When The Team is the Product

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Every product is a reflection of the team that creates it. We spend a lot of time in product paying attention to tools, processes, and methodologies and not enough time focused on the makeup, perspective, and culture of product teams.

Anything that gets created — a movie, a book, a song, a piece of art, a building — is impacted by and is a tangible manifestation of the creator(s). The end product captures the imagination, expertise, experience, and biases of the creator(s). Digital products are no different, yet we often lose sight of this and focus too much on everything but the team. The team is the product. The two are inseparable, just as an artist can’t be separated from a piece of art they create.

We attempt to drive the human complication and imperfection out of digital products even though these human aspects are revered in other creative endeavors. Creating a digital product is still, and should remain, a creative endeavor guided by and supported by principles of doing it well and successfully. Just as songwriters write songs based in principles of what makes a song enjoyable and successful. Just as the director of a movie leverages successful movie making principles to create a movie people want to watch and enjoy. Principles as part of a creative process help to foster creativity as it allows the creators to create on a foundation of success.

AWH is a professional services firm, and because in most cases we don’t sell a product (we are a Partner with some product companies), our team is our product. This is also true for product companies though. A product and the team that creates the product are inseparable. This, of course, can be good or bad. A committed and capable team that understands the problem well has a chance to build a great and successful product. The opposite is also true.

The product itself can display whether the team that created it was collaborative or combative. Whether the team understood the problem before creating or started solutioning too early, whether the team is a skilled group of craftspeople or making things up as they go. Every product is a direct result of the team that created it.

The best products are created by the best team and even more specifically the best team for that product. What does the best team for a product look like? Here are some attributes:

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Investors invest in the team more than a product or problem and it’s because they know the team means everything to building the best product and company. It means the environment and culture in which a product gets created dramatically impacts the effectiveness of the team and the value of the product. Products that get created through undue contention and turmoil display that. Products that get created through highly skilled and highly collaborative teams also reflect it.

Products are a mirror of the team. It’s easy to tell when you start to use a product what the product team valued and was good at. Product teams that are unbalanced and that favor one thing over another, like development over design for example, will produce a product that embodies this. A successful product team and product must balance and respect all aspects of a product and the product creation process.

Companies from startups to enterprises need to give much more thought and attention to who is part of a product team, what the product culture of the company and team is, and how well a product team is performing together, rather than what the tools, processes and methodologies are. Sure, the people part is messier and more complex than just picking tools, creating processes, and implementing methodologies, but they don’t compare from an importance and value perspective. The tools, processes, and methodologies help a great product team to work faster and better, but these things will not make an average product team great. Great product teams have been building great products long before some of the current tools, processes, and methodologies existed. In fact, many of the current tools, processes, and methodologies were created by these great product teams improving the way they worked. It is unlikely a bad and dysfunctional product team ever created a tool, process, or methodology to perform better at creating great products. It just doesn’t work like that.

A product is a tangible thing that users get to interact with, use, enjoy, and get value from and it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a product is the outcome a team of professionals that put their hearts, minds, and hands to work to make it happen. Great products should be revered and honored, but the people and teams that made them should be held in higher regard because without them, there are no great products.

— Ryan Frederick, Principal at AWH, Author The Founders Manual: A Guidebook for Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur.

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