Great products come from great teams, and product management is a team game that requires everyone to work together to achieve the objectives.
Think about a tug of war contest. Everyone is putting all their available effort into pulling the rope yet they’re working against each other. Despite the massive individual efforts, neither side really goes anywhere until someone gives up.
Now think about a rowing team. Everyone is still putting in the effort, but everyone is aligned with a singular goal or value. So, instead of struggling and going nowhere, they can glide to the finish line with ease.
Obviously, these two sports have different objectives, but you’ll often find a tug of war happening with your teams. In the world of product management, we need rowing teams, not a tug of war match.
So, how can you gauge if your product team is a rowing team — or making product management a tug of war?
Agile teams work against the traditional hierarchies by giving each team member equal responsibility over the product. This means that there is no one person with the power to get teams back on track when distractions happen.
To make sure the project stays on track, you want a team that feels empowered to work under their own steam.
As we mentioned earlier, tug of war teams will spend lots of time struggling while going absolutely nowhere. It’s incredibly obvious when a product is built by a divided team as it affects product quality. A good team will be completely in alignment with product and organizational goals to create the best possible product they can.
A great agile team should be constantly looking at their work via sprint retrospectives or reviews to identify ways to improve. This helps teams grow both as individuals and as a collaborative force.
With responsibility for the product spread around the entire product team, it’s easier for individuals to speak up. Teams should use this as a chance to grow by challenging assumptions that they may not agree with.
Even if that challenge turns into a discussion that doesn’t result in change, it’s a meaningful conversation and a valuable learning opportunity.
A surefire way to create a product with little to no value to the user is by focusing too hard on solving problems rather than looking at the problems themselves. This means they fail to see the root cause of those issues and create superficial fixes.
With agile team members having equal responsibility and autonomy, you need decisive people on your team. There’s no room for uncertainty and ambiguity in the product development process as it detracts from the value you’re trying to instill.
These early stages are where ideas come to life. Teams need to gather key information to understand if a new product idea is viable or not.
Good teams are customer-focused. A customer-centric agile team will use this time to learn everything they can about their target audience and market needs. They will also look to communicate between departments to help the entire organization stay customer-centric.
They will interact directly with potential users to find out the areas they should focus on and champion user insights through the development process. This gives them a clear picture of what they should be achieving and the root causes of customer pain points that need addressing.
A product team that’s developed bad habits will simply focus on bringing something new to the table without assessing its value to the user. They make broad assumptions to bypass lengthy conversations and assume that speed is the name of the game.
They will often outsource their customer knowledge, separating the development process from the people who the product is being made for. Bad teams are incredibly focused on business-related metrics such as output and revenue — oblivious to the idea that a product can only succeed if the user loves it.
Instead, they rely on external analysts to discover and relay key consumer information. This often means they don’t receive crucial insights from their customers, resulting in a poor product.
Agile teams work in increments to help build the best possible product they can. Each increment is followed by a review or retrospective to gauge how well they performed and how the product is coming together.
A good product team will do this knowing that data is no substitute for hands-on experience. With each increment, they will produce a minimum viable product (MVP) so they can test hypotheses and any risky assumptions.
For a team like this, the project will never be 100% finished. They will always dive deep into the product and make sure they test every single little feature to ensure it has maximum value to the user. If they can’t achieve a suitable level of quality, they’re happy to go back to refine their work until it’s ready to release.
They also understand the risk involved in this intensive refinement process. Not every refinement will work out, and you might break a few things, but they have tried it. They’ve exhausted every possibility to be 100% certain they have the best possible version of the product in front of them at that time.
Ineffective product teams will continue to work in sprints, but they’ll have nothing to show for it by the end. While a good product team will end a sprint with a new iteration of a product, other product teams simply finish the sprint and move on to the next one.
They will talk about being accepting of failure but spend little time testing due to the risk of failure. At the same time, they will focus on “getting it right the first time” rather than accepting that failure is an opportunity to grow and improve, both on a personal and product level.
Good product teams understand how important it is to stay focused. They will define a specific strategy and know how to say no to new ideas that won’t benefit the user. They will use the insights gathered in the research stage to prioritize items and features that have real value to the customer — with a little help from airfocus, of course!
They will also keep in close contact with the customers to identify any pivoting that needs to happen based on customer needs.
Bad teams will try to use agile as an excuse to avoid creating a real, long-term plan for the product.
They assume that because agile teaches us to adapt, there’s no reason to commit to any form of planning as it will all change down the line. They’re happy to just bend to upper management’s every whim, which severely dampens the creative spirit products need to reach the next level.
While agile does away with the traditional workplace hierarchy, there’s still a need for someone to call the shots. The real difference between a good and bad product team is the person leading the charge and modeling the behavior they want to see.
If you’re looking to become a product manager or improve your skills as a PM make sure to download our ebook ‘How To Succeed as a Modern Product Manager’ for the ultimate guide on everything you need to be a great product manager..