How to Build a Great Product Team

There is no one-size-fits-all structure for product teams. In smaller companies, they are organized around a single product, different products, or product lines of a company. If the products are large and complex, the product team structure can be based on product features, customer segments, or a specific business or customer need.

When a startup becomes a larger technology company, it’s necessary to ensure full alignment as the product management team grows. Find out more and read this post outlining the methods to create and scale agile product teams.

What is a product team?

The product team is led by at least one product manager. The product manager’s job is to plan and coordinate the work within the team and with the customer and other stakeholders involved in product development, such as senior management, marketing, sales, research, data analytics, legal, or finance teams. It requires a wide range of complex skills.

The team must understand the customer problem that the product will solve and collect their feedback and needs, and it defines the core product features and leads the product development process.

Main functions and goals

  • Product vision development
  • Product strategy creation
  • Product development
  • Data analyses and research
  • Feedback collection
  • Product Validation

What is the difference between product teams and product development teams?

Both are agile and have the same ultimate goal: to deliver value to the customer. The main difference is that product teams work primarily to assess and plan “what to develop and why”.

Product teams are responsible for understanding customer needs, building something new that the customers want and love, and bringing it to market. It creates the customer personas, user stories, and story maps, and prepares the product roadmap.

Product development teams are working on the implementation. They’re usually agile dev teams with tasks, backlogs, and sprints.

What is the structure of a product team?

An effective team structure is necessary because it helps the organization allocate roles and responsibilities as efficiently as possible. There are many ways to build teams that have worked well for other companies.

Product teams need well-defined roles and a solid structure. But it all starts with a clear product vision and a product strategy that is clear to everyone, setting out common goals. This way, all team members know throughout the project what they are working on and what the team will ultimately deliver.

Transparency and collaboration are essential and can be supported by simple and visual product management tools such as StoriesOnBoard.

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You might think that one product manager is enough for a team. But as your product becomes more complex and your team grows, you can add another one to your team. Product managers can divide tasks based on their strengths and skills, or even have separate expert product managers for different product features or customer segments.

Whichever product management team structure you use, there is a cornerstone you should always keep in mind:

Stay customer-centric!

The product development process is a long run: from idea to implementation, and once you’ve gone through it, many interests and points of view collide. It’s not an easy task for the product manager, but it’s their job to ensure that the user needs are always put first, and the engineering, financial and legal aspects come afterward.

The empowered product team must operate autonomously and lead by an authorized product manager. That is, the team structure should follow this principle so that it is not subordinate to other managers or teams.

What roles do you need in a product team?

  • The product manager(s) or in the Spotify squad model, the team is led by a product owner
  • Developers
  • Q&A people (test managers)
  • Product designers and/or UX designers
  • Business analysts
  • Data analysts

What are the main types of product team structures?

1. By product or by individual product features

In this simple model, assign a product manager for each product or, for more complex products, for each key product feature. In larger companies, it is common practice to appoint a Product Director or Product Management Officer as product managers’ supervisor.

The effectiveness of this structure depends on smooth collaboration and excellent communication within the company and between stakeholders.

This multi-product management model gives more room for autonomy and creativity but can lead to confrontation or lack of communication between different teams, making product development less efficient than if it were managed by one person leading a large team.

2. By user personas or customer journey stages

Autonomous cross-functional teams are a good solution if your company is growing fast and needs to scale. That’s how many companies like Spotify, which develops a single product and offers a great customer experience, work.

Small teams contain developers, designers, and analysts who can quickly and efficiently produce solutions, evaluate feedback, redesign, develop and deliver, free from the decision-making hierarchies of large enterprises.

3. Squads: the Spotify team structure

If your product serves the needs of different user personas or customer segments, you can tailor your teams to meet the needs of different customers and only invent solutions and features that are specifically suited to them.

This model serves the user experience well, but seamless collaboration between different teams can be difficult.

How do you create a product team?

When building a product team be prepared that its structure will change over time, following the needs of the project.

And be prepared to answer these questions from time to time:

  • How many products should be managed?
  • Which (s) have a higher priority in revenue generation and development needs?
  • What is the complexity of these products?
  • Which product is at which point in its lifecycle?

By answering these questions, you can get an idea of what kind of team structure you should choose, so you can select the best one for your team.

Why is collaboration important in product management?

Shared understanding and smooth collaboration are essential parts of teamwork in product management. Teams that listen to each other are more likely to create high-quality, usable products that reflect real customer needs. And the one person responsible for establishing and maintaining a high level of collaboration is the product manager.

Product management is based on understanding the needs of the end users. But it is also their responsibility to incorporate some of the business objectives into their operations and manage the needs and ideas of different professional areas.

Good communication is crucial for agile teams, especially remote ones. There are many methods, channels, and tools to create seamless, effective team communication.

Benefits of effective communication in product management

  • Increased collaboration among the team members
  • More flexibility at the team and individual levels alike
  • Increased productivity, focus, and confidence that you are developing the right product
  • Learning potential for all stakeholders

Every product development project starts with discovery. Kick-off meetings, brainstorming sessions with people from different fields of the organization, representatives of the client-side, other decision-makers, etc.

As a product manager, you need to communicate with everyone involved in the product development process. The team’s effectiveness depends on whether all the members are ready to share their ideas and opinions and understand the objectives and milestones of the project.

Product management is – more or less – the same as facilitating successful cooperation. Motivated and well-organized participants share, discuss, organize and prioritize their perspectives and suggestions. It is also the product manager’s task to provide the conditions, framework, and tools for this.

Improve collaborative teamwork in the product management process

During the development process, as much knowledge and as many relevant perspectives as possible should be represented in the team. What could be better than using the right tools and methodologies to facilitate collaboration?

Then comes StoriesOnBoard to help you collect and sort ideas, create user personas, and put out user stories. A story map is an effective tool for product managers to easily track business requirements during the product discovery phase while providing an opportunity for open discussion and valuable feedback.

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Product roadmaps provide stakeholders and customers with an overview of the current iteration and the overall product plan. This way allows executives to track the current iteration using the status reports updated in real-time.

Overall, by using a story map, feedback management, and roadmap throughout the project you can build stronger, more direct, and long-term relationships with your customers.

Once the team is aligned, colleagues come together around the story map to brainstorm, organize feedback or hold prioritization meetings. This process also provides an amazing learning opportunity on how to solve issues together and create a new product.

Align cross-functional product teams

Product management is a cross-functional role by nature. Features make customers happy, so product managers tend to pay a lot of attention to building features and lose focus on building shared understanding between the team and the customer. This is where cross-functional collaboration can holds stakeholders and teams together.

An essential part of the product manager’s role is to work effectively with colleagues in different fields without formal authority. It’s the product manager’s job to smooth the cooperation and remove roadblocks. The PM must ensure that the whole team is working towards the same goals. In addition, cross-functional product teams need to work with a variety of partners.

Product managers work with a variety of people with different skills and working styles. It is by no means certain that the workflow between engineers, designers, and marketers will be smooth, especially if many of them come from different countries and cultures.

Each of these people and teams has its strategies and goals. Blending them into one shared vision can be challenging, but also very rewarding.

In short, how can you foster collaborative teamwork in the product management process?

Take collaboration to the next level using story maps. Story maps allow team members to leave useful comments or add valuable ideas, gather best practices, and engage your team through increased transparency.

Keep your customers up-to-date building trust and transparency with story maps

One of the challenges of the cooperation process in product management is to draw the line between collaborators and stakeholders while ensuring that a common understanding is maintained.

When customers can track product development and discover the features, they can better understand the product manager’s dilemmas. It’s easier for them to understand the epics, goals, and features on a story map.

Product management is constantly getting feedback about what’s resonating with customers and what they want to see in the product. To collaboratively communicate with teams, it’s important to establish a clear product roadmap. So teams can communicate with each other and with external parties on this basis.

Product management with StoriesOnBoard creates more value for the customer, and viewers can review progress and leave feedback. Understanding a story map and tracking the current iteration through card statuses is significantly easier and more engaging for non-dev stakeholders than showing them a flat backlog.

With story maps and roadmaps, your customers can keep up to date with the development process. Online sharing and collaboration save time. By leaving comments, adding ideas, and attaching documents, customers can leave feedback or ask questions, so issues are resolved efficiently and transparently.