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5 Product Team Practices That Help Us Build Better Software
Recently, we’ve reorganized the structure of our product team. We moved from one large group into five mini teams, each composed of members of design, client solutions, product management, frontend, backend, and mobile engineering. This new structure was designed to enable us to work more effectively by allowing faster decision making and the ability to shift priorities seamlessly. While it was a big change, we all jumped in with both feet and tried to make it as successful as possible.
I’m a designer on the Posting & Workflows team, which handles content creation and how we work with partners like Pinterest, Twitter etc. We are involved in everything from how a user creates a piece of content to how they collaborate with team members to gain approval prior to publishing.
In reflecting on this experience so far, we’ve found five practices to be particularly important to our success. Let’s take a moment to discuss these further.
1. Communication trails
Constant communication between team members seems obvious to making a team successful, right? Right. But it can easily be taken for granted that everyone knows what is going on. Transparency is key here; make it easy for someone to see what is happening at a glance and provide avenues for individuals to dig in for more details if needed.
One of the most effective ways we’ve found to do this so far is to write an update on tasks within Asana (a task management tool) after all offline conversations. This allows for everyone to follow along and understand how a task is progressing even if they were not a part of that offline conversation.
2. Group priority
Our team has brief and informative weekly stand-ups. The structured format of this meeting promotes efficiency and consistency. Each meeting we discuss goals for the week, any challenges we’ve encountered, and our plans for the upcoming week. It’s important that everyone is in sync with what we are trying to accomplish as a team and these conversations give us a platform for ensuring everyone is on the same page.
For example, if a feature is set to deploy in a given week it means that is the highest priority for everyone. This helps our team function as a unit, rather than solely as individuals.
3. Review layers
The entire team is involved and responsible for every stage of project; from the brief through to quality assurance (QA). This sense of responsibility gets the team invested and excited in the outcome from the very beginning. Our reviews give everyone the opportunity to evaluate the work and bring their own expertise to the table. It’s important that the team is aligned and confident in the direction we are moving. These review layers act as a strainer: it only leaves the good stuff behind, an awesome feature that will delight the user.
4. Clear direction
Organization breeds confidence. No matter what task management tool you use, use it diligently. Teams perform at their best when they can move forward confidently with clear direction. This again isn’t groundbreaking, but it is another important cornerstone in building trust. It can easily become overwhelming to look at a long list of tasks to complete.
We organize tasks by first tagging them into four buckets; critical, important, nice to have, and not currently important. Once the tasks are grouped we prioritize them in order of importance. This makes the question of what to work on and when to work on it really simple – start from the top and work your way down.
5. Embrace differences
Learn how to work with each person on your team. There is never just one way to work within a team or with a teammate. Everyone works and communicates in different ways; recognize and embrace those differences. Teams need varying perspectives to help build better processes and stronger relationships. We do this by being iterative and flexible — especially with team processes, which we try to make open to modification and improvement. This approach gives everyone confidence that if something isn’t exactly right that we will keep iterating till it works.
Over the last month we’ve seen these practices work effectively as we introduced Mimi (the lady sporting the sunglasses above) to the group. Mimi’s transition as the front end engineer on our team was seamless. This was a result of our concerted effort to build trust as well as clear and concise ways for her to find what she needed. Teams are stronger than single individuals and have the power to elevate everyone’s work to a higher level. I, for one, couldn’t be happier with how well this restructuring has turned out.
We know we’re not the only ones thinking about this, so we’d love to hear how you’re approaching building great teams! Tweet at @percolatedesign with your own learnings about building teams and relationships.
Also, if you’d like to join our product team, we’re hiring for developers and designers.