Building a product that is meaningful and lasting is tough. It’s also a remarkable experience when it happens. Once you get a taste of product success, nothing else will do.
I have been fortunate to lead product at several companies. When I think about my experiences — both the shining moments and the tough days — I recognize a pattern.
So, what is the secret of building great products? It’s simple — great product teams build great products. They work together, united and inspired. And ideally led by a driven product manager.
I was most successful as a product manager when I was able to bring people together. It’s the cross-functional group of people that make the product team. Great products require cooperation across organizations — from leaders in engineering, marketing, sales, and support. Each contributes to the success of the product in their own way.
I did not learn this overnight and neither will you. But I can share my experiences. Hopefully these six insights on what makes a strong product team will help you grow as a product manager:
Answer the “why”
Before you can rally a team, you must fully understand the problem your product aims to solve. Always be ready to answer the “why” of your product. To do that you need to understand what motivates your customers. For example, when I led product for a SaaS company in the HR space, we knew that our customers were having a hard time retaining employees — retention was their motivator. So, we focused our solution and vision around providing tools that helped HR departments better reward and recognize employees.
Understanding the “why” is just the first part of the equation — sharing your product vision is the next step. It is not enough to simply gather cross-functional team members. The product manager has to share the vision for the product and help everyone understand why it matters. When you can effectively communicate the vision and lay out each person’s part in achieving it, the rest of the team will get excited and want to be a part of it.
Product teams need to address both tactical and strategic needs. When I was leading product at a children’s education company, I had weekly syncs across engineering, marketing, and customer support teams to ensure that everyone was updated on progress across the entire organization — and driving towards the same goals. By opening up communication, we uncovered hidden opportunities which would not have been discovered had the teams been working in a vacuum.
The worst mistake you can make is to pretend you know something or to think that you are strong in all areas. I came into my product manager role with experience in business. I was prepared to learn from and rely on the engineers and designers around me, and knew that it would require effort to get up to speed. I asked questions and truly listened. When you are honest and open about your abilities — and show an interest in learning — the rest of the team will follow suit.
It can be easy to get caught up in your daily work and forget to acknowledge individual effort. But do not miss opportunities to throw credit to others. You may be surprised at how far a little recognition will go towards building a stronger, more confident team. At Aha! we use companywide communication tools to recognize truly notable efforts — and I use specific language when giving praise to show that I am paying attention to every detail of the team’s work.
Championing a product from conception to completion is not easy. Nor is it for the faint of heart. But great product managers lead by example and inspire others to bring their best.
Never lose sight of the importance of teamwork in building a winning product. Assembling a standout product team takes investment and effort. Some days will be smoother than others.
But take it from me — that investment pays off when you see the results of what that team can achieve together.
What is the best product team you have worked with?