The product team represents the heart of any startup. They are the most crucial working unit since they’re the ones who transform an initial idea into a viable market offering. An ideal product team is a multidisciplinary group, with a collaborative, cross-functional feature.
Let’s take a look at how the ideal product team evolves over time:
The Funding Stage
In the early stages, it’s common that everyone at the company wears multiple hats at once. This definitely aids collaboration and idea sharing. As product development and launch is the most important goal at this stage, it’s recommended to have one appointed person making the final decisions in this aspect. Often, it’s the founders and CEOs taking over this role, however, a specialized product manager can ‘paint’ the founder’s vision and steer your product development in the right direction from the start.
Finding The Right Product Fit
At this point, your startup has done the first product launch. Ideally, you gained customers and/or users received feedback and can see more clearly what’s working and what isn’t. At this stage, it’s necessary to appoint someone to the product management role and grow the product team, ideally in specific expertise (e.g. Data analyst, Designer etc). It’s important that each expert works closely with users and relies on qualitative feedback. This sets up the common priorities for the whole product team and helps keep the big picture in mind.
As your company moves through funding stages, the product team should develop simultaneously, to keep up with the product demand. Some of the essential roles in the product team to be filled are product manager, – design, – development, – analytics, -marketing and user research. The product leadership team identifies new-product opportunities, creates long-term strategy regarding product development and connects all different product functions together. A Chief of Product represents the product team at a C-suite level and ensures that the overall business goals are aligned with the product development efforts.
So, How Do You Structure a Good Product Team?
When you have a full-blown product team in your startup, there are several ways you could structure the team:
One of the most straightforward ways of structuring it is to assign one product manager per product or feature, with their own product team, who are responsible for all aspects of the product development. In this setup, a VP of Product or a CPO should be appointed to oversee the operation of all separate product teams.
Another option is to organize your product team around problems to be solved. This tactic allows you to focus on customer pain points and achieve higher customer satisfaction, while avoiding starting unnecessary projects. Having your teamwork in a cross-functional way allows for ownership, accountability and more efficient problem-solving among team members.
You could also organize the team around different customer segments or buyer personas. In this case, the team members are assigned to manage different parts of the user experience and/or the specific needs of each persona. This way, the product team understands the customers better, and therefore becomes more efficient at serving their needs.
As you can probably tell, there is no one size fits all solution for structuring your product team. It all depends on the type of product or products you have, the company size and sector you’re working in, and the scope of your projects. As your company scales up and evolves, you’ll most likely have to restructure your internal setup multiple times. The goal is not to find the best approach right away, but rather to be agile and adaptive to changes, while always keeping the users’ needs on top of mind.
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