Digital Products 101: Building a Winning Team
Digital product development teams

The previous blog post was all about essential, more or less consecutive stages of product development. In this post, we will focus on the dynamics in the team. Most certainly, the winning team does not emerge over night and it takes a few different stages for a product development team to mature, become uniform and work as one. 99 % of start-ups fail because they are unable to adapt the stages they cross during the evolution. We thought it would be very useful for you to read more about those.

Stages of crafting a product team

Different stages of crafting a product team

Take the first steps in the “drunken walk” stage

In the “drunken walk” stage the goal is to experiment as much as possible. Here, the stakeholders simply trust their gut generating ideas. In the beginning,  companies usually prioritize their efforts around a simple prioritization model  – value vs. effort. They may also refer to other prioritization criteria, but objectives are mostly not clearly defined.

Search for the right product fit

During this stage, the company increases volume on activities that are already working well. Companies have a strategy supported by simple objectives aligned with the needs of a target segment and the needs of the business. They use these objectives to prioritize what to build next, and to communicate the why behind each feature on their roadmap. Here teams start to define measurable and actionable metrics or other KPIs. The latter allow them to track their progress and know when an objective is complete.

Invest into what works in hypergrowth stage

In product fit stage is successful, then comes the stage of hypergrowth. It is all about innovating while preparing to scale the existing product. The product team usually deploys a strategic roadmap, which is translating the mission and long-term vision of the company. As  Aditya Agarwal, an expert engineer, who’s been through massive hypergrowth stage in Facebook and Dropbox, stated:

Teams figure out what they want to do themselves, and we give them feedback as to whether they’re being too ambitious or too conservative.

Reap the benefits of your hard work and scale

Finally, the company becomes the market leader and as a consequence of a rapid growth, problems begin to stack up. This focuses shifts to sustaining growth rather than innovation. At this stage, the company already has a track record of successfully achieving objectives which push it to new heights. Those objectives incorporate a well-defined picture of the market and customer segmentation. It is a final prove, that you’ve managed to build an excellent team.

Find the right people to do the job

A successful team works together

Product managers focus on the product, of course. But not only on the functionalities and features – they focus on the why behind those. Product managers hand over the specs to the engineering team so that they have all of the information to start developing. So, engineers are more cautious about the how and the what within the product they are building. Although in theory, key responsibilities of both groups in the team are predefined, team usually faces quite a few challenges in the process.

Main challenges of the product development

First of all, the product team needs to develop the right product prioritization framework that works for the business in order to operate properly. Secondly, speed in product development and it usually conflicts with the quality of production. Then, there is the challenge of working in a silos. That means product and engineering are working in separate but parallel worlds. There is a sense of separation between the two teams like there is a wall between the two. Most likely, there is a lack of communication and both groups just try to execute blindly, according to their vision.

Needless to say, such an execution usually ends badly and you’ll have even more work on your hands. Therefore, it is crucial to structure your product development team adequately. However, there are several different combinations to work your project out properly.

So, how to structure your team successfully?

Let all your team members know they are important

One product manager per product (or feature)

Under this structure, a product manager will own responsibility for all strategic aspects of a given product. You will decide how many developers and designers will you assign to each product manager (to each product or major feature in the portfolio). You can decide, whether or not the work should be assessed by stakeholders or it can be directly released to the market. Also, you select who will the PMs report to – be it the head of marketing, chief product officer or VP of Product, it’s you who is going to make a decision.

PMs’ responsibilities are divided according to their skills

In this structure, you will leverage your product managers’ different skill sets across multiple products. In practice, you build a balanced product team consisting of a business product manager, a technical product manager, a design product manager, and a growth product manager. For example, the product manager might take the lead on market research and developing expertise about user personas across your entire product line. Another PM will own the budgeting role for the entire portfolio. He or she will work with the development team on resource allocation and timelines for all products.

Product managers work with a cross-functional team

This type is cross-functional which means each team consists of a small group of developers and a product owner. This team will work on a specific functional area of the product line. They will aim to develop domain expertise that can later serve multiple products across the company’s product portfolio. These characteristics can be applied to different types of product teams. But what makes the squad model different is that each squad has autonomy to release its work to the market. No executive stakeholder approval necessary.  The squad develops new code, tests it until the team is satisfied, and then pushes it to the live product.

The key takeaways for building the right team

To conclude, there is definitely no one size fits all rule when creating a winning digital product development. As unpredictable as it is, it is most important for companies to stay committed to the goals but flexible in their approach. Have an ear for what team members say to you as a stakeholder. If the interest for a successful cooperation is mutual, in no time you will be on your way to success.

That’s the spirit we follow here at Clover Labs. Feel free to reach out whenever you need help developing your digital product.

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Blendor Sefaj

Stand-up guy in IT. Semi-funny. Improv, tech talks. Creating content at Clover Labs.

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