

Historically, they were structured in “squads” to facilitate cross-team communication. They had a client squad comprised of all the teams responsible for the client funnel, a talented team, and a platform squad. This organization undoubtedly improved attention, but it also resulted in many silos and misalignments. For example, their squad structure hampered communication between the client and the talent squad, impeding their objective of speeding up how they connect talent with customers. The second issue they encountered was operational misalignment. To boost the pace of matching, they required skills to apply more quickly and matches to submit talent more quickly. This objective could not be met just via product features. In essence, their squad organization created difficulties for coordination between product managers and between product managers and operations personnel.

As a result, the company launched the notion of an OKR Working Group this year. Each major OKR that the product team owns or supports forms a cross-functional team comprised of representatives from all relevant engineering teams, product managers, operations, design, and other departments.

This kind of organization has a definite objective—to meet a specified OKR. Weekly or biweekly meetings are held to discuss progress toward the OKR, assess outcomes or key performance indicators, and collaborate on challenges and solutions. They all have the same purpose and gather regularly to further the cause.

Management Principles

They expect every product manager in a leadership capacity to be hands-on and supportive of execution when dealing with direct reports (i.e., other product managers). Their leadership style has several characteristics with the concept of servant leadership. 

Establish the Destination

Product leaders must communicate to their teams where they should go, what problems they should tackle, and where their concentration should be.

Describe the Route

There are several methods to go from point A to point B. The leader’s responsibility is to assist the team in locating and following the quickest route.

Get There as Quickly as Possible

After assisting the team in determining where they should go and how to get there, the leader’s responsibility is to help them quicker. This may be accomplished in one of three ways:

  • Assist the team in honing its talents.
  • Eliminate impediments.
  • If required, provide an additional set of hands and do some execution.

In their team, a leader demonstrates the path and then becomes a servant of their direct subordinates. As a servant leader, you must assist your team by eliminating bottlenecks and executing when capacity is limited or when confronted with a difficult challenge. Leaders must be hands-on, willing to jump into the fire, and set an example for others to follow. Managers who attend meetings and function purely as communication proxies have no place on their team. Their lead product managers excelled as individual contributors, and their direct reports admire them for their leadership abilities and execution competence.

Excellence in Teamwork

Companies should strive to be a world-class team and do so, and they are committed to continual improvement via what they call “Team Excellence Initiatives.” Each initiative is led by a senior team member who establishes its set of objectives. They conduct frequent evaluations to monitor progress and ensure that projects are effectively implemented.

Every member is invested in the team’s overall success and excellence as part of their culture. In most firms, such efforts are driven from the top. However, on the product team, there is a strong spirit of collaboration, with everyone contributing to the team’s success.

Several significant efforts include the following:

Exchange of Information

The objective is to improve the team’s talents. As part of this effort:

  • Exchange relevant items and points weekly and have an insights channel like Slack.
  • Have frequent knowledge-sharing sessions in which one of the members presents to the rest of the team on a subject in which they are an expert.
  • Invite foreign and internal speakers.
  • Study product management books and articles and then explore ways to apply what you’ve learned to their team. 
  • Recommend courses or training for other team members.

Team Bonding and Culture in a Remote Environment

Working remotely introduces several impediments to bonding. However, as a team, Companies should feel connected, and each time they meet in person, it’s as if they were a large family or group of friends. Despite their distant location, they strive to overcome the distance and create the illusion of being on-site. As part of this effort:

  • They have bimonthly hangouts, play online games, and discuss personal experiences, images, and lives outside of work.
  • Each month, they divide product managers into three groups of three, and each group meets for a call to get to know one another and discuss topics other than work. It’s almost as if you’re having a mini-hangout.
  • Along with a few smaller physical gatherings throughout the year, they have an annual offsite in a large leased home where they connect in person and accomplish incredible work achievements.

Work-Life Balance

To be a product manager is a hard job, and to be completely candid, they haven’t always had the most outstanding work-life balance. To address this disparity, they launched a specific initiative:

  • Sessions in which individuals disclose their objectives and the group assists them in reaching them.
  • A fitness competition in which each product manager discusses their favorite routines. They provide a reward to the winner after each month.
  • Presentations to the staff, including advice for managing their distant work-life balance.

These are only three instances. They also have various additional efforts focused on excellence, including product management processes, data governance, increasing product manager efficiency, and product documentation.

Approach to Product Management

They have successfully built a high-performing product team that contributes to the company’s hypergrowth. The following are the critical pillars of their success:

  • They have implemented product management best practices, focusing on product discovery, strategy, and user research.
  • They have customized these best practices for their remote configuration to make them as successful as they are in a typical setting, if not more so.
  • They have developed a strong culture of responsibility and ownership. Everyone has the founder’s mindset, is invested in making a difference, and is relentless in their pursuit of continuous improvement and team excellence.
  • Despite being a wholly dispersed workforce, they’ve developed strong bonds, with bonding and intimacy helping mitigate the negative consequences of remote work.
  • The most surprising part of this team is that everything results from close cooperation and intense teamwork among intelligent and motivated individuals rather than top-down execution. Everything happens spontaneously, and this is because people share shared beliefs.

Understanding the Fundamentals

How do you manage a product development team?

Three fundamental concepts govern the operation of a product team. Establish the destination by informing the team of their objective and the issues they must resolve. Establish a route from A to B and assist the team in locating and following the quickest way. Remove roadblocks and enhance team member abilities to expedite the process.

How should a product management team be structured?

Traditionally, a product management team is structured with product managers reporting to lead product managers who curate a limited portfolio of goods. All leaders report to a Head/VP of Product who is accountable for the organization’s overarching vision.

What is the purpose of a product management team?

A product management team is tasked with identifying business challenges and developing the most effective solutions. Additionally, the group manages the many product projects throughout the organization to provide a consistent user experience.

What is a product team?

A product team comprises product managers, with occasional help from product designers, business or data analysts, and user experience researchers.

What characteristics define a successful product team?

A strong product team can develop the optimal product solution for the business challenge while retaining a holistic approach to user experience throughout the product line.

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