How to nurture the best product teams


Greg Geracie is a recognized thought leader in the field of product management and the President of Actuation Consulting, the world’s leading product management consulting and training organization. Actuation Consulting is a global provider of product management consulting, training, and advisory services to many of world’s most successful organizations.

Greg is the author of two global best sellers Take Charge Product Management and The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge. He is also an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on high-tech and digital product management.

Regalix: What are the latest trends in Product Management?
GG: Great question! Product management is such a dynamic profession that it’s constantly evolving. One of the most significant trends has to do with the relationship between product management and user experience. While some organizations have found equilibrium between these two roles the majority of organizations are still working toward effectively integrating the user experience function.

Our latest market research shows that user experience predominantly reports into Engineering or Development today. When survey respondents were asked where UX should report to be most effective almost half of the respondents said that product management or the Chief Product Officer would be better suited to running UX in order to maximize UX’s contributions.

Additionally, user experience professionals are in scarce supply. Most organizations don’t have enough UX staff and tend to use these valuable resources on new or high value product development initiatives. Only a minority of organizations utilize user experience to incrementally improve products. The user experience and product management relationship is undergoing a seismic shift which is still in its early stages.

Regalix: What are the factors that enhance the performance of the product team?
GG: Successful product development is complex. Since 2012 we have been investigating the factors that differentiate high performance teams from the pack. To date we have identified 20 statistically significant factors that correlate with high performance on product teams.

The more factors that a product team effectively incorporates into their product development activities increases the odds that the team will perform at a high level. We have also developed a weighted ten point scale to help our clients determine where they should focus in order to get the most bang for the resources invested – in terms of optimizing product team performance.

Let me share five factors from our 2014 Study of Product Team Performance (we’ll be launching our 2015 findings in the coming weeks).

Product Team Culture – we discovered five sub factors that high performance teams possess. These include: a common goal, effective line management, strong engineers, project managers or scrum masters and inclusion of a UX professional.

A Critical Relationship – product teams that had a project manager or scrum master were more likely to be high performing. Also, the relationship (and hand-offs) between project management and the product manager were shown to be critical to the product teams success or failure.

Relationship with Sales – high performing product teams find equilibrium with the sales organization. Only 9% of organizations say they have little or no friction with sales. High performing product teams set context so that the sales organization understands when their requests are reasonable or not. Also, the product team needs to provide sales with timely information and tools.

Sales Cycle Knowledge –Only one third of teams understand the sales cycle for their product! Teams that possess this knowledge outperform their counterparts.

Optimizing the Marketing Relationship –Only 34% of product teams have a partnership with marketing or product marketing throughout the product management life cycle. Teams that enjoy the benefits of this tight alignment are more likely to be high performing.

Regalix: What are some challenges product teams face with internal communications?
GG: Communication is a major issue. Consider that only 10% of teams say that they have high degrees of trust, collaboration and communication!

Approximately 35% of product teams hold standup meetings on a daily or regular basis. It’s no coincidence that these teams tend to perform at a higher level. Finally, cross-functional hand-offs are cited by product teams as the second highest problem they face – after resource constraints. These challenges are particularly acute for product and project managers. Product team members point to these two roles as the most likely communication breakdown points given their cross-functional nature.

Regalix: What are the latest trends in product development methodologies?
GG: Blended methodologies (some Agile, some Waterfall) are most commonly used. This may be a bit of a shock to some as Agile (particularly Scrum) continues to be widely and passionately discussed. Agile comes in second place with Waterfall finishing a distant third. It’s worth noting we have been tracking product development adoption rates since 2012. During that time, particularly in 2013, Agile grew exponentially and Waterfall began a precipitous decline. However, Blended methods have been the dominant methodology for the last four years. (You can read my recent blog post on this topic by clicking here.)

Regalix: How has the role of the product manager evolved in the context of changing trends in product management?
GG: Product managers are smart and resourceful. Our role is constantly changing and the vast majority of product managers were not taught the profession in school– we learned on the job. However, the pace of change triggered by the rapid adoption of Agile methods necessitated that many successful product managers had to learn another way of doing things – it was a bit like becoming bi-lingual. We had to speak both Waterfall and Agile to be successful.
Since then Apple reset every consumer’s expectation of what a product is and what it does. So now product managers have to take into consideration the customers usability expectations more than ever before. Therefore, the role of UX is becoming more tightly aligned with the product management organization. We are on the front-end of this change right now.

Our job as product managers is to create positive change for our customers by focusing on value. We are not immune from change ourselves. The best of us whole-heartedly seek to innovate our products and lead from the front. To accomplish this we need to innovate ourselves so that we can stay in tune with the needs of our organization and our markets.
Change is part of our DNA as product managers.


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