How to Organize a Product Management Team

When you think about how to organize a product management team, you should first focus on the structure and how to set up your product team up for success. 

The success of a product falls heavily on the team that manages it. A good product team is one that is both transparent and cross-functional. This ensures the execution and implementation of the strategy, definition, and roadmap of the product or line.

Without these parameters set, a product management team may run into organizational challenges. Knowing the overall goals of the product can reduce friction and uphold expectations between team members, stakeholders, and more. 

Organizing a product management team requires each member to own a portion of the work and responsibility. The best teams operate when there’s a distribution of the workload, and each team can function without too many interruptions from others. After all, a productive and efficient team is one that isn’t being micromanaged.

No matter what challenges you may face, an organized team can give you the assurance you need. Do you know your team’s goals and initiatives? Here’s how to organize a product management team.

 

The Challenges of Organizing a Product Management Team

A product team’s work never ends. Being able to identify how to organize a product management team is never without challenges, but it can certainly be done more purposefully and in a more streamlined manner. This begins by knowing how to work together.

Just how every person is unique and requires different management and motivation, the same goes for the product team. As a product person, you should keep this in mind. 

Think of the way you work with your product team. You’ll constantly need to experiment and tweak things with the betterment of the team and product success in mind. You can do this by getting feedback from your team about what works well for them from a motivational and communication standpoint. 

You’ll have to keep working at it, but it’s a great way to keep your team organized and focused. Just as you continue to work and tweak the product, you’ll do so internally with your team’s operations.

As many of you know and have experienced, roles and responsibilities may change frequently, which is where another challenge among the team may arise. Being the product manager means that you’re responsible for managing the product team and turning out products. But, what type of authority do you have over other departments?

To overcome these types of challenges, the product manager needs to work closely with the leaders of those departments. If you’re working at a startup company with 100 people, the leaders a product person might be working with could be the head of design, VP of engineering, and so on. 

Having a good working relationship with the leaders in those areas is crucial to keep everyone on the same page to ensure everything is getting done from a product-focused standpoint. By doing so, there should be fewer issues and pushback.

 

Setting Expectations With Other Departments and Your Team

A misalignment of timelines, budgets, and quality expectations can lead to promises that will never be fulfilled. Not only does this put unnecessary pressure on the success of the launch, but also on everyone involved. 

Having a shared alignment of goals is very important — but the goal of the product team in general needs to be aligned with the overall product strategy. This, in turn, needs to be aligned with the company’s strategy.

The product team has to be focused on executing the product roadmap that was agreed upon in the beginning. When you have team members from different departments collaborating together — such as design or development — there may be a disagreement on what features or products are being introduced and when. It’s important to turn back to the roadmap to allow people to see what was agreed upon when this happens.

To do this, ask your team to take a step back and ask, “Was this in our roadmap? Was this a priority in the beginning?” Make sure what was agreed upon upfront is getting done first. If not, a priority may end up falling off.

Another expectation is to make sure you’re sharing the “Why” with one another. Why is a new feature important? The real reason to push for new features is to achieve major benefits. This can help the team buy into the “Why” more and stay focused on what’s most important first.

 

How to Bring a Product Management Team Together

Bringing product management together begins with knowing the alignment around goals, timelines, deliverables, and other considerations. In order to achieve this, begin by setting up frequent touchpoints with team members to ensure things are going as expected.

Touchpoints do not need to be official. A simple daily five-minute standup or one weekly meeting may be all your team needs depending on how close you are to the launch date. The product manager and team need to own the vision of the product being pushed out to market. 

Ultimately, the product manager will be providing strategic leadership from start to finish but will need everyone to remain adaptable for change throughout the entire process. However, every department owns its own goals and objectives — which can cause confusion among team members if not properly structured. As long as communication between departments is consistent, and the product team knows these insights will meet the vision, the product should be primed for a successful run.

Going back to touchpoints, it’s important for a product team to meet on a regular basis. If you’re working for a large organization, a product team might meet at a regular time. This can vary for a remote worker.

Knowing this, encourage your team to focus during the daily standup or weekly meeting to discuss what they are working on now versus yesterday, and what kind of barriers they need to overcome to get work done. As a product manager, you will then work on trying to remove those barriers. 

Another thing to keep in mind is a product review and kickoff, which generally happens once a year. While forming the product strategy for next year, review how things went this year or even last year. Think about new strategies for the upcoming year and so on. While some teams do this quarterly to allow for recalibration as needed, the goal is to ensure everyone is still working together and going in the same direction. 

Lastly, during a sprint planning session, you’ll sit down with the team and understand the goals for the upcoming meeting. The goal should not be simply to complete a certain feature but to cite the benefit you’re trying to achieve.

Sprints should be open to collaboration. This is where people should be bringing forth their thoughts and ideas and speaking up to better execute on reaching goals. Consider doing a review after the sprint to determine what went well and what didn’t.

Paul McAvinchey
Paul McAvinchey
paul@productcollective.com

For over 15 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on Slack, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly brief that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.