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Building Awesome Product Teams by Martin Eriksson "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 15 March 2018 True Diversity, Product teams, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 807 Product Management 3.228
· 4 minute read

Building Awesome Product Teams by Martin Eriksson

Summary: Build better product teams by hiring smart, diverse groups of people, getting out of the way, and focusing your teams on outcomes rather than outputs.

It’s not About Products, it’s About People

A lot of people think that product managers need to be experts in technology, user experience and business strategy. However, normally product managers have arrived in their role through just one of these areas of work – and are picking up the others as they go along. This is not a problem, because if you assemble your team in the right way, you can bring together all these skill sets and build great products.

Diversity Builds Better Products

Whether it’s ensuring your team is made up of people with different heritages, work experience or industry knowledge, the more diverse your team is, the better it will be at solving problems. Seek out complementary skill sets whenever you’re building a team or working with groups across an organisation. They will help you build empathy with your customer and with other stakeholders, which will in turn help you to build better products.

If you’re only using your engineers to code, you’re only
getting half their valueMarty Cagan

Product is a Team Sport

No matter what your role is in the team, the product is everyone’s responsibility. You may be a group of specialists, but real success depends on everyone contributing more than their own area of expertise. This is the point at which you get truly cross-functional teams that build products which are feasible while also solving the problems of your users.

Co-location for the win

By being in the same place as one another, you can have high bandwidth communication which helps you to solve the tricky problems that are the basis of your product. This is more important than having UX next to the customer and everyone else in the HQ – even though you should be going back and forth a lot.

Psychological Safety Produces the Best Teams

Those teams that feel they are safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of one another, far outperform teams without this attribute. Such teams admit mistakes, are more likely to take on new challenges, generally harness new, diverse ideas and are happier to challenge the status quo – all hallmarks of awesome product teams.

Individuals’ Motivations Aren’t What you Expect

Rather than paying people more and more, or having generous bonus systems related to performance – we need to think about the conditions in which people operate to keep them motivated. The top three factors proposed by Daniel Pink which help individuals to perform their best work are:

  1. Autonomy to make decisions and pursue what a person thinks is important
  2. Mastery over a particular skill or craft
  3. An understanding of the Purpose for what they are doing and why it’s important

Your Team is Smarter than you are

Product leaders need to build a way of operating, so that their teams can continue to deliver no matter what the scale of the organisation. By creating cross-functional, autonomous teams, decisions can be made nearer to the customer and they are more likely to be the right decisions. High-level guidance is still important. Leaders have a crucial role to play in defining how teams work together and in setting the vision – but the individual choices should be left to those best placed to make them. When done right, this results in a sweet-spot situation of high alignment and high autonomy.

Martin later expanded on this talk and wrote a post that goes into even greater depth on why autonomous product teams work better.

Understand the Problem in Order to Solve it

Once you have got to the bottom of the problem you’re trying solve, your next steps are usually pretty obvious. If you know what the problem is, then you can easily articulate what success looks like and work backwards from there.

Pick the Approach that’s Right for Your Situation

The vast majority of modern delivery processes (agile, lean, waterfall etc) come from manufacturing processes. They are typically tuned to help you create solutions which are already defined, as quickly, efficiently and as error-free as possible. People who work in an environment in which the answer is not known tend to operate in a different way.

Be sure that you’re not trying to use optimised delivery methods for situations when you need to discover the right direction to take first. There are lots of ways to do this – discovery sprints, contextual research, dual-track agile, to name a few. Great product teams are able to adopt different modes for different problems, and work in a cycle which takes them from working out the right thing to build to building the thing right.

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