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How To Structure Teams That Effectively Execute Product Strategy
I've had the privilege of working with various organisations, from small startups to large enterprises. Finding a company where daily team operations seamlessly align with the core company objectives is rare. This misalignment often leads to delays, waste, and challenges in achieving the envisioned product strategy.
If you are a product leader, crafting a product strategy is only the first step. What often proves more challenging is executing the strategy.
How can you ensure that the envisioned product strategy and the key company priorities become the guiding forces for your teams?
How can you instill your vision into everyone's mindset, guiding daily team activities toward this strategic path?
Are Your Teams' Priorities Aligned with Your Product Strategy?
Imagine an orchestra where musicians play their instruments without coordination, each pursuing their own tune. The outcome is a cacophony of discordant sounds.
In a business context, when individual teams execute based on their divergent priorities, disconnected from the company's overarching goals, the consequences are clear: disorganisation, inefficiency, and stagnation.
The collective focus of your teams should mirror your organisation's overarching objectives.
In cases of alignment, on the other hand, teams take proactive ownership of executing the right priorities. Daily task prioritisation seamlessly aligns with the company's broader goals and timelines.
This alignment naturally fosters a culture of productivity. Time and effort are invested in activities that maximise the value of the overall strategy. The result is a harmonious symphony that resounds with the audience.
In the realm of business, achieving perfect harmony is nearly impossible. However, as a product leader, you can do a lot to mitigate misalignment and its detrimental consequences.
One basic and effective way to solve this is to structure your product teams in accordance with your product strategy.
The Impact of Team Structure on Product Strategy Execution
Let's explore some scenarios where aligning product strategy with team priorities becomes a formidable challenge.
In the traditional setup, teams followed a vertical structure, often working in isolation. Departments like sales, marketing, and software development operated in silos, and this division extended even further within technology teams: frontend, backend, and data teams. Each team specialised in specific areas and collaboration across teams was limited.
This approach does have its benefits, fostering specialisation and team cohesion. However, when it comes to aligning the priorities of such specialised teams with the broader company objectives, there is a huge challenge.
Can a backend team truly envision, let alone be held accountable for, achieving a business outcome?
Even if they aspire to contribute, they often find themselves heavily dependent on other teams.
In this configuration, success remains attainable, but it relies on the crucial factor of cross-team collaboration and the presence of a dedicated leader capable of overseeing and synchronising various objectives across multiple teams. Yet, managing this level of coordination can be very challenging.
In agile methodologies, there's a well-founded principle advocating for smaller team sizes. Why? Because it nurtures team cohesion, transparency, and productivity.
While I won't advocate for a concrete number of team members, I believe that every team should have a clear and specific responsibility within the broader business context.
A large multidisciplinary team often indicates that too many diverse activities are being handled by the team members. They become overwhelmed with their workloads, making it challenging for them to understand the significance of strategic objectives. Their work becomes a mere checklist of tasks, lacking a clear vision of the ultimate goal and purpose.
In the world of software development, a large team is like a single software module attempting to tackle all tasks. This is neither effective nor scalable.
How to Organise Your Teams to Follow Your Product Strategy
The design of the product organisation should naturally align with the product strategy.
For instance, if you're transitioning from a project-oriented setup to a product-oriented one, it's counterproductive to keep teams dedicated to specific projects.
If sustainability becomes the new key pillar of your product strategy, it might make sense to establish dedicated teams to focus on this topic.
Identify the primary objectives
Begin by assessing your organisation's core goals. What are the key building blocks of your company, and what initiatives are in place to foster meaningful change and progress?
When the responsibilities for a single initiative are distributed among different teams, each with its own set of priorities, making significant progress on that initiative becomes considerably challenging.
For any initiative to succeed, it requires a dedicated team with a genuine passion for the topic and the capacity to commit time effectively. This designated team should take full ownership of the initiative. They should own the problem and be ready to delve deeply into finding solutions.
Align on the vision
You can have well-defined initiatives and a great vision to achieve outstanding outcomes, but it's the people who execute the vision, especially when it comes to the product strategy. Success relies on their trust and understanding of the vision. Communicating and aligning on the vision is crucial.
For every team you create, they need to understand the 'Why.' What is their purpose, and why are they doing it?
While you can craft the perfect organisational structure on paper, its success ultimately depends on the people who bring it to life.
This is especially crucial for the person who will lead the initiative and potentially become the team leader. Take the time to align on the vision until they experience that 'Aha' moment, making their purpose crystal clear. They should internalise the vision and develop their own unique narrative.
Consider virtual teams
A team dedicated to a specific initiative often comprises individuals with diverse skills. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to consider such a team as a permanent fixture in your organisation's structure. This is particularly true when you anticipate that this building block will remain a key and potentially growing part of your business in the long run.
In other cases, such a significant shift may seem too disruptive, and a more flexible approach may be preferable. In such instances, creating a 'virtual team' composed of cross-functional members from different departments can be the way forward. These virtual teams operate without a formal hierarchy and are typically temporary, aligning with specific objectives. This approach is agile, adaptable, and tailored to meet the current goal.
Make a gradual transition
When making a transition, my preference is to take a gradual approach.
Big changes can often be met with resistance, so it's crucial to allow people time to adapt and build trust in the process. People need to adjust to the new setting, gain additional knowledge, and, most importantly, feel passionate and motivated about their new role.
Gradual transition means that people are carried along on this journey. It allows for adjustments and refinement without causing significant disruptions in the organisation.
Aligning your teams with your company's product strategy is a journey with challenges and opportunities. It's not a one-off event; rather, it's an ongoing process.
As you persistently fine-tune your team structures and align them with the product strategy, you'll discover that the harmonious symphony of coordinated teams and company objectives can lead to resounding success.
One last thing!
I hope you found this article enlightening. In upcoming editions of my newsletter, I'll delve deeper into the practical aspects of designing teams, equipping you with hands-on insights.
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