What does your perfect product team look like?

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


I speak to senior leadership about product every day. I hear about what is going well and where the problem areas are. What people are product of and what is keeping them up at night. I pull together insights, which I hope are practical, and I share this so-called wisdom with the INMA audience. 

I often get asked what I would do in someone’s shoes, which is a big ask because I am not in your shoes. I am not operating a team right now. And I admit that I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect product team. But if I was building a product team, here is what I would do:

Goals would be simple, clear, and easy for everyone in the organisation to understand, possibly with an OKR structure. The leadership would understand the nuance behind those goals and work within that. Within this, there would be “big bets” to which resources would be directed. 

An ideal product team would be part of a collaborative effort to support a media company's long-term goals.
An ideal product team would be part of a collaborative effort to support a media company's long-term goals.

I would try to hire people who are passionate about the longer-term goals and what they can do, as well as inspire others to do to move towards those goals — not what they personally own. 

I would build squads which sat at each stage of the customer value chain — and likely a matrix of vertical squads for specific products/platforms such as newsletters, audio, Web, and mobile. 

Each squad would have a clear leader who would bring in key people at relevant times. These would not be working groups with too many people trying to make decisions to avoid taking too long and appeasing people with watered-down results. This would likely work to a RACI structure or, for something more complex, Team Topologies. The right leader will bring in the right people and data to make good decisions most of the time. And they won’t be afraid to change tack if new data becomes available. 

We’d use a Now, Next, Later framework to plan and communicate what we are doing when. Planning would be annually and quarterly to complement the short, focused sprints to achieve specific goals. 

Resources would go into ensuring good relations with colleagues. That likely means food and drink, but it may mean other things. Great work and conversations happen when (passionate) people get to step away from their desk. They would also have time to get out of the office and explore what others are doing, as Tony Fadell insists on in the book Build

The teams would have a strong focus on audience and space to rethink how we collect and manage content, as well as how we present it to different audiences across different platforms. I’d ask them to investigate modular journalism and whether that can help this quest.

Our products would be beautifully designed, quick to load, and appeal to the target audience(s). Content and formats would be personalised to the reader.

And that is my dream product life. 

But I am not building an organisation from scratch. Or trying to bend a team in a different direction. Or dealing with endless budgets to hire the people I want and with all the resources for them to work with. So please take this with a pinch of salt. I am well aware the theory is always so much easier than the practice.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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