How Product Teams Succeed

How Product Teams Succeed
Photo by Jason Goodman / Unsplash

This post started as an email to a client who I started working with in mid 2022. As the product manager of a growing software team inside a large enterprise, he has many demands on his plate. But above all, he needs his young and forming team to execute on the product strategy.

As we came to the end of the year, he asked for my feedback on his team and the way they work. After a few start-stop writing sessions, I landed on the points below. While not novel, they are lessons rooted in my experience. And because of their enduring and transferable nature, I decided to share them here too.

Note: All personal or identifiable information was removed. Read the pronoun "you" for yourself as a product or team leader.

Ensure leadership and product teams share a definition of success.

This starts with your immediate team but extends to other product teams who are affected by your team's actions. You have likely  put time and attention here already, so I'll just reiterate that it's not in vain. Repeating the strategic vision ("the why") up and down the chain is how we drive alignment, sort out differences, and achieve our desired outcomes.

Create clear ways of working together to ensure collaboration across disciplines and teams.

The book Team Topologies has the concept of creating "Team APIs." This is a document that individual teams create that notes how they prefer to interact with other teams. Like actual APIs, this should be clearly documented and followed for best results. Beyond team-to-team collaboration, establishing communities of practices could also be beneficial for your organization.

In one of my previous roles, I created a Customer Experience CoP that gave space to individuals from across the company to share and learn from each other ways to improve how we engaged customers. CX CoPs rarely own anything. Rather, they should inform everything.

Ensure teams are building solutions aligned to customer needs.

Service and experience design projects create outputs like research insights, archetypes, customer pain points/opportunities. Further, establishing a Customer Advisory Board is a good mechanism to generating on-going customer feedback. These are  great starts to building products rooted in the voice of the customer.

I recommend the continued use of assumption testing with customers for emerging concepts and usability testing for prioritized features. Beyond these qualitative approaches, an area for discovery growth is around defining product and journey analytics and conducting quantitative research. As the product is used by customers, a measurement strategy is critical for determining long-term success.

Ensure products are stable and that new releases go smoothly.

Lean on your engineering leads and ask them to help you find opportunities to improve the CI/CD processes, capture feedback after each release, and make adjustments. As new use cases emerge and usage grows, continue to adjust and mature the testing and quality processes. Lastly, as the relationships evolve between your team and the other teams in your software organization (as well as the technical choices made by other teams and partners), I suggest re-evaluating the documentation and strategy for the system architecture for clarity and opportunities for improvement.

There are plenty more lessons to learn as product leaders. These four points were the most salient and top of mind as I reflected on how early product teams succeed inside large companies. If you agree, disagree, or have feedback, I would love to hear it at