Whether you’re going from 0 to 1, 2 to 10, or 50 to 100 it can be disorienting when your team size multiplies and product lines scale. In this #mtpcon Digital Americas keynote, Claire Vo CPO at Color, former CPO at Optimizely covers the skills, processes, and non-negotiables to rely on as your product org grows significantly.
In tech, Claire starts, we often portray scaling-up as a hockey stick curve, looking aspirationally at how to “achieve that rate of compounding growth that sets up a startup to lead and win in a winner-takes-most market”, focussing on revenue and user base growth, while ignoring the challenges of organisation transformation. It’s “like climbing a mountain, it can feel super exhilarating and really fun and exhausting all at once”.
Drawing on her experience as CPO a Color, Claire describes how in her first week she completed an organisational design, mapping out sustainable growth “basically this organisation design was another way of communicating the strategy to the company and the strategy of the product”.
Claire highlights 3 points for building an effective structure and supporting frameworks to support scale:
1. Scaffold the design of your team
As a manager, avoid instantly filling holes with hires and instead define the ultimate product organisation structure, forecasting for the next 6, 12 or 36 months. “Design organisations that can support future growth […] design structure first and overlay people next.”
2. Build an effective org chart
Empower teams by giving them clearly defined roles and insist on tight alignment between product and engineering, “it helps reinforce the organisation structure and helps you grow in tandem with the partners that matter most to a product team’s success”.
3. Minimise the hierarchy
Allowing grouping within your product structure is necessary early on, for example how many managers, to directors, to VPS are needed to be successful, but be open to change and prepared for restructuring as you scale.
Super scale your career
Being part of a company that super scales can dramatically shape your career journey, but it requires a proactive approach.
Here Claire collates advice for ensuring product leaders and product managers can best serve their companies, colleagues and personal careers:
Define your role (before someone defines it for you)
Product Managers may find their remit narrowed as the strategic scope changes at scale. “Raise your hand and chart your own path – aligned to the company’s growth”, Claire says, make sure everyone knows how your role and direction will benefit the wider organisation.
Map your career
Product people often struggle to articulate their career ambitions, leading to inefficient personal growth at a time when the company around them is growing fast. “Treat your career like a product”, Claire says: outline your goals, gather user feedback from your peers, and plan your roadmap. Add success metrics, whether that’s your title, impact or money targets. Your MVP is what you can do today and your V1 is your next formal step.
Give away your Legos
Citing an article by Molly Graham, Claire describes how important it is to avoid becoming possessive over the products, features or processes you acquire as you work, as they’ll prevent you from thinking to the future. “This is a huge growing rocketship and there’s a giant pile of Lego, so just give away your Legos and go work on the next big thing”.
Lean on product ops
“Maybe I’m showing my bias, but I just feel like good operation speeds up everything” Claire says, imploring leaders to ”get good at ops yourself or […] hire someone who is”. It “helps in scale”, streamlines teams, tracks strategic success correctly, supports onboarding product people efficiently and critically oversees that everything is written down.
Leave things better than when you found them
Whether it’s a system, a process, or a document, try to improve on something as you work on it and then share that learning. Creating a demonstrable portfolio of improvements can help as you look for career advancement opportunities and is a great path to leadership.
Let teams adapt
As a leader that’s provided structure and organisation it’s important to empower teams to optimise elements of the workflow for themselves, whether that’s “continuously improving things are killing process” or introducing new ways of working.
Articulate the future
Product leaders should disseminate the company vision, setting a goal for everybody in the product organisation can not only work towards, but can understand and even describe with shocking consistency, “it’s an absolute must have if you want teams thinking more broadly about the future when things are moving really fast”.
While scaling, product people can be rewarded for safe, low impact useful projects, however, risk-taking can be easy with relatively separate teams and a “great way to keep that like small team ambition and a big team system”.
Claire ends her keynote with a final non-negotiable: keep your eyes on the horizon and have a little fun. “At the end of the day, we’re all here just like making some internet [..] scaling should feel fun, it should feel exciting, and you should be able to laugh at the good things and the bad things so everyone on the team leaders pins everyone just make it your responsibility to make the scaling stage fun because it is.”