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3 Tips For Product Teams As They Grow

Product leaders need to recognize what stage of growth they’re in and be aware of what’s needed at each stage.

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

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As a product leader who joined the company in its early days and lived the growth story for close to a decade, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for how product teams can and do change as a company grows. This means that product leaders need to recognize what stage of growth they’re in and be aware of what’s needed at each stage. 

Here are a few things I learnt in my own journey so far.

  1. Focus on the right things for each stage of growth

A company’s business needs will vary over its lifetime and it’s extremely important for product leaders to be aware of how the product team plugs into this.

For startups, it’s critical to find a product-market fit. This means that startup product teams need to be laser-focused on finding and building product differentiators. You will need your product to stand out for solving user problems that others cannot. For a lean team, this makes even more sense because you’ll want to direct your resources to build the most impactful features.

In contrast, as the business scales and you’ve secured your initial customer base, I find that the focus starts shifting towards refining what you have already built. In other words, it’s time to fix those problems which you deprioritized when you were a startup. At this stage, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to build more things even though it’s probably better to innovate on what you do and do it better. 

This is also the stage when customer feedback becomes extremely helpful, as their complaints, inputs, and feature requests can show you what really matters to them, which should be core to your product strategy.

By the time the company gets much larger and becomes well-established, the product team would also have grown in size. At this stage, product leaders need to think about how to enable autonomy yet keep the team aligned to the core company goals. 

This is very important because new, innovative startups will be disrupting your market. If your product organization becomes bureaucratic, you just won’t be able to respond to these challenges quickly enough. 

A good way to manage this is to create small teams that can function almost like mini startups. This could be a team of a product manager, a designer, and a few engineers. The idea is that they should be able to make their own decisions with minimal authoritative coordination. 

Help them to stay aligned by making sure they have a sense of purpose. They should know how their work contributes to the greater corporate vision. Support their ability to be autonomous by avoiding the traps of endless meetings, check-ins and red tape.

  1. Do not be afraid to unship - when there is a strong reason to do so

As product people, it’s natural for us to look for new features to build and launches happen with much fanfare but it’s less common to talk about unshipping products. The reality is, the value of a product or feature could change with time. 

What may have been important before, may no longer align with the current strategy, or the feature was shipped but it is so buggy that it doesn’t deliver on value. Sometimes the feature is a novelty and slowly becomes less relevant or has too few users.

Whatever the reason is for depreciating a product, making the decision to do so can be hard.   It comes with the implication that we were wrong about something and we may be biased towards keeping it because we had worked really hard on it.

It’s important to build the muscle to fairly evaluate if a product should be unshipped and part of this is encouraging the team to think about what can be gained from unshipping a product or feature. 

They should think in terms of whether unshipping can have positive impacts like a decrease in the number of support tickets or an increase in retention over time by bringing in more users who find value from the core features of your product, and not the underperforming features you unship.

It’s something that’s close to my heart as we actually made the difficult decision to sunset parts of our product. Many of our metrics saw a positive improvement with this decision. We were able to focus on improving the quality of our core product and that contributed to our NPS tripling over 18 months, a decrease in support tickets, and an improvement in retention rates.

  1. Pay attention to goal setting

This last tip might seem obvious but getting goals and metrics right is simply critical especially as your team grows. It helps to keep everyone aligned and focused on the important things. 

I try to keep the following in mind when setting goals.

  • Focus on one goal: Help your team to focus on the most important thing, instead of trying to improve multiple things at once
  • Think about what makes your customer succeed: Goals like the number of features shipped and deadlines don’t necessarily contribute to the success of your customers but reducing churn makes you focus on making improvements that truly impact them
  • Say “no” to regression: The achievement of a goal should not lead to the regression of something else unless it’s a trade-off that has been agreed upon. For example, a reduction in data center cost for us, should not result in longer loading times for our customers

Staying thoughtful about how you evolve your product team as it grows can go a long way towards supporting long-term success. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that you’ve built a strong team that delivers the right results and this makes it worth the effort to get it right.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Mixpanel Product Teams

Neil Rahilly

The Author is the VP of Product & Design at Mixpanel.

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