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Product Strategy

Why Product Teams Work Better Than Departments

Julie Branson
July 25, 2019

What is a product team?

At Crema, we use what we call “product teams” or “innovation teams” to get work done as quickly and effectively as possible. These are small, collaborative, cross-disciplinary teams that work together to achieve the common goal or outcome of creating an exceptional digital product. There’s little to no hierarchy within these teams, as each individual contributes a unique skill set and perspective that is essential to the process (Albeit, teams are typically kept accountable by product managers). You’ll find each specialty is represented on a team, including product strategists, product managers, designers, developers, test engineers, etc.


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 with one another to produce a truly amazing final product.



Why we keep our product teams small.  

With our many years of experience in digital product development, we’ve realized the importance of keeping product teams small. For us, the sweet spot is around 4-10 people. Although, this number can certainly fluctuate to cater the specific needs of a given team. 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, you ask? A part of the reason is because communication breaks down as teams grow larger.


It makes sense that one-on-one communication is most effectual. 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 - or in other words, there are more people you need to find a way to communicate your message to. It often becomes more difficult, costly and inconvenient to get everyone on the same the bigger the group is. This is why smaller teams are ultimately more efficient. (To dive deeper into this idea, check out Edmond Lau’s article on how communication is the first casualty of a team’s growth.)


Another detrimental consequence of this 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 project they’re responsible for. At Crema we keep our teams small so that knowledge share is happening and stable progress is being made. We believe that keeping product teams small ultimately assures that the group stays agile and effective.




What’s the difference between product teams and departments?

Google defines a department as, “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.


Recap


  • 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.



To learn more about Crema’s product teams, head on over to this page.


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