Empowered Product Teams by Marty Cagan

At this year’s MTP Engage conference in Hamburg I had the pleasure to introduce my personal product management idol Marty Cagan to our audience. He spoke about one of his favourite topics: empowered teams.

He started by asking the question why more companies don’t truly empower their teams – because everybody knows that empowered teams are more successful. The reason teams are not truly empowered, he explained, is always due to a lack of trust. Many companies still operate a top-down approach with product managers and their teams usually executing orders from the top.

You can’t hold the team accountable if YOU give them the roadmap. They’re only accountable if they’re also empowered!

If you work in an environment where the teams aren’t truly empowered then the techniques that developed in companies where teams are empowered won’t work for you.

The use of OKRs in most companies is a mess – because it’s a framework that originated in an empowered team environment – and most companies applying it today don’t have empowered teams.

How do you Start to Empower Teams?

So how can you escape this model?
The first thing is to make sure your product managers are competent. Which means the product managers in your team must understand what their current role requires of them and that they learn how to do it.

As director of product you are only as strong as your weakest product manager

Once product managers are competent you need to make sure the team is:

  • inspired by a vision and assigned to a real customer/business problem to solve, rather than given lists of features to build.
  • staffed with competent people with character, who are skilled across the range of competencies you need (typically product manager, product designer, and engineers)
  • is accountable to deliver business results (outcomes) rather than shipping features (output)

And that’s what Marty left us with. If the above three attributes aren’t in place then product leaders must address them.  As Apple’s Bill Campbell once said, “leadership is about recognising there’s a greatness is everyone, and your job is to create an environment where that greatness can emerge.” That’s something heads of product should really work on.

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