How to Build High-Performing Product Teams | Hacker Noon

A product team is the backbone of any company with a digital offering. They’re responsible for constructing goods or a service that not only provides value to users but is also a reflection of the organization they work for. Product teams spin many plates at once, spanning duties from product management, product marketing, user experience, and product analytics. In the below article, we talk through the 4 characteristics that make up a high-performing product team.

Unlike other departments, product teams don’t have a hierarchical structure, their cross-functionality allows individuals to contribute their unique skill set and perspective more freely. The problem, however, is it can be difficult to identify success among these autonomous and self-organizing teams.

For example, research shows that product owners worry most about

missing launch dates and if product launches do not meet management expectations. Different personalities, styles, and expectations can also create barriers for members and negatively impact productivity.

Fortunately, there are a few underlying characteristics that signal the team is prepared to consistently perform to a high standard. Here’s what to look for and actively implement within your product team.

Clear Goals

Progress is limited if there aren’t defined endpoints being worked towards, and within product teams that have so much independence, clear goals are essential. 

The driving force of a great product team is them knowing exactly what they’re focusing on and over what timeframe. That means having a vision, strategy, and objective for every project the team undertakes. This structure also allows individual members to prioritize better – if there is a transparent target to reach, they have the ability to say ‘no’ to tasks that deviate away from it.

Rapid development cycles play a big part in setting and reaching clear goals. By working in quick sprints with regular iterations, product teams have incremental goals that keep them motivated and able to operate swiftly. The result is being able to bring products to market faster, which also helps build a recurring sense of achievement.

On a personal level, clear goals shape teams that work harder and discover a deeper love for quality products and craftsmanship. Unsurprisingly, these teams construct the most polished products.

Customer Centricity

Product teams are expected to think in regards to customer problems, journeys, and outcomes. Doing so means placing themselves in the customers’ shoes and bridging the gap between hypothetical construction and real-world application.

Roadmaps should be created with the aim to produce genuine solutions and value, and should never contain a feature that isn’t justified with tangible benefits to users. Instead, each step of the roadmap should be backed by product improvements that are demonstrable in users’ lives or routines. And of course, no features should be shipped without a definitive measure of success beforehand – essentially confirmation from test users that they can detect a positive change.

In being customer-centric, it’s important that product teams look past mere usability and take risks that are informed by both user data and qualitative insights.

Members should take the initiative to conduct interviews with people, then seamlessly apply their learnings in practical development phases. 

Autonomy and Accountability

Product teams do not need to be micromanaged. They should feel empowered in a way that enables them to be independent thinkers, problem-solvers, and to take calculated risks. Still, such autonomy comes with accountability. Members have to be willing to set aside resources to frequently explore rough conceptual approaches and question the things that they have pre-assumed about projects and development. 

Everyone in the team needs a firm grasp of the product expectations from end-users and stakeholders and has to be able to recognize gaps to be filled, along with business opportunities. All of these should occur unprovoked. 

To reach this stage, individuals should always be topping up their knowledge of the competitor space and other solutions that are available to the same users they target. That said, teams should not benchmark their success against competitors’ developments – being accountable means striving to meet internal, collective goals.

Collaboration

Like any high-performing team, people need to work together. And, as tech experts at Slack say, product teams, leave their egos at the door and understand one another’s point of view. Especially for researching and testing, team members should share their ideas to conjure up innovative and testable hypotheses. 

Ultimately, everyone in the team is responsible for the final user experience – whether they contribute pixels, code or customer insights, the end product is a joint effort. What’s more, job titles should never lead to bottlenecks or disjointed processes because the whole team has to be engaged to design, prototype, and test.

Remember, the team is non-hierarchical: product development doesn’t have a linear structure, so neither do members.

If the product team has been curated well, there should be a mixture of diverse technical skills that complement, not antagonize one another. There additionally has to be a culture of learning, where members are patient and accommodating with others who may not share their niche skills – including people outside of development in sales, customer support or marketing. Soft skills shouldn’t be forgotten either, especially for teams working remotely who benefit significantly from mutual communication and time management.

Outside of clear goals, customer centricity, autonomy and accountability, and collaboration, more general factors apply to product teams. For instance, Bruce Tuckman’s forming, storming, norming, and performing model advocates the need for trust and standardization in teams. Meanwhile, Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, has a two-pizza rule for his product teams – claiming that if two pizzas can’t be shared by all the people, the teams are too big and can’t function efficiently. 

Conclusion

While these four traits are an indication of a top-performing product team, individuals have to be adaptable. Product development deals with a lot of uncertainty in terms of business processes and customer relationships, and team members should be malleable in a way that leans into these challenges and produces appropriate results. Such flexibility is what enables product teams to cope with any ambiguity and reframe situations to see an opportunity. 

A product team that can securely check off these qualities is one that marks the difference between good products, and great ones.

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