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Moving from feature teams to product teams by Audrey Crane "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 17 June 2022 True #mtpcon, Empowered product teams, Premium Content, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 829 Product Management 3.316
· 4 minute read

Moving from feature teams to product teams by Audrey Crane

In this #mtpcon Digital Americas session, Audrey Crane, Partner at DesignMap shows how Product Managers can leverage design teams and methodologies to move from feature teams to empowered product teams.

Watch the video session in full or read on for the highlights:

Level set on terms

Audrey begins by clarifying the differences and similarities between feature teams and product teams.


A feature team’s purpose is “to serve the business by delivering features as required by stakeholders or executives”. An empowered product team’s purpose is “to solve problems in ways our customers love, yet work for our business”.

Customer knowledge

A feature team’s customer knowledge is the expectation (or at least hope) that if the business says they need you to build feature x, they believe feature x is valuable and viable. In an empowered product team, deep knowledge of the customer is absolutely essential and non-negotiable.


A feature team is responsible for the output of prioritized features by certain dates. An empowered product team is responsible for solving problems and producing desirable outcomes.

Audrey presents a model situation. If a problem has more than one potential solution and more than one potential implementation and empowered product teams are given a problem to solve, something happens. “Hopefully, they get the chance to come up with the right solution and the right implementation. Whereas feature teams are given solutions, presumably to problems and have a chance to implement them,” she explains.

Yet, these teams often have similar makeups, and include a product manager, designer, and engineers. Audrey provides three ways for feature teams to become empowered product teams by taking a bottom-up, top-down, or outside-in approach.

Create value where you are

Many feature teams are given a list of prioritized features and asked to execute them. Audrey provides a few parallel examples  – an actor told just to read the lines, a teacher being restricted to just a lesson plan or a waiter asked to take an order. However, as a product manager, you might feel like you’re capable of more.

How can you turn a moment of service into a moment of collaboration? “Now is the time that we get to apply design thinking,” Audrey explains.

Empathize by asking

  • What is the root of the business request?
  • What do they think this process should look like?
  • How did they learn that?
  • What is their personal success hinged on?
  • What do they do outside of work?


What is the actual problem? For example, is it

  • Past successes or failures?
  • When contracts get signed?
  • Lack of awareness?

Ideate by asking

  • How might we address our problem statement?
  • What would I do if I were a consultant?
  • What’s the smallest thing I could do?
  • What if I wanted to make them a hero?


  • Story maps
  • Design sprint
  • Sales support
  • Playbacks

While using design thinking is effective, it’s important to remember that this is a long game and use the moments to build trust with other stakeholders.

Create value at the top

To create value at the top of the organization, Audrey suggests using design as a Trojan horse for the whole product team. Many executives already believe that design drives revenue and ROI, but they don’t know how to support and leverage design properly.

Product managers, however, are uniquely positioned to help design leaders speak to upper management and help tell the business story. They can help to explain how the business can derive business and strategic value from design and what they need to accomplish this.

Ultimately, what design wants the same thing as product managers:

  • Talk to customers first, not last
  • Understand customer’s real problems
  • Have the creative flexibility to come up with great solutions
  • Know that their work is having a real impact for real people
  • Not work on tickets, orders, or feature lists

Usability testing is never (just) usability testing

Audrey explains that in some situations, feature teams don’t have the opportunity to talk to customers. The problem this creates is that customer insights get pinged around. However, by definition, it is impossible to be a product team without regular customer contact.

Feature teams end up only being responsible for implementation and studying usability studies. However, they need to go beyond usability testing and create a conversation about value. “It’s impossible to be passionate and be a missionary about solving a problem that you don’t know exists or even understand.”

Audrey suggests that product managers bring other business stakeholders into interviews to help solve this problem. The key takeaways from this talk are that any company and processes are likely to be a big ship to turn, and nothing will happen overnight. However, by applying pressure in small ways across different areas, you can start to see a change in a quarter or two. In the end, the goal is to have a better impact on the business.

There’s more where that came from!

Use our Content A-Z to find even more product management insights.

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