How the best product teams work

Tim Woods
14 min readJul 4, 2021

The quality distribution of product teams probably resembles something like a bell curve. Most teams are in the middle: average, sometimes doing good things, sometimes not. A smaller portion are plain terrible. Then there’s the small portion at the front of the curve who are consistently excellent, and seemingly doing everything right.

So, what’s the difference between these top product teams and the rest?

The distribution of product teams

I’ve been lucky enough to attend multiple workshops with Marty Cagan, where he describes how the best product teams work. It’s also exactly the fundamental differences I’ve seen in my career, where I’ve worked in teams right across the span of that bell curve.

What I’ve learned is that there is a profound difference between how the very best product companies create technology products and all the rest. And I don’t mean minor differences. — Marty Cagan

So, let’s take a look at what those differences are.

Three Types of Product Teams

Firstly, in summary, these are the characteristics of the three types of product teams you’ll generally find:

Delivery Teams (the unfortunate left side of the bell curve)

  • Primarily exist to serve the business stakeholders
  • Given features to go and build by those stakeholders
  • Measured by their output, rather than outcomes
  • Engineers are treated liked mercenaries, with little to no ownership of the problems to solve
  • Sometimes engineering is even outsourced
  • Often little or no design input
  • Using fake agile, or even still using some form of waterfall process
  • Essentially a team of mercenaries that is focused on the stakeholders more than the customers, acting like a software factory

Feature Teams (the middle of the bell curve — where most teams are)

  • Also primarily there to serve the needs of the stakeholders
  • Typically have a roadmap full of features that stakeholders have lobbied for
  • Do some design work and then put those features on the backlog

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Tim Woods

Building Product at TryHackMe. Previously YouCanBookMe, PatSnap, HYPE Innovation, Imaginatik, IBM. Love all things PM. South Coast, England.