Hallmark Traits and Skillsets of GREAT Product Teams….
Every product team needs certain traits and skills to develop successful products. These traits and skills form the foundation of a strong team and enable them to create successful products that meet customer expectations. I have spent 30 years building products; some have been hugely successful, and others have not. The difference maker has always been the people and what they each individually bring to the table regarding traits and skills. With the right people and resources, product teams can create products that customers love.
While “trait” and “skills” are often thrown around as synonyms, there is an immense difference between them. Our inherent traits and characteristics are generally things we were born with birth and can be improved over time. On the other hand, most skills are acquired through study and practice as we gain more experience.
In general, the traits we possess have little to do with what we learn in life; instead, they are like a set of mental and physical ‘tools’ that are innate from the time we a born. Although we can refine and hone our aptitudes with practice or training, they depend on the abilities that come naturally to us. Our characteristics may be very dissimilar. For example, some of us are incredibly skillful with our hands, while others can’t seem to coordinate their fingers yet have a remarkable capacity for rapidly taking in data.
On the other hand, skills are tangible and intangible methods we hone over time. These can be learned through a formalized education or acquired by working in various environments. Examples of skills include techniques derived from formal education and practical know-how honed from years of experience on the job.
In my experience running teams in many different disciplines, I have learned that every product team needs a variety of traits and skills to be successful. This is true across every imaginable team. Sports teams, Engineering teams, Marketing teams, Design teams, and the list goes on.
It’s easy to focus on the technical skills a software engineer should have to complete a project or work to a functional spec, just as it’s also easy to assume that Rugby halfbacks have the ball-handling skills to offload the ball to the back line. Rugby is a sport that requires a tremendous amount of technical ability and teamwork to succeed. Every player on the field must possess unique skills to work together as one cohesive unit. This is true for every position, from the halfback, who needs to have the ability to run with the ball and make plays, to the fly-half, who needs to have great vision and accuracy to make effective passes.
The same is valid for product teams. Every team member needs a unique set of skills, from UX Designers who need to understand user behavior and build intuitive and easy flows to product managers who need to see the big picture, understand customer needs, and manage development timelines.
The skills required for successful product teams vary depending on the type of product they develop, but there are six traits that all great product teams I have run have in common:
1. Empathy — The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand their struggles. This helps build a strong connection between the team and their customers, giving them insight into what drives their target market.
2. Communication — Great communication skills help break down barriers and encourage collaboration within the team. This is essential to ensure everyone understands each other’s point of view and works together efficiently.
3. Creativity — The ability to come up with fresh ideas and new ways of tackling problems keeps a product team agile and innovative. It also allows them to stay ahead of their competition and meet customer needs.
4. Passion — A passionate attitude towards what you do will make a big difference in the quality of work produced by the team. It is also contagious and helps motivate others around them, leading to better results.
5. Customer Obsession — Staying close to your customers and understanding their needs is one of the core pillars of successful product teams. Obsessing over customer feedback helps refine products faster and more efficiently.
6. Ability to Iterate — The ability to quickly iterate on ideas helps product teams stay ahead of the curve and find better solutions faster. It also allows them to respond quickly.
While these six traits are essential, a few years ago, I got to a point as a leader where I also needed to dive deeper into the common skillsets of highly functional teams. At the time, I was a Senior leader on a Product team at Microsoft. I had the opportunity to work under Satya Nadella before he became the CEO of Microsoft. One of my favorite Satya quotes at that time was, “be a learn it all, not a know it all” It reminded me that Great leaders understand that the definition of listening is not “waiting to speak.”
So, in the spirit of being a “learn it all,” the credit for these four essential skills goes to my friend Peter Hill, my Amazon Web Services (AWS) boss and a 25-year veteran of Amazon at the time. Peter taught me that every team should comprise these four skills; Builders, Dreamers, Polishers, and Operators.
1. Builders: Builders are the ones who create the product. They not only develop innovative solutions but also implement them into the product. This requires strong technical abilities and communication skills for collaboration with other teams. The builder’s job is to take ideas from concept to reality.
2. Dreamers: Dreamers are the ones who come up with original ideas and concepts for products or features. They need to think big and imagine what could be possible if resources were unlimited. They also need to be able to work closely with builders to make sure their vision for a product comes alive.
3. Polishers: Polishers ensure that a product looks and feels its best before launch. This includes everything from usability testing to graphic design, UX/UI design, and copywriting. Their job is to ensure that all the details have been taken care of before releasing a new feature or product. A polisher is also someone who can take an existing good product that has been in the market for years and make it incrementally better! Think of the Amazon retail site. In this example, the polisher is the person that continues to add new product lines, content types, etc., to the extensive existing line of entry points across the Amazon experience in a way that is new and delightful for customers.
4. Operators: Operators are responsible for tracking how a product performs after it has been released into production. This includes monitoring user feedback, tracking user engagement metrics, and managing customer support requests. These individuals need strong analytical skills to draw insights from data and excellent communication skills to collaborate with different teams within an organization effectively.
With the right team in place, we can achieve amazing things and create products that will have a lasting impact. It all starts with finding the right mix of traits and skills to ensure everyone works together towards one common goal. There’s no such thing as a perfect team, but by focusing on hiring the right mix of people with these traits and skills, I have seen leaders create teams that have the potential to do great things!
Always keep learning, stay humble, and focus on creating an effective team — you’ll be amazed at what your team can create together!