In this November 2020 #mtpcon Digital session, Roman Pichler, Author of How to Lead in Product Management, discusses important aspects leaders should bear in mind when structuring and growing product teams.
Watch the session in full, or read on for the highlights.
Empower the Product People
Any successful product organisation, Roman explains, needs empowered product people. He argues that having the leadership team make all the strategic product decisions while treating your product people as backlog managers and user story writers, is not an efficient division of labour. You need the right power balance: with leadership taking responsibility for the business strategy and overall success, and product people taking responsibility for strategic product decisions to achieve success on the product level.
Organise Around Products
Roman’s advice is to first create a shared understanding of what a product is. It may sound basic, but he explains that larger companies in particular often lack this clear definition, and as a result, struggle to effectively scale.
Take a close look at your product:
- Who are the users?
- What’s benefit does the product create for them?
- What are the main user journeys?
Once you’ve defined your product, you organise around it. Should you find a second product, you get someone to manage that. They may need someone responsible for the platform they share. Now you have a small product portfolio and you put someone in charge of managing that – and so on, while you grow and scale. Put simply, says Roman: “Find your products using a user/customer perspective, then put the right people in charge and organise around those products.”
Use the Right Scaling Approach
As successful products develop, and their user journeys become more complex, Roman explains, they can grow too big to be owned by just one person. This is your cue to start adding more people and, again, find just the right ones for the task. To bring new people on board and to help more junior product people grow, he suggests establishing the role of Feature Manager for bigger, user-facing features. Feature Managers still need knowledge about the market and the users but can develop and learn while the person in charge of the whole product ensures the overall product success. Sometimes, he adds, it also makes sense to identify architecture building blocks and assign ownership, so that a Component Owner with in-depth technical skills becomes necessary – for example a senior developer looking to transition into a product role. The product person in charge will still be responsible for overall product decisions, whereas the other two roles will be more focused. Roman recommends, however, that you involve Feature and Component Owners in discovery and strategy work to leverage their domain expertise. “When you involve people in making decisions they buy into them in a much stronger way, compared to telling them: please do this or that,” he says. Make sure there is a shared understanding of the key strategic decisions for the product.
Allow Product People To Focus on Their Jobs
In an agile environment, with a framework like Scrum, the idea is that the Product Manager collaborates with design and tech leads who own the solution, and the Agile Coach or Scrum Master in charge of people and processes. In too many companies, though, Roman says that the Agile Coach role is missing – and more often than not, the product manager steps in to try and cover this part. Your job, says Roman, is to focus on the product. “Manage the product, do not manage the development team do not manage the process,” he says. This puts extra strain on the product people, making it hard for them to succeed at their job and ensure that the product generates the necessary value. Roman’s advice: Provide an environment and set-up in which your product people can focus on their core job – owning the product, being responsible for its success and collaborating with the stakeholders and development teams.
More on Building Product Teams
- Empowered Teams and Decision Agility
- Empowered Product Teams by Marty Cagan
- How to Grow and Scale a High-Functioning Team by Richard Cadman