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Are Your Product Teams Focused or Revolving?

Form your product team on the corner of shared vision and required skillsets to reap the benefits of Agile and Scrum

By Bia Dimovski, Senior Agile Coach

When working with teams, there is one thing I keep observing that many product visionaries/product owners overlook: the importance of forming a team around a product and the skillsets needed to build that product.

If you are looking to form a team you will trust to carry out your product vision, a vision you have been working on and are passionate about, there are three things you must make a priority:

  1. Have a clear product vision,

  2. Select people on your team who have (or are willing to learn) skillsets needed to turn your product vision into reality, and

  3. Ensure people on your team are committed to your product vision.

Something that has been circling across industries for too long is referring to people as resources. The people on your team are not resources. People on teams use resources — they are not the resources. They are people. You need to refer to them as people and build relationships with them if you want to form a product team you can trust to get the work done time and again.

To shift to an agile mindset and practices, many project managers/project directors in their new role as product owners form teams by gathering a group of people within the organization who aren’t “completely maxed out” but are splitting their time and effort across multiple projects.

In other words, most product owners who are new in their role embark on forming product teams with people the organization refers to as shared resources. Using primarily shared resources means some (or all) people on the team are also on teams across the organization working on different projects.

When you form teams based on not only viewing people as resources but borrowed ones at that, you do not have a team — you have scattered blocks of time these borrowed resources spend putting out fires to keep your product from failing. Forming teams this way is not agile, and the Scrum framework will not save the day here because you haven’t set the proper foundation.

Form product teams around a product vision and the skillsets needed to turn that vision into a functioning product!

When you form teams around product vision and skills, you are forming long-term teams — product teams. This way, you have the right group of people who are able and willing to collaborate because a specific product vision guides them — they have direction.

But, if you scatter your team members across multiple projects, your product vision is not enough. Why? Because if your team members are pulled in various directions, they are not committed to your product. They are stuck in a vortex where they constantly split their attention from one project to another, so they can’t truly commit. There is no sense of ownership of the work — just a list of things they need to get to for the day.

So, how can you ensure the people on your team are committed to your product?

There are three fundamental points you will need to communicate to leadership as non-negotiable before you decide to form a product team:

  • Each person on your team must be 100% dedicated to your team.

  • Leaders must exclude product team members from the "shared resource" pool.

  • Do not consider people already dedicated to projects within the organization as valid candidates for a product team until the project(s) closes or the person makes a clean cut from the project.

Why should these three points be non-negotiable?

When organizations come to us recognizing their need for change and seeking help to improve their traditional way of operating, one of the first steps I take in my role as a BreakFree member is to coach teams on the difference between project teams and product teams.

Product teams are formed and operate based on the mindset of "we're in this for the long run." This step is crucial and fundamental as it sets the base for the rest of the work ahead. If you form a team with the idea that this is their primary and only focus, you will see a much higher commitment level from every one of your team members. People will feel a sense of ownership toward the work and in turn, ownership toward the vision you are trying to bring to fruition.

This dynamic is much different than the dynamic you may be used to experiencing on a project team. On a project team, people come together to complete a list of specific items, after which they move on to another project. This practice is not necessarily bad, and there are instances where it is appropriate to do so. It is just not appropriate on a product team!

A common purpose is what drives people on product teams. They transform a vision into a product that may solve a problem, improve lives, simplify something, challenge something, or all these combined. This type of attitude requires creativity, self-motivation, and commitment, which is only possible if each team member is 100% dedicated to the team. Anything short of 100% will cause team members to feel disconnected to the product or the team. They will continuously switch from one task to another across teams all day long, a concept known as context switching.

There is a plethora of information on the negative effect of context switching. Unfortunately, many organizations still indirectly support context switching by subjecting their people to a pool of shared resources to cover more ground (figuratively speaking) using fewer people to achieve the organization's goals or meet specific quotas.

The critical thing to remember here is that you must do everything you can to shield the people on your team from the possibility of rotating their effort across projects or teams within the organization. Context switching can, at best, harm a product and at times, be detrimental to the overall success of a product and product team.

In this blog post, I will leave you with this: Avoid starting a product team with people the organization considers shared resources. Avoid it at all costs!

Fight for the people you want working on your product vision! They will appreciate that, and their appreciation will show in their work. If you need help looking into ways you can work with your organization on the three non-negotiable points when forming a product team, let us know here at BreakFree! We’re happy to start that conversation!

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