What is a product team?
A product team is a collaborative, cross-disciplined group of individuals that work to achieve the common goal of creating a great digital experience. In other words, they come together to create software (or applications) with a high level of polish. These teams rely on the collective talent of each person to achieve the following:
- Understand the business needs
- Conduct user and competitor research
- Consult stakeholders on the product strategy
- Manage the roadmap and work
- Design flows / screens to test and iterate upon
- Write content for the experience
- Develop the frontend and backend
- Test the experience for bugs, accessibility, and compliance
- Create the required assets for go-to-market
- Provide support for maintenance
This list isn’t exhaustive! Successfully launching a digital product may require a range of different activities depending on the project. It’s a big lift getting any digital product up and running.
Are product teams cross-disciplined?
The product team’s superpower is cross-functionality. Having several different roles collaborating on a project brings necessary diversity of skills, experience, and perspective to deliver the product. With product teams, you want to avoid homogeneity.
Product teams can come in all different shapes and sizes, but there are a few key roles that should be on the roster. You’ll find each of these specialties represented: product managers, designers, developers, and test engineers.
Because each of these individuals contributes a unique function that is essential to the process, there is little to no hierarchy within these teams. However, teams are typically kept accountable by product managers.
To conceptualize the significance and value of each individual on the team, consider the well-known “car parts” analogy. In a car, every last part serves a specific purpose to make the car function correctly.
Without one piece working, the entire machine can break down completely. Similarly to cars, our product teams are complex, yet well-oiled machines. All the members of the team provide a certain expertise and collaborate to produce a truly amazing final product.
Why should you keep product teams small?
Product teams are best kept small to get work done as quickly and effectively as possible. With our many years of experience in digital product development, we’ve realized it is important to keep it that way. For us, the sweet spot is around 4-10 people.
Jeff Bezos contributes some of his success to the “2 Pizza Rule” - making sure the group is always small enough to be fed with only 2 pizzas. Why is small best? A part of the reason is that communication breaks down as teams grow larger.
One-on-one communication is most effective. There is a single, direct line of communication used to get the message across. As your team grows larger, there are more lines of communication to disseminate the message along. It often becomes more difficult, costly and inconvenient to get everyone on the same page the bigger the group is.
The biggest consequence of a breakdown in communication is the knowledge gap that occurs between members of a disconnected team. Without the ability to quickly ask questions or directly debrief one another on issues that arise, team members can be left with a broken understanding of the work they are responsible for.
At Crema (a design & technology consultancy) we keep teams small so that knowledge share is happening and stable progress is being made. Everyone is clear on the current priorities and their personal responsibilities.
What’s the difference between product teams and departments?
Look at Google's definition of a department: “a division of a large organization such as a government, university, business, or shop, dealing with a specific subject, commodity, or area of activity.” This definition exposes why departments are inherently problematic: they’re divisive.
Departments typically silo individuals into separate groups, where they only interact with individuals who have similar skill sets. The trouble with companies basing their departments off of their people’s similarities is that it’s actually their people’s differences that make them thrive.
Diversity of age, experience, worldview, etc. makes overall stronger teams. We purposefully stack our product teams with a diverse set of roles which offers a diverse set of perspectives. The benefit being that these varied outlooks allow for arising issues to be solved quicker and more creatively.
A designer and a developer will almost always hold different perspectives on the same problem, and the collaboration allows for hurdles to be overcome faster and the end result to be of higher quality. This is why our teams are complementary, not analogous.
- How departments work: Picture siloed groups of individuals who toss a body of work over a wall - hoping the end result is effectively done.
- How product teams work: Picture a small group of skillfully and experientially diverse individuals sitting around a table working together to conceptualize, design and develop an amazing product.
- What roles you need on a product team: It’s important to clearly identify the roles on your team and their respective responsibilities.