6 Keys to a Strong Integrated Product Team

All kinds of product teams can be successful depending on how success is defined in an organization. I was in a previous role several years ago. As long as we completed a project on budget and time, it was deemed successful—even if it took years to launch and wasn’t valuable to the customer anymore by the time it hit the market.

That type of work can be demoralizing for a team and the individuals who make it up.

As we see more and more organizations move to an Agile mindset, constructing strong product teams is an essential component of genuine success—which we define as delivering consistent value to the customer. Based on my experience, there are several keys to building strong and successful integrated product teams. When teams can function using these keys, they deliver actual value for their customers/users and can continually improve.

Key #1: Communication, collaboration, and teamwork

Consistent communication is vital so that everyone on the team understands the organizational strategy, how the product can deliver on that strategy, who the customers are, what they value, and their goals. Collaborative team exercises like framing, persona development, and story and journey mapping can help ensure everyone is on the same page and can apply that shared knowledge to their work. These concepts are essential for a successful and strong team, and they show up repeatedly in the keys outlined below.

Teamwork is a hallmark of solid teams—no one is an island, and everyone on the team should be willing to pitch in to support each other toward these common goals. Ideas must be welcomed and discussed with team members, and the team must make decisions with all perspectives taken into consideration.

Key #2: Dedicated team members whenever possible

Cprime TeamHaving dedicated team members can feel daunting or expensive when teams are first set up. There may not be enough work on a team to support this in some instances. However, whenever possible, at a minimum, having dedicated members assigned to one or more teams that support the same product helps the teams function better and keeps team members more focused.

The real challenge with not having dedicated teams is that they do not have total control over their members, which can impact their delivery cadence and release process. In a previous role, my team had a UX designer split across three teams—two that supported one product and one that supported a different product owned by the same leader. While it was helpful to have her input across the teams for design consistency, we ran into some resourcing issues that slowed all three teams down. While one product team needed her to develop a design for a minor bug fix, another team needed her to create a design system for a tool. It was challenging for the teams as they weren’t sure when they could get the design to start their work. And, it was challenging for her due to context switching and conflicting priorities. In this case, even having one additional UX designer available could have lessened the impact on the teams and the individual and allowed for continued progress in the release cycle.

Key #3: Mutual respect and trust

The best teams I’ve seen or been a part of have a strong sense of respect and trust. Everyone on the team brings valuable knowledge, experience, and skills to the table. We all have varying backgrounds and ideas that should be welcomed and explored, knowing that the team members are working toward the same goal.

While having ultimate responsibility for the product, the product owner is not the only voice on the team. Listening and learning are more important than knowing everything to set the right tone for the team. It’s essential to listen to all voices and ideas and celebrate successes and failures together as those experiences help the team learn quickly and adjust course as needed.

Another vital component is trust. On some teams, there may be separate developers who have expertise in one area of the product codebase. However, sometimes during a sprint, that developer may have a lot of tasks that need to be done but not enough capacity to complete them. With mutual respect and trust, another developer could pair with that expert or even take on the task themselves—even if they take a bit longer to complete it—for the team’s good. This allows the team to continue their progress and for another resource to learn new skills and expand their knowledge.

Key #4: Shared understanding of product mission, vision, and goals

It is critical to ensure all team members have a strong understanding of the product, its value, AND how it ties into your organization’s goals. The number one job of the VP/Head of Product or a Product Line Manager is to translate the corporate strategy to the product strategy. They also must ensure that the integrated product teams have a shared understanding as they plan their roadmap and features.

The team’s product visions should answer the following questions:

  • Who will buy/use the product
  • What need does it address
  • What category is the product in
  • What is the key benefit or value
  • How is the product unique vs. competitors

Answering these questions can level-set the team’s understanding of the product and how it fits into the organization’s goals and roadmap.

While the Product Owner is the product evangelist, all team members must be on the same page to collaborate and deliver the right things.

Key #5: Know and have access to your customers/users

Depending on your industry, this can be one of the hardest things about product management. You may have more than one customer/user that you need to consider as you’re building features. Customer needs and wants are constantly changing, so direct access to customer feedback is vital to ensure your team focuses on delivering the “next” thing that will provide value.

An excellent way to get a customer baseline is to develop personas. When developing personas, the team should work together to document the customer types, clarifying their goals and values related to the product. Discovery feeds delivery, and learning from delivery feeds discovery, so you can’t do one without the other.

Ongoing customer feedback, research, and sharing with the team is an important component to ensuring team success. For example, the Product Owner and UX strategist (through research and customer feedback) may learn that customers specifically mentioned their interest in paying with cryptocurrency. Suppose the story for the development team states that customers “want a variety of payment options.” In that case, the developer is left to decipher what that “variety” is and may not include cryptocurrency. This can result in frustration, wasted time, and potentially customer dissatisfaction.

Key #6: Empowerment, Empowerment, Empowerment!

Last but not least—and I cannot stress this one enough—if the Product Owner and team are not empowered to make decisions based on their research, knowledge, and expertise, the team will not be as successful as it should be.

In many organizations, decisions around what the team should work on are made by leadership. While leaders should set the strategic direction for the organization, teams should have the autonomy to determine what to work on next based on the expertise, learnings, and customer feedback they have access to. The best product teams set goals for their product that align strategically with the overarching organizational goals.

Teams who are empowered can pivot as priorities and market conditions change. This allows them to deliver what their customers value even if it wasn’t on their radar or was lower priority. Having this autonomy and flexibility provides a strong sense of ownership and responsibility, not only for the product owner, but also for the other team members.

While there are many factors to building strong product teams, in my opinion, these six are critical to success. By allowing your teams to function this way, they’ll feel a strong sense of ownership and pride in their product. They will also pivot as they learn to ensure they are building and delivering the right thing faster.

To learn more about developing strong integrated product teams, contact product agility experts at Cprime today.

Product Management

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Susan Dellio, Product Coach
Susan Dellio, Product Coach