How to Build and Structure a Great Product Team

Adam Calica
December 10, 2020
Adam Calica
December 10, 2020

Variety is the key to effective product management

As a company grows, and its product team along with it, the structure of a product management org can play a significant role in what products look like and how customer challenges are solved. The 16 product leaders below said variety in their product team roster helps them recognize success both for the business and their team members. 

Variation within the product department means different things for different businesses. For some, it means having a team of product managers with diverse skill sets: some with technical knowledge, others with UX skills or marketing savvy. For other product teams, having PMs with a range of expertise in specific verticals may be important. Some teams even house dedicated UX and content professionals under the product umbrella. 

No matter the exact structure of their product teams, these leaders place a high value on empowering their product pros to feel a real sense of ownership.

Tips for a Structuring Great Product Team

  • Break teams into squads or pods with individual responsibilities
  • Create cross-functional collaboration
  • Build customer-first processes
  • Foster strong relationships between product, engineering, and marketing teams.

Petal

Roy Simkhay

VP PRODUCT

Roy Simkhay

To keep employees on the same page during periods of rapid growth at fintech company Petal, VP of Product Roy Simkhay said product managers must emphasize transparency. Each PM leads a cross-functional squad consisting of engineers, designers and select people from across departments focused on the squad’s goal. Through transparency and collaboration, the product team can innovate quickly, Simkhay said. 

 

How did you decide to structure your product team?

Our product team is organized so that each product manager leads a cross-functional squad that works on a particular part of the product. Each squad includes our engineering and design teams, along with people from across the company who are key to achieving the goal. 

For example, our growth squad achieves its goals of fueling our tremendous growth in cardmembers. Leaders from marketing, credit risk, customer operations and others are all included. They’re all working side by side within the squad structure. Cross-functional collaboration is critical to innovating quickly.

 

Cross-functional collaboration is critical to innovating quickly.’’

 

How do you envision this structure evolving in the future?

Over the last three months, we’ve almost doubled the size of our product team, which will open up the opportunity for us to evolve the structure of our team in exciting ways.

We’re moving toward organizing our product areas so that each covers a specific user need from end to end. This is tremendously powerful because it allows us to define a North Star goal for that product area and a clear vision for where we want it to go long term. The roadmaps then fall into place from there.

 

Given how you structure your product organization, what’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

We look for high levels of technical fluency, problem-solving aptitude and a desire to learn in all of the PMs we bring onto the team.

Each of our PMs is overseeing a complex product area that brings together many different disciplines across the company, and their product decisions are often balancing those potentially competing needs. It is important that we have high-trust relationships with our stakeholders. At Petal, PMs operate with a high degree of transparency. 

 

SEVENROOMS

Allison Page

CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER

Allison Page

Co-founder and CPO Allison Page said she was a “jack of all trades” as hospitality platform SevenRooms’ first product manager (and designer and QA resource). As the company has grown, the engineering team has divided into squads that focus on user types and user solutions. Page said they now look for PMs who are specialists, rather than a little bit of everything.   

 

How did you decide to structure your product team?

Our product and engineering teams are broken out into several “squads,” with each squad having an area of ownership in the platform. Our product managers lead our squads. Each product manager’s area of responsibility is typically driven by the types of users we serve and the problems we are trying to solve for those users. 

For example, we have a squad focused on the consumer experience of ordering pickup and delivery, another focused on the experience of restaurant hosts using our front-of-house application, and another focused on the marketers using our marketing automation tool. These are three distinct sets of users, with three distinct sets of challenges, so it makes sense to create a separate focus for each on our team. 
 

How has this structure evolved as your team has grown?

In the early days, I wore many hats as the only product manager, the only designer and the only QA resource. At the time, we only had one product (reservations and table management), so it was possible to run the full spectrum of roles required to iterate and get a new product out the door. As the platform capabilities expanded, we grew the product team by adding generalists and smart people capable of wearing many hats and jumping in on whatever challenges were thrown their way. 

As the platform evolved, we’ve also evolved the types of hires we bring on to the team. Instead of hiring generalists who can be the “jack of all trades,” we now look for specialists with particular expertise that can be brought to a specific squad and area of product ownership. Each of our PMs offers our team something different, but at the end of the day, they’re all excited about solving real-world problems for our hospitality clients.  

 

Our most successful product team members have always been obsessed with uncovering the root problem.’’  

 

Given how you structure your product organization, what’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

The most important consideration when adding new team members is that they are curious and always ask “why” questions. As a B2B SaaS company, our product must continuously drive value, streamline our customers’ operations and create more profitable restaurant businesses. With a backlog of thousands of product ideas and feature requests from our customer base, our product managers and designers must always dive deeper to understand the “why” beneath these requests. Our most successful product team members have always been obsessed with uncovering the root problem and discovering the customer’s motivations around the request or ask. 

 

Hyperscience

Francisco Uribe 

VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT & DESIGN

Francisco Uribe 

At automation platform HyperScience, all problem-solving starts from the ground up, rather than top-down management. VP of Product and Design Francisco Uribe said that looks like tightly aligned squads, grouped in layers to represent the core modules of the user experience such as system integration, platform and AI. 

 

How did you decide to structure your product team?

Conway’s Law said products tend to resemble the organizations that build them. Traditional organizations try to solve this problem with bureaucracy and top-down management, leading to politics and inefficiency. We believe in turning the problem on its head, so we’ve built an organization that mimics our long-term product architecture from the ground up. For that reason, we designed our product, design and engineering organization into loosely coupled and tightly aligned squads, grouped in layers, to represent core modules of our user experience. 

With this structure, we have been able to scale gracefully, build user-persona-level specialization and maximize our customer value delivery. 

 

Conway’s Law said products tend to resemble the organizations that build them.’’

 

How has this structure evolved as your team has grown?

The Hyperscience product, design and engineering organization has evolved as our company ambitions and product offering has evolved. The first version of our product was designed to address the intelligent document processing needs of our customers (Global 2000 companies and government organizations) and was structured around the core functions of data classification and extraction. Our vision has evolved considerably since then. As a company, we believe in the power of automation to transform how businesses operate, serve their customers and manage their human resources. 

As we evolve into an input-to-outcome automation solution, our teams now resemble the layers of a full-fledged platform: system integration to aid with the deployment of our solution, platform to provide workflow management, blocks representing our AI functions and verticals focused on providing out-of-the-box solutions for key vertical-use cases (e.g., claims processing, underwriting, loans origination).

 

Given how you structure your product organization, what’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

The requirements vary depending on the layers of our team and range from highly technical in our system integration layer to the most business-oriented roles in our verticals layer. In general, a preferred qualification for senior roles is experience in enterprise software. People in enterprise software tend to show a higher sense of user-empathy than B2C, which is important since we are not the users of the products we are building. These people help hone our user interview, buy-in and technical skills. 

 

Meetup

Daniel Pardes

VP OF PRODUCT

Daniel Pardes

Vice President of Product Daniel Pardes said that a “pods” structure of product manager, designer and engineers results in team autonomy and faster feedback loops at community-building platform Meetup. As the company evolves, Pardes said he expects each pod to be aligned to opportunities, rather than projects, to accelerate product development.

 

How did you decide to structure your product team?

At Meetup, we’ve found that the best way to organize our teams and work is by “pods.” As an atomic product development team, each pod consists of a product manager, designer and three to five engineers. Decision-making is centralized to the “triad” of the product manager, designer and engineering lead who work together and with their team to decide the best path forward.

This team autonomy results in shorter feedback loops. When we discover new information about the customer, uncover shifts in the market or see emerging technology, we can react quickly to that information. It also allows us to align functions like user research and data to support product teams in all stages of their product development process. And the small pod size gives us flexibility in planning and staffing. 

Ultimately, this structure is optimized for timeboxed execution to achieve specific outcomes for the company and our customers. We believe that this also helps us leverage individual skills and balance team dynamics to ensure personal and professional growth for each team member.
 

This team autonomy results in shorter feedback loops.’’ 

 

How do you envision this structure evolving in the future?

As we learn more about our users and how best to support them in today’s ever-changing world, our strategy will evolve — and with it, our structure. We expect that our pods will become less project-oriented and instead be more aligned to a problem area or broad opportunity. Our goal is to continue to accelerate our product development while maintaining a balanced team composition and avoiding siloing knowledge and creating disparate team cultures.

 

Given how you structure your product organization, what’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

There are two important qualities that we look for when adding members to the team. The first is a hunger to increase Meetup’s reach and impact in the world. Meetup exists to help people find and create communities that gather around shared interests and identities. This is why we go to work every day. And every PM, designer and user researcher has to bring this hunger and urgency to their team and the work we do.

The second quality we seek is curiosity — a need to ask and understand the “why,” whether it’s a user behavior we’re observing in the data, a design decision that we’re making or technical tradeoffs we’re considering. For us, curiosity translates into having a strong desire and appreciation to understand all angles of a problem, gather information from various sources and evaluate multiple approaches to solving a problem.

 

Honey

Alex Malek

HEAD OF PRODUCT

Alex Malek

Honey’s e-commerce platform connects users with discount and savings opportunities. Alex Malek, head of product, said that the purpose of Honey’s product team’s structure is to identify and execute opportunities where it can improve its customer experiences. 

 

What is the current structure of your product team? 

Our teams are clustered around the various customer experiences that we want to emphasize and highlight that quarter. The purpose of this structure is to identify and execute opportunities to improve the customer experience within the suite of Honey products. In addition, this structure allows for teams to move nimbly and autonomously, having the resources and context to build and iterate without lots of synchronization. Where possible, we try to reduce dependencies between teams. Once a quarter, we align around a common set of goals and build a roadmap for how we are going to move the needle toward those goals. 
 

Product team hires who are successful at Honey are naturally curious and rigorously ask ‘why’ their decisions solve the root problem.”


How has this structure evolved as your team has grown? 

We recently brought our merchant-facing teams closer together to facilitate building a more cohesive experience. This has allowed us to think deeper and focus more on how we can drive our clients’ business goals.

 

What’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

We prize first-principles thinking. We want to keep our product development process as agile and autonomous as possible, so we look to hire folks who have an entrepreneurial perspective and can inform their decisions with data. Product team hires who are successful at Honey are naturally curious and rigorously ask “why” their decisions solve the root problem.

 

Centerfield

Graham Dee

SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER

Graham Dee

Digital media company Centerfield uses a proprietary big data platform to provide clients with customized marketing and sales insights. In order to increase consumer touchpoints through alternative marketing channels, Senior Product Manager Graham Dee and SVP of Digital Zach Robbins hired two product managers, two designers and one retention marketing manager.

 

What is the current structure of your product team? 

Our product team consists of two product managers, two designers and one retention marketing manager who report to our SVP of Digital, Zach Robbins. 

When I started in April 2019, it was just Zach and I building our team from scratch. Our primary focus was to increase consumer touchpoints through alternative marketing channels. As we built out various new experiences like e-commerce, chat, email and SMS flows, we also increased our headcount to help manage all of the new products.
 

As technology continues to evolve with fresh and unique marketing channels, so will we.”


How do you envision this structure evolving in the future? 

I see our team growing more as we finish 2020 and embark on new projects in 2021 for two reasons. First, the existing flows we’ve built in the past year will continue to grow via hands-on optimization. Second, even though we’ve built out four to five new consumer touchpoints and experiences, we’re certainly not done. As technology continues to evolve with fresh and unique marketing channels, so will we. 

 

What’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

I think the most important qualities I look for when interviewing potential candidates are communication skills and relevant experience. I like it when candidates can clearly and concisely explain their past experiences and when they can tie those learnings to what Centerfield and the open role has to offer.  

 

Jellyvision

Amy West

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT

Amy West

Using its proprietary software “ALEX,” Jellyvision helps customers make smart decisions about their health, benefits and finances. Amy West, senior vice president of product, said that in order to best serve its customers, Jellyvision’s product team is broken into five key areas: product leaders, strategy and market discovery, research and insights, data science and customer success. 

 

What is the current structure of your product team?

Our product team at Jellyvision includes five key areas: product leaders, strategy and market discovery, research and insights, data science and customer success. We also recently re-aligned our product managers to focus on problems to solve versus components. This structure is optimal for us right now because it allows our talented people to focus and learn at the same time. Additionally, it allows us to quickly scale as we spin up new teams to solve new problems. There are support structures in place to allow product managers to focus on problems worth solving in great detail while being able to have the support and direct access to experts across strategy, research and data science to help them move faster and smarter.  
 

Our greatest asset is our collective and multiplicative brains and, therefore, maintaining diverse thinking is my number one priority.”

 

How do you envision this structure evolving in the future? 

I expect in the future we will spin up new product roles when there is enough evidence to suggest that there is a new problem worth solving, an addressable market is identified and we have the right to win in that space. 

I’m always thinking about how to set up healthy people-manager structures in addition to building teams with diverse experience and skills. People need coaching and development, which takes time for managers. If we under-invest in the right manager to team ratios, everyone loses.

 

What’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

There are a few non-negotiable soft skills for product people in my experience (such as communication and stakeholder management) but otherwise, the most important consideration is dependent on the task at hand and the balance of the collective skills across the team. I believe that the most effective teams are diverse in background, experience and skills. If the team is leaning heavy on design thinking but light technically, that’s a problem. On the other hand, if the team is leaning heavily on financial acumen, but light on customer success, that’s not great either. Our greatest asset is our collective and multiplicative brains and, therefore, maintaining diverse thinking is my number one priority.  

 

More on Product ManagementShould You be Designing for a Product or a Service?

 

project44

Jeff Love

SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER

Jeff Love

Tech and logistics company project44 provides advanced supply chain visibility to shippers and third-party logistics firms. The company’s product team is structured in “product squads,” allowing for each team to focus on a specific area that can serve multiple products, Senior Product Manager Jeff Love said.

 

What is the current structure of your product team?

The product team at project44 is a part of a bigger product and services organization that allows us to apply a more customer-centric, outcome-based approach to everything we do. The team structure aligns well with one of our core values, which is “Obsessing over the customer.” Our team is structured in “product squads,” popularized by Spotify, including product, engineering, design and business representation to ensure we keep the customer at the center of everything we build. This type of structure is cross-functional and highly collaborative, meaning each team focuses on a specific area that can serve multiple products across our portfolio. We align these product squads to customer segments and our key business goals. 

 

How has this structure evolved as your team has grown? 

As the team has grown, we have evolved from a dedicated product manager per product or service to the product squads structure. Having one product manager per product had its advantages but as we have expanded our very complex and diverse portfolio of customers, product squads have become essential for owning the product strategy and meeting customer needs. We also invested in product operations (we are hiring!) who serve as the connective tissue between those building products and our customer-facing teams. Being in a high-growth company, we welcome changes, but our goal is to provide each product manager the opportunity to own a segment or problem-space and positively impact key performance indicators (KPIs) — that outcome-first approach excites our group.
 

I really look for curiosity and someone that is excited to roll up their sleeves to find solutions to complex problems.”

 

What’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

It really depends on the role. Being an API-first company, there are certainly roles that require a more technical background and we always appreciate folks that share a passion for transportation and logistics, but it’s not required.

I really look for curiosity and someone that is excited to roll up their sleeves to find solutions to complex problems. A good product manager must also be hyper empathetic towards the customer. All these skills must be built on the foundation of great communication — we interact with so many different teammates, stakeholders, customers and prospects. PMs must know their audience and communicate effectively.

 

DigitalMint

Matt Lane

DIRECTOR OR TECHNOLOGY

Matt Lane

DigitalMint empowers underserved and underbanked populations by utilizing digital currencies as a tool for financial access and inclusion. When looking to hire new engineers, Director of Technology Matt Lane looks for two key characteristics: a willingness to learn and critical-thinking skills.
 

An insatiable curiosity and willingness to learn is the best medicine to overcome software engineering challenges.”


What is the current structure of your product team?

One of our most exciting product teams is building a mobile app targeting a wide variety of consumer phones. We charge our UX designer to lead the design and determination of how we can best serve our mobile customers. Our application engineers shape our designers’ dreams into a real, tangible product. And with phones in hand, our QA engineers ensure the design and product meet a high standard of accessibility, features and reliability. Complex products take skilled teams, but an on-the-ball product manager orchestrates the many talented voices in the room to put the idea of what we need into reality and in our customers’ hands.

 

How has this structure evolved as your team has grown? 

Like most small companies, in order to succeed, employees must wear a lot of hats. That’s given our work family the opportunity to discover what they are best at and grow into their role at DigitalMint. But as the company grows in size, we hire more for specific roles. Our challenge is to fill our specific needs while encouraging diverse skills and work with people across the company. The larger our teams get, the more opportunities we have to mix and match engineers and projects to keep our staff challenged and engaged.

 

What’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

There are two main characteristics that I’ve had resounding success in determining an engineering hire. First and foremost, all engineers must always have a willingness to learn. Every expert in their field runs into unexpected problems on a nearly daily basis — it’s the nature of our work. An insatiable curiosity and willingness to learn is the best medicine to overcome software engineering challenges. And second, an engineering candidate must be able to demonstrate critical reasoning. We work with purely logical machines that do not guess or estimate. Any engineer who is curiously logical rather than swiftly frustrated will always find success.

 

Slalom

Damyant Gill

PRACTICE AREA DIRECTOR

Damyant Gill

Modern consulting firm Slalom focuses on strategy, technology and business transformation to best serve its customers. According to Damyant Gill, practice area director, Slalom customizes its product teams to align with the client’s and project’s needs. 

 

What is the current structure of your product team?

Slalom builds modern software in a way that is intended to reflect the ultimate objective: impacting our customer’s customer. Building great technology products is the core of what we do.

We partner with our clients to understand their business and build products that impact their customers  — and we do so across industries. Recently, we’ve completed work on products that aid people with diabetes. Another recent project was developing an app to enable an exceptional travel experience.

We’re always looking to build products that are frictionless, viable and feasible. We construct our teams around these core product focus areas and help develop our teams’ strengths in each of these elements. For example, an experience design expert ensures desirability and a frictionless experience; a solution owner informs market and feature viability; and a technical engineer (cloud, DevSecOps, app development, data and analytics, QE, SRE) builds for feasibility. Our solution owners, a unique role to Slalom, combine the strengths of business analysts, product owners and scrum masters. 

 

How has this structure evolved as your team has grown? 

Our core team structure for individual scrum teams has largely been the same. However, we always customize those teams to the project and our client’s needs.

What’s unique about Slalom’s approach is that we’re always thinking about how we can make sure that our clients’ team is prepared to maintain, support and scale the product. We mitigate change risks to sustain a great experience for our customers. One way that we do this is by embedding our team members seamlessly into client teams, as well as creating teams where clients play specific roles. This creates a lot of opportunities for knowledge transfer — and ultimately that supports better outcomes for the product and positively influences user adoption.
 

Slalom’s culture is one of learning and collaboration. We look for alignment with our core values when hiring.”


What’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

Slalom’s culture is one of learning and collaboration. We look for alignment with our core values when hiring: “Drive connection and teamwork,” “Fuel innovation and growth,” and “Stay humble and curious” are a few values that our product teams really exemplify. 

We are working with clients across industries on innovative ideas and complex technical projects. New members need a foundational knowledge of tech so that they can start working fast. However, it’s equally important that you demonstrate consistent curiosity, a readiness to learn new skills, and the drive to collaboratively solve real-world problems. 

People that succeed at Slalom show a level of business acumen and technical curiosity, whether it be cloud-native development, DevSecOps, data engineering and analytics, quality engineering or SRE approaches that deliver client business outcomes. This approach to teaming and development helps us create the best outcomes for our clients and their customers. 

This mindset of curiosity and continuous learning helps create a positive work environment and future learning opportunities. For example, our hackathons allow team members to create great products and solution concepts, many of them solving real-world problems for local nonprofits. In 2020, we had three Chicago-based teams advance to Slalom’s global hackathon — and one of them won! Many solutions sparked from hackathons have gone on to become capabilities, like our IoT lab and immersive (AR/VR/MR) product development capabilities.

 

Walgreens

Vid Tekriwal

HEALTH TRANSFORMATION PRODUCT LEAD

Vid Tekriwal

Horizon 3, a healthcare innovation team at Walgreens, was created to ensure the company was able to deliver the best possible products and experiences to its customers, Health Transformation Product Lead Vid Tekriwal said.

 

What is the current structure of your product team?

Horizon 3 is a healthcare innovation team within Walgreens Boots Alliance created and funded as a vehicle to reimagine the healthcare ecosystem. The ultimate goal is to make healthcare simpler and more user-friendly for the consumer.

Our vision is to create a consumer-centric, technology-enabled healthcare platform that provides a simple, delightful experience for users, improves health outcomes and lowers costs for the system. Driven by the structure of the healthcare industry, our product will serve the needs of multiple external user groups, including patients, caregivers, payers, providers and suppliers, as well as internal user groups, including coaches, health advisors, customer service representatives, clinicians and administrators.

The structure of our team reflects the shape and complexity of our product. We come from a diverse range of product backgrounds, which helps enable and challenge each other to think of our user problems from different perspectives. We’re currently a lean team, organized according to the users, channels and the content of the experiences we aim to serve. Each product manager currently wears many hats, including working through the end-to-end product strategy and execution for the particular capabilities and features they are responsible for and making strategic decisions that inform design and implementation. We have a highly  collaborative and cross-functional relationship mode of working to ensure that we’re ultimately optimizing what’s best for the user. In order to scale quickly, we have augmented our team with external resources and opened full-time roles to hire behind them for the long term.
 

We look for a combination of experience, a willingness to be wrong, try and learn, and an insatiable appetite to get out there and deliver as a team.”


As a team, we operate closely with our commercial partners to understand their population needs, so we’re in the best position to design solutions that address these needs and unify the experience. In collaboration with our development partners, we have adopted an Agile methodology, which allows us to effectively navigate and break down the components of the product. In two-week focused periods, we work as a cross-disciplinary team to refine, design and sequentially build the individual capabilities of the product. This close-knit structure with user experience design and research and engineering allows us to iterate rapidly and gather targeted feedback from real users that can directly inform the product, design and implementation of each feature.

Our cross-functional and collaborative approach, with tight feedback loops from our users, is particularly important given the nature of our work. We are creating an innovative product in a highly complex space. There are some things we know from previous collective experience and observing others in the space, but there are still many unknowns that we’ll manage and navigate. We, therefore, optimize for learning and iteration, with a clear focus on the users we are serving.

 

How has this structure evolved as your team has grown? 

As a small team, as is typical in a startup, we tend to be generalists and we each cover many different topics. As the team grows, the structure will evolve to encapsulate greater specialization. We’ll have individual product managers dedicated to specific aspects of the product, so they’ll have an opportunity to build a depth of expertise and contribute uniquely to the team.

 

What’s the most important consideration for you when adding new members to your team? 

When we hire new people, we look for a combination of experience, a willingness to be wrong, try and learn, and an insatiable appetite to get out there and deliver as a team. Healthcare technology is a specialist space, and direct experience and technical knowledge are extremely valuable. Somewhat paradoxically, we also look for a certain open-mindedness and receptivity to new information and new perspectives. 

As such, we want to bring the best of other industry approaches to bear on healthcare, so we don’t just hire healthcare expertise but rather across all industry segments. We look for someone who embraces the unknown and the ‘art of the possible’ and challenges the status quo. The problem we are solving is vast — no one can possibly have all the information or all the answers — so we look for a certain humbleness, along with a willingness to admit what we don’t know, clarity on what we do know and someone who embraces learning from each other. At the end of the day, we want our product managers to jump out of bed in the morning and be passionate about the opportunity to make a bigger impact on the customers we serve.

H3 offers a unique opportunity to join a team in the formative stages of a big mission and make an impact on millions of people’s lives. This is a startup environment, supported by a trusted brand, where you get to work with a fun, collaborative team in a culture that encourages creativity, design thinking, risk-taking, learning and growth. 

 

DomainTools

Jackie Abrams

VP OF PRODUCT

Jackie Abrams

DomainTools VP of Product Jackie Abrams said product team members are assigned to different areas of the product ecosystem to optimize how the platform is managed. Some managers are dedicated to specific use cases and customer needs at the cybersecurity threat intelligence platform, while others tend to DomainTools’ internal system on a more general level.

 

DomainTools’ product team structure: Our product team has both vertical and horizontal product managers. Vertical managers serve specific use cases, and horizontal managers provide underlying data or modular capability components that can be incorporated into each of our distinct product use cases. This structure enables us to give constant attention to the elements of our underlying data and systems that support all of our products. It also allows us to deliver experiences through each of our use-case-focused products that reflect and serve our customers’ needs. 

 

We have feature-focused product managers who constantly look to improve customer experiences.”

 

How the product team structure has evolved: Originally, our PM team only had individual product managers that worked on products with disparate code bases. As we modernized our systems and underlying platform architecture, we wanted to reimagine the department to better enable a holistic, consistent approach to bringing products to customers. 

We recently expanded the team with additional product managers to better support our bifurcated horizontal and vertical frameworks. Now we have feature-focused product managers who constantly look to improve customer experiences and deliverables, as well as platform- and system-focused PMs who ensure a strong, consistent framework for delivery across all of our products. 

 

Most important consideration when growing the team: While technical knowledge is important for our data- and system-focused product managers, strong product management and documentation skills are essential for all our PMs. But, there are some things that are innate qualities that most likely won’t be learned over time and are critical for success, like general curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Industry knowledge or technologies can be taught, and bridging that knowledge gap is easier for PMs, product marketers or other team members who are passionate about learning. Teamwork and collaboration are also crucial for success, and I find there’s little room for ego, pride or territorial conflict. 

 

Limeade

Larry Colagiovanni

CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER

Larry Colagiovanni

Change in the face of growth is often a good thing. Larry Colagiovanni said the product team structure at Limeade — an employee experience software company— changed to create more overall alignment. The CTO said putting the content team under the product umbrella with PMs and UX pros improved the company’s product strategy.

 

Limeade’s product team structure: Our product org is currently made up of three teams: product management, content and UX, which incorporates design and user research. It’s important to us that each of those teams has a seat at the table when it comes to shaping the future of the Limeade employee experience platform. Each makes decisions on whether something meets our bar to ship to users, asks questions about the performance of a feature once it’s live and fleshes out our processes to build products. They bring unique perspectives to discussions, and we love the healthy tension that comes with their points of view on how we solve problems.

 

Content plays such a critical role in our product experience that we ended up moving them to product.”

 

How the product team structure has evolved: There are two major changes we made to our product team in the last six months. First, the content team used to sit within marketing, given some synergies with the storytelling and education they deliver to the market at large. But content plays such a critical role in our product experience that we ended up moving them to product to help drive alignment and to ensure their point of view was more strongly included in the product strategy.

Our product managers also used to act as scrum masters for their teams and we shifted toward having dedicated project managers. It’s critical that our product managers spend time doing market and customer research and opportunity analysis. But in reality, they were spending the vast majority of their time managing projects and dealing with issues there. Introducing dedicated project managers took some of that burden off of them so they could spend more time getting closer to our customers and their needs, and helping us build better products.

 

Most important consideration when growing the team: During the interview loop, each interviewer focuses on at least one of our values. They are looking for how the candidate will do the following: embrace diversity in backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives; actively listen; collaborate; demonstrate humility; take risks and learn from mistakes.

While looking for certain skills or domain expertise is important, we focus on our values instead because we have an environment where we encourage people to try out new roles at the company. We have had developers join the product team, customer success managers join the people team and a UX researcher that now designs.

 

Ookla

Travis Wright

VP OF PRODUCT

Travis Wright

The product org at Ookla — an internet intelligence and testing application provider — keeps its teams small to drive collaboration and skills development. VP of Product Travis Wright said smaller teams empower product pros with more agency, freedom to work across departments and opportunities to advance their individual skills. 

 

Ookla’s product team structure: While Ookla is best known for our consumer products, we also have a portfolio of enterprise products serving customers in a wide range of industries. Our current product management team structure reflects that portfolio, with individuals and smaller teams owning groups of related products. The product team works hand in hand with our software development scrum teams, as well as our data science and marketing teams, to bring new products and enhancements to market. This arrangement allows individuals to focus on their domains while also creating an atmosphere for collaboration in pursuit of shared goals.

 

The goal is to create the conditions for professional growth while ensuring the success of our products.”

 

How the product team structure has evolved: As our portfolio has evolved through product development and acquisitions, our organization has continuously adapted to meet the challenges and opportunities that accompany such growth. Whether adding new roles with different skill sets or finding new alignments within the team, the goal is to create conditions for professional growth while ensuring the success of our products and the customers we serve.

 

Most important consideration when growing the team: Our product team includes product directors and managers, program managers and soon, a product trainer with varying degrees of professional experience, technical skill and domain expertise. While there are different functional requirements to be successful in each role, we all share common traits that help us work well together: intellectual curiosity, versatility, a passion for excellence and patience. We understand there is no perfect path to any job and we believe diversity of all kinds makes us better. These ideas guide every hiring decision and serve us well.

 

Expedia Group

Raina Christlieb

SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

https://www.builtinseattle.com/company/ookla

Raina Christlieb, Expedia Group’s senior director of product management, values product teams with well-rounded skill sets. Through almost nine years at the online travel booking company, Christlieb said she learned that some of the most effective PM orgs have team members with a wide variety of expertise levels, which enables the team to solve challenges of all kinds. 

 

Expedia Group’s product team structure: In my time at Expedia Group, I’ve been on and managed a few different product teams. Depending on the type of product, it has been great to have a balance of PMs with technical, UX, strategy, marketing and business skills. I find that having a blend of strengths throughout the team is important to delivering high-quality products and lifting skills across the board. 

 

Our PMs will need to wear the consumer, developer and partner hats.”

 

How this product structure will evolve in the future: As we continue to build out the Expedia Group platform, it will be important for our product team to think platform-first and consider our entire customer base. Rather than just building out the capabilities needed to best serve our customers, we also need to consider how other partners, internal and external, may want to extend those capabilities on top of our platform. Our PMs will need to wear the consumer, developer and partner hats when it comes to supporting customer needs.

 

Most important consideration when growing the team: It depends on the type of product and the existing structure and skills within the team. The most important consideration can vary from role to role, and I believe the most effective teams have a balance. For highly technical products, we need folks who can understand the technical intricacies and what certain technical decisions will mean for the longer-term extension of the product. Overall, I look for team members who can bring strong core product management skills, have a growth mindset and are able to pivot their focus depending on the product needs and direction.

 

MediaAlpha

Robert Perine

VP OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

Robert Perine

Vertical, industry-driven expertise is an important part of how the product team at customer acquisition tech company MediaAlpha is structured. VP of Product Management Robert Perine said focused expert knowledge offers PM team members a greater sense of ownership in their roles.

 

MediaAlpha’s product team structure: Our product team is primarily vertically oriented. For example, we have dedicated leads for auto insurance and for health insurance. We believe that it’s critical for each one of us to develop a deep understanding of the verticals and partners we serve. This structure also allows us to align product and business objectives and gives our team members a real sense of ownership.

 

It’s critical for each one of us to develop a deep understanding of the verticals and partners we serve.”

 

How this product structure will evolve in the future: Our team structure will continue to evolve by bringing in more specialists to support the vertical leads. We are actively hiring data science experts to enhance our predictive analytics and anomaly detection capabilities. These functional leads will continuously improve our infrastructure and platform while our vertical leads will identify new applications and strategic opportunities to deliver more value to our partners.

 

Most important consideration when growing the team: Each role requires a unique set of skills, but the most important thing we look for is a culture fit, as we strive to be curious, humble and candid. We have high standards and will only bring on team members that share our core values. 

 

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Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies.
 

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