Cross-functional product management teams

Over the years, we have achieved some success with the cross-functional software delivery teams established (well, popularised) by lean and agile methods. More recently, the perspective has broadened somewhat to delivering usable solutions rather than working software.

I think it’s time to broaden the perspective a little more and to think of software-supported solutions in terms of products more consistently and to manage them accordingly. Kristofer Layon’s book Digital Product Management is a good start.

My experience mostly comes from fairly sizeable digital business initiatives in fairly sizeable organisations. While your mileage may vary with the size of the initiatives and the (network of) organisations you are involved, I believe that the basic argument put forward in this most still holds true in a smaller context.

Years ago I’ve seen projects succeed whose leadership included a competent functional architect and a competent technical architect. This duality was de-emphasised by the Unified Process with its strong focus on the (fairly technical) software architect role and by Scrum with its focus on the (fairly functional) product owner role. To make things worse, providing the “content leadership” (a better term, anyone?) on any sizeable initiative is a tall order for any single person, at least in my experience. Disciplined Agile Delivery begins to address this issue be re-emphasising this duality with its product owner and architecture roles.

To me, this looks like a good start but I think we ought to go a step further: I suggest that introducing cross-functional product management teams is likely to yield similar benefits in the area of “content leadership” as introducing cross-functional solution delivery teams did in the area of producing software-supported solutions.

For example, in addition to business and technology design expertise, we certainly want to include experience design expertise in the product management team in most contexts. Other expertise can be added as and when necessary.

In addition to the immediate benefits of the cross-functional approach, this will also help to reduce the load on the two people that used to be “the architect” or “the product owner”.

In the type of contexts that I tend to work in, this leaves a digital business initiative with three major groups: project management, product management (in a staff position to project management) and the delivery team(s).

The concerns addressed by these groups can be delineated quite nicely, which offers the benefits of clear focus for each of them. In combination with a shared purpose, these clearly defined responsibilities provide a strong basis for collaboration across these groups’ boundaries

Advertisements

One thought on “Cross-functional product management teams

  1. Gene Hughson

    Excellent post, Oliver. In my experience, when the product is designed collaboratively the product benefits. When those who can elaborate the business goals are working hand in glove with those who can speak to what’s possible, what’s advisable, and what those options might cost, you have a much more efficient process.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s