How to Build The Ultimate Product Team
Building the ultimate product team can help take your product from just ‘ok’ to a well-oiled, efficient working machine.
As your product and teams grow, you need to start making decisions about what key members to hire and what that hierarchy might look like. If you don’t quite know what a product team is or where to get started, we’ve written it all down for you!
If you are short on time, here’s a quick summary:
- Understanding the difference between a product working group and a product organization is important.
- A product working group is the team members that make strategic decisions about the product, including the product manager, product designer, and product marketer.
- A product organization is when the entire business applies product thinking to its decision-making process.
- Start with always asking ‘why’ and ‘what problem are we trying to solve.’
- Lots of great reading included below to start transitioning your organization into a product-thinking org!
Table of Contents
- What is a Product Team?
- Structure of a Product Management Team
- Structure of a Product Organization
- How to Apply Product Thinking
- What happens next?
What is a Product Team?
As any good product person would say – it depends.
There are two ways of visualizing a product team: as a product working group or a product organization.
A product working group is a group within an organization directly responsible for the product management aspect. In other words, it’s the team responsible for the product.
A product organization is when the entire company – including sales, marketing, support, and development – all apply product thinking.
Let’s explore how these are structured.
Structure of a Product Team
When you refer to the product team as a product working group, you’re looking at all the members of a business that are responsible for the strategic decisions behind the product itself.
Often referred to as the ‘product management team,’ these team members sit at the intersection of UX, tech and business, ensuring the entire team is aligned and working towards the same goals and objectives.
These team members may include:
The product manager is the team member that focuses on managing the roadmap based on the vision and objectives set by the leadership team. They make decisions on what goes on the product, focusing on what, why, and who those changes will impact.
Product Owner (scrum only)
If your team is scrum-based, the role of product owner is then added to the team. The product manager focuses on the higher level strategic decisions, but the product owner will look at other responsibilities.
Some of those tasks are managing the feedback backlog, writing user stories, and making sure items are being passed on to the development team. (Otherwise, it’s like the PM is managing this alongside a business analyst or even by themselves!). We’ve discussed the difference between a Product Owner and Product Manager in our earlier post here.
Product marketing is a relatively new role that has popped up in recent years. Product Marketers manage the communications side of product.
Responsibilities include keeping other team members and stakeholders up to date with the latest features being developed, writing internal client communications like release notes, and helping find product-market fit alongside the product manager.
A UX Researcher will help the product manager uncover how to best solve a problem. If it’s the product manager who figures out what the best problems are to solve, the UX Researcher will look at user behavior, help run discovery, and come up with possible solutions to the problem.
The Product Designer role focuses on bringing the research done to life. They create and execute a solution that solves for a user’s experience deficiencies, and work with UX and the product manager solve problems that allow for a successful and seamless user experience.
Product Operations is another role that is relatively new, but has quickly become integral to any product team.
They make sure that the team is working efficiently, set methodical workflows into place, and help develop business processes to make sure everyone is aligned. Think of them as a stage manager, making sure behind-the-scenes everything is running smoothly.
The data analyst will take all relevant research, take all the data, and help communicate conclusions to the team. The insights that data analysts bring to an organization can help understand users better, and help the product management team create more meaningful experiences.
Seniorities and Hierarchies
All of these roles will include their respective seniority paths (Head of teams, VPs, Directors, etc.)
Now, of course, the “it depends” here is that some organizations may have different titles for these roles, and even extend out to other roles that may support this team, such as a business analyst, or even development.
There is no right or wrong here. It may even be that to begin with, you may not even have a fully-formed product management team, and that’s ok.
Deciding when to introduce various roles will vary based on your product’s maturity and growth.
Structure of a Product Organization
A product group focuses on a small group of people that manage the product, but a product organization is when the entire business applies product thinking and techniques to their every day job.
This means always asking ‘why’ and ‘what problem are we trying to solve’ when making decisions.
It means having the self-awareness to ask questions throughout the decision-making process to ensure you’re not jumping to a solution before you’ve taken the understand the problem at hand.
This frame of mind helps teams come up with better strategies.
It also keeps everyone aligned to the core product. At the end of the day, any strategies that are employed by the marketing or sales team still directly affect the entire organization, as well as the product working group.
The more you think of your entire team as a product team, the more alignment and deliverables you’ll have.
How to Apply Product Thinking
I get it-it’s sometimes easier said than done to say ‘let’s just question everything.’
It can get confusing! What do you question? How do you question it? When do you question it?
A good framework is to apply a simple problem-focused outline that helps set that frame of mind from the very beginning.
This requires filling out a template that asks the following:
- What problem are you trying to solve?
- What’s your hypothesis?
- What value would this provide to the company?
- What value would this provide to the user?
- Are there any action points?
- How do we measure success?
This gives you a place to get started as your team starts running discovery on these items.
Remember, experimenting and researching is not just for a product team, it’s for everyone. You benefit far more from understanding if something gives you a desired outcome from the beginning instead of waiting for potential failure down the line!
What happens next?
If you’re eager to get started with product thinking, start applying the problem outline above.
I also recommend the following as great further reading:
- How Every Organization Can Apply Product Thinking
- Bring Product Thinking to Non-Product Teams
- Product Thinking 101