Every impactful Product Team has a PM, although they might not have that title
On team composition, and working together with the different roles you might not have
There is no “one size fits all” composition that works for a Product Team. The ideal composition is determined both by the problem that you are trying to solve, as well as the profiles of the individuals that make up your team. And your team composition is a moving target as people move on to new opportunities, and hiring takes time.
At the core of a product team is of course the engineers. This is where the magic happens, where the brilliant ideas come from, where the product actually gets built and the problem actually gets solved. You probably also have an engineering manager, you should have a product manager (my opinion on this is incoming), and you might have any number of supporting roles such as a data scientist, a designer, a user researcher, product marketing, or others. You might think that it is optimal to have each and every supporting role present on your team but as the size of a team increases so does complexity, so this is not necessarily the case.
If you are building platform products for internal customers or building a consumer product to be used by millions, what you need out of each of these roles changes. If you are building an API, UX Design can help you ensure that you are solving the right Job-To-Be-Done for your users, they can help optimise the users’ workflow, and more. If you are building a feature on a mobile app then UX design might be more focused on making sure the user interface puts the right information front and center and optimises the users’ workflow towards the most valuable content. The Product Marketing needs of a business facing product like Microsoft Teams are entirely different than for the Experimentation Platform your platform team built internally (but don’t forget to market your platform product!). In some cases you’ll definitely want a full time professional devoted to a supporting role for your team. In other cases that might be overkill, but the needs don’t go away completely. Somebody needs to be digging into the data. Somebody needs to do user research, somebody needs to be thinking about the UX.
So if your team doesn’t have a dedicated UX designer, or data scientist, or product marketer you can’t ignore the need. Instead somebody will need to step into that role when the need is present. An engineer with experience digging into data can craft experiments, hunt for insights, and build a KPI dashboard. A data scientist with some experience in UX can conduct user interviews and make recommendations. A Product Manager with experience in design could absolutely fill that need if necessary. In a product team we’re all in it together, our titles and official roles better represent our expertise, rather than what we should be doing at any given time.
And anybody with the right combination of expertise and interest can fill the role of the Product Manager too. The Product Manager is responsible for the ‘Think it, Build it, Ship it, Tweak it’ loop as we say at Spotify. The PM needs to ensure that each of these roles are played at the right time such that this loop is really a loop and moves in the right direction. Without somebody playing the role of data scientist to measure impact and validate/invalidate hypotheses, Build-Measure-Learn becomes Build-Build-Build. Without learning, the team will inevitably start building the wrong things eventually. Somebody needs to be accountable for impact. Somebody needs to be accountable for learning.
So in my opinion, every impactful team has a Product Manager, although they might not have that title. For a team to be impactful, somebody must regularly check in on what matters, validate or invalidate hypotheses, and measure that impact is achieved. Without somebody playing the Product Manager role, direction erodes and a high performing, impactful team becomes merely ‘productive’. Building cool things is just a means to an end. Having impact is the real goal.
In this weeks Product Internals podcast, Arvid and I debate the different options for team composition in a platform product team, and also touch on a bit more product strategy and vision. Please take a listen, and reach out to us to discuss further on Twitter @productinternal or at firstname.lastname@example.org ! And if you’re enjoying the show so far please follow!