Team performance series

How to Build a Great Product Team

Great product teams begin with strong foundations consisting of the right 'structure' and 'culture'.

Translate & align vision
Set concrete goals for what the final product should accomplish while staying customer-centric
Hire the right mindsets, diversify your team, be communicative and transparent
Empower product teams to seek their own solutions while maintaining accountability for individual and collective success
Behind every successful product or service is a customer-centric and talented team of people who work together to ensure that the best possible result is delivered.

There is no set recipe for constructing a top-performing team, but some tips can make all the difference. Here are ways to start building your team.

Structuring your product team

1. Lay the right organisational foundation

All great product teams require well-defined roles and a strong foundation. It all starts with a well-articulated product vision, culture and strategy that is understood by every member of the team — setting goals for what the final product should accomplish while staying customer-centric at all times.

Things to consider when establishing a strong foundation for your team:
  1. The industry or niche you’re working in
  2. Target customers and needs 
  3. The type of product you’ll be working on 
  4. Product culture (engineering-driven, data-driven, design-driven, or sales-driven)
  5. Success metrics and goals of the product
  6. Roadmap of business items and their priorities
  7. Responsibilities and scope of each team
  8. Resources of each team
  9. Progress and traction tracking 
From there, it becomes easy to determine the structure of your team as well as how many people are needed to make this work come together beautifully.

2. Identify the team structure type

Choosing an effective team structure is key since it helps the organisation allocate roles and responsibilities efficiently. There are three main types of product team structures:
It’s important to note that this may need to be reconsidered again during periods of growth. Health Transformation Product Lead Vid Tekriwal mentioned that Horizon 3’s structure evolved into one which has employees who are more specialised in their “Squads”, in place of what used to be a Multi-Product Management approach when they first started out.
  1. Multi-Product Management Model: A product manager is assigned for each product or, for more complex products, for individual product features. 
  2. Cross-Functional Teams: Small autonomous teams from different functional areas whose job is to act on specific features quickly and efficiently based on their skills. 
  3. Squads: Breaking teams down into several “squads” with their own area of ownership to ensure a separate focus for the needs of different user personas or customer segments.

Establishing the Culture

1. Hiring the right mindsets

When hiring new employees, it can be tempting to focus solely on formal qualifications and skill sets. However, leaders should also look for equally vital characteristics, especially in a customer-centric role - such as the right mindset.

The Head of Accounts at Warung Pintar, Johan Permadi values open-minded people who have the proper attitude to learn from their mistakes and are eager to make a change. Similarly, Co-founder and CPO Allison Page of SevenRooms said that individuals who prize first-principles thinking are preferred - "our most successful product team members have always been obsessed with uncovering the root problem”.

2. Diversify your team

When organisations realise the importance of being inclusive of all cultures and backgrounds, they are able to see how important it is to cultivate a diverse workforce.

This diversity has helped Canva develop innovative products that cater to all people’s needs, which has been essential to their success; emphasised Rachel Carruthers, Head of Internationalisation & Localisation.

A diverse team has a few advantanges:
  • Challenging team members to think about user problems from different perspectives.
  • Having a collective set of complementary skillsets that create better products.
  • An increased ability to appeal to top talent while improving customer satisfaction.

3. Ensure transparency & communication

As a product team grows to more diverse contributors, it takes some work to ensure that everyone is set up to be an effective contributor. This hinges on how transparent and communicative the entire organisation is. 

When organisations communicate well internally, they benefit in these ways:
  • Alignment with company goals - every team member knows what they're working towards alongside other teams.
  • Increased collaboration and learning potential - new ideas are introduced across different departments which can lead to innovation.
To create a culture of transparency and clear communication from day one, an effective onboarding process should establish the guidelines which all team members follow and align with the overall company goals.

Michelle Fernandez, Head of Digital Experience at GCash also believes it is important for everyone on every level - no matter what their status - to have regular check-ins because this will help keep this culture well-aligned.

4. Empower your team

Individuals who enter product management often think independently and are able to solve problems creatively. Hence, the most important aspect of a great team is empowerment. Truly successful teams are empowered to seek out their own solutions for achieving goals while still maintaining accountability and succeeding both individually and collectively.

For example, Bernard Fung, Head of Sales at LoopMe inspires empowerment by advising his team “to act as if they own the business” — which naturally enables them with an increased sense of autonomy.

Beyond this, Carruthers teaches individuals she coaches or mentors — even though this may sound difficult during earlier stages — by giving them space to grow and develop over time, while still supporting them every step of the way. This leads to better relationships with her team – all ultimately culminating in rapid overall growth for the organisation.

Coaching product teams to uphold excellent experiences

We asked five NewCampus Contributors to weigh in with their tips on coaching their product leads to uphold excellent user experiences across their teams.

Hammad Jilani (Head of Product Design)

"Instead of focussing 80% of your time selecting the best colour, the best form or the best dropdown, spend 80% of your time communicating well with the customer."

Alex Chew (Head of Product)

"We do it in a very 'non-scalable' way: I'll bring my product folks and designers to go and meet the merchants."

Bhavin Shah (Global Head of Product)

"We spend a good deal of time trying to figure out how pieces fit together and how we can feed off each other's strengths."

Gideon Simons (Senior Director of Product Design & User Research)

"I always tell the team to make the best out of the project so at the end of the project you have some artefacts to take out of it."

Matthew Hillier (VP of Products)

"It's about becoming bigger, having more lines of business, having different ways of engaging with customers, partners and even our own teams. That produces a wonderful melting pot of ideas and conversations."

Key Takeaways

Translate & align vision
Set concrete goals for what the final product should accomplish while staying customer-centric
Hire the right mindsets, diversify your team, be communicative and transparent
Empower product teams to seek their own solutions while maintaining accountability for individual and collective success
Building a product team may seem daunting, but it isn't impossible. Leaders need to build a clear foundation by articulating a product vision and strategy.

From there, it becomes essential to create an empowering culture that promotes diversity and reinforces communication. This pivotal point of building your team is crucial because it determines the future course; paving the way for success during hyper-growth phases.

Become a Contributor

Join our intimate community of senior leaders in engineering, data & analytics at Asia's fastest-growing companies.
Leona Ho
Director, Growth Analytics
Alka Gupta
Director of Data, People & Talent
Amos Tay
Data Analytics Manager
Puneet Gambhir
Head of Risk & GrabDefence Business

Train your product managers to lead people

For hypergrowth companies seeking to scale their products and their people, NewCampus offers management training through our Management Essentials 4-Week Sprint.

Hear what some of our previous learners had to say:
"What differentiates NewCampus from most leadership workshops is it's interactive. Other workshops have the coach or trainer presenting the material without us reflecting what we did in the past or what we want to do in the future. My cohort mates and I learned alot after the reflective discussions"
Arina Nada Kentjana
Product Manager at Sahabat Bisnis
"My biggest takeaway is being a leader isn't about achieving a good result, but building and growing a team. Getting to know their goals, sharing the "why", making it win-win to grow their skills and deliver results. I wanted to build my confidence in this leadership journey to build a strong team."
Tony Wei
Head of Product at OVO

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