Start to Scale your Product Management: Multiple Teams Working on Single Product

In the last blog post, we talked about working in the model where you are a single product manager working with one team on a single product. Although this is a foundational example, it is rare in the industry. Let’s up our game a bit and look at the role of the product manager in a model where she is responsible for one product that is being worked on by several teams. One Product, Several Teams

In this scenario the product manager still looks after one product, but that product is significant enough that it requires work from more than one product team. We have two product manager characters in this story as the team-level product manager enters the equation. For the sake of clarity, let’s call the team-level product manager a product owner, or PO for short.

For the product manager, this may be your first time having people report to you, or in tougher situations those team-level PM’s that you rely on so much actually report to someone else. You also now find yourself in the middle with the company executives above and the working teams below. Your peers are now fellow product managers with their own products to fight for.  
Influences Decides Advocates For
Product Manager
  • Product vision and strategy
  • Go-to market and product positioning
  • Pricing strategy
  • Growth strategy (revenue growth vs. profitability vs. strategic play)
  • The product team’s belief and confidence in the product strategy
Product Owner
  • The product manager
  • The product team and other stakeholders around the team
  • The product roadmap and product designs
Product Manager
  • High-level intent – what we are building, why we are building it, and who we are building it for
  • Product roadmap
  • Balance of investment in new features vs. enhancement and bugs vs. technical health
  • Investment of time in sales support, customer support, marketing support, and delivery support
  • The product story – this is the explanation of what we are building, why we are building it, and who we are building it for.
Product Owner
  • Definition of product story details (e.g. user stories and epics/features)
  • Behavior and design questions at the lowest level of definition
  • Sequence for development
  • Balance between support and new feature development at the team/sprint level
Product Manager
  • More help for your product in the market, meaning increased
    • Investment in R&D
    • Marketing
    • Sales
    • Customer support
  • The product owners
  • More help for the  product team
  • Buyers and users (You’ll likely need to advocate a bit harder for the user than the buyer.)
Product Owner
  • The product team and fellow product owners
  • Users over buys
  • The product’s technical health
When it comes to influencing, deciding, and advocating we’re doing all the same things as the single product manager did. The difference is these responsibilities are now shared amongst several people. The key to success here is to find the right balance of who does what and to continue working as a team versus working in silos.

Most commonly, responsibilities tend to be split by strategic versus tactical or business/customer-facing versus technical/product team-facing. The product manager typically owns the strategic side and appears to be the final decision maker. The product owner typically owns the tactical side and is responsible for the day-to-day needs of the teams working on the product. In the worst of scenarios there is a clear division of responsibilities with handoffs from the PM to the PO.

In the best of scenarios, there is shared ownership and overlap. The width of this overlap speaks to how in sync these two people are and how much information is shared between them. If these two people get along, collaborate effectively, and share a common vision, the odds of greater team and product success are significantly higher. No matter which role you are in seek this partnership above all else in your job.

Struggles and Traps

The PM and the PO face different struggles and traps. Often the one thing they have in common is a longing for what the other has with the PM seeking the good old days of when she was closer to the product and the PO working to progress his career to the next rung of product management, longing to be the strategic decision maker.
Struggles Traps
Getting into adversarial relationships (especially with your fellow product managers) This is a tough one especially when you are not organizationally on the same team. The working relationship between the PM, PO, and the team is critical to maintain.
  • Thinking you are in charge; you say -> they do
  • Not listening to the people around you
  • Struggling to see the big picture or being overly focused on tactical, near-term objectives
  • Pushing the pressure you feel down
Falling asleep or falling too far into the weed For the PM, your game has been elevated a bit but you still need to be awake. You can’t turn a blind eye to what is going on at the team level, but you also can’t micro-manage every decision, turning your POs into virtual secretaries.
  • Not trusting others to make appropriately leveled decisions
  • Obsession with perfection and perception
  • Falling asleep at the wheel; “I’m big picture now; that’s not my problem.”
  • Becoming too aligned with delivery concerns at the sake of strategy
Managing up, down, and sideways The influencing, leadership, and communication stakes just got a lot higher because your product is more complex.
  • Not communicating and assuming everyone knows what you know
  • Not sharing the greater context with everyone
  • Playing too much of the politics game or not playing enough
  • Getting into adversarial relationships with your peer set
Winning for these two product managers is keeping the entire product group moving as one. You’ll notice a lot this dialog moved from product to people and relationships. The product stuff didn’t actually go away; you have to do that too, but now the people piece is magnified because you aren’t doing it all.

Stay humble. When things go well, give credit to your teams. When things go poorly, accept responsibility. Communicate, communicate, communicate and respect all of the product managers for what they bring to the table, whether they are team level or strategic. If you do these things effectively, politics will shift more into the background, and the group can focus on the fun, product stuff.
Anne Steiner
Anne Steiner
VP Product Agility, Cprime