First, it’s good to settle the difference between project management and product management. As the name implies, project management operates on a project-to-project basis. Whether it’s a new feature being added or a research that needs to be carried out. All project-related tasks should meet the desired deadline, for example a release date.

Product management is a bit different. Take a bank as an example. One of the products a bank has can be a mobile app which the product team is responsible for. That means adding new features, researching customers’ needs etc. Everything the team does revolves around the product – the banking app.

And here is the key difference: While projects have deadlines or endings, developing a product is perpetuum mobile, a never-ending process. Deadlines are not as important. Making sure the app works from a business, usability and technology point of view is what matters more.

Do you need a product team?

If you have neither project nor product team right now, there is a chance you don’t need one yet. If you struggle with the points below though, you may want to reconsider.

  • Stakeholder driven roadmap – there is no one to oppose stakeholders + prioritization is in the hands of the HiPPO (highest paid person's opinion)
  • No product discovery process (or using single track agile)
  • Too much focus on dates / features
  • Not enough direct customer interaction – stakeholders are left in the dark, not involved in roadmaps or timelines
  • Not utilizing engineering or user experience early enough
  • Infrequent release cycles – development takes longer than expected, missing deadlines
  • Lack of focus, too many interruptions – struggling to prioritize tasks for developers or designers
  • Product architecture limitation / technical debt
  • Too many meetings / consensus culture
  • Poor developer morale

There are of course many things that indicate you need a product team. These are some I come across most often.

Product teams and customer experience

Apart from solving the issues listed above, a good product team is also beneficial for overall customer experience. How?

Nowadays, customers want consistent experiences. If they interact with one company, they expect the same behavior across all channels. If your product or service works differently offline and online, the customer becomes frustrated. This is mainly the role of CX departments but a good CX department should include product teams that work on this seamlessness.

Building an all-star product team

It’s important to note that a functional product team should be multidisciplinary. Building a good product team might be the toughest challenge. There is no universal rule or a formula but from my experience a good product team should include at least:

  • Product manager (responsible for managing tasks and priorities)
  • Developer
  • Designer
  • QA / Test engineer
  • Data analyst (optional, but highly recommended)

What’s next?

It is always a great idea to map your customer journeys. Once you have that, you can start thinking about assigning different products to different teams. One of the ways to do that is to assign one all products related to a particular customer journey to one team. This way, the team has a deeper understanding of the specific journey and can make relevant decisions.

Another great approach is to build teams based on related features. If you use the same or close to the same tech background for more products, you can use that to your advantage and build a team who will specialize in improving them.

And remember. Continuous product discovery and improvements should be the main responsibilities of your product team.