3 keys to leading an effective product development team

We’ve learned a lot about how to best lead and manage a product team over the years, so that we all know where we’re going, why, and how to get there. Our “secret sauce” is pretty simple: one part clear product vision, one part shared goals, and one part entrepreneurial spirit. We know it’s working when our team is autonomous, outspoken, collaborative, and loves the work. Here’s what we’ve learned. 

1. Clear product vision

We’ve written before about how we begin every project by asking Why? We start there, here too. A clear and robust understanding of the project’s why is the basis for our product vision. 

Articulate the vision together

When we share the product vision, we get the entire team involved in the discussion. Here are some of the questions we tackle in those early discussions of a new project:

  • What’s the opportunity? 
  • Why is this project necessary? 
  • What is our impact? 
  • What is our success criteria? 
  • What are we building? 
  • What is our timeline? 

Repeat the vision until you hear it back

A successful project vision is one where everyone on the team is speaking the same language about it. Make sure you’re articulating the vision a lot, and listen to hear if your team is articulating it back — that’s the moment you know they know the vision as well as you do. 

2. Shared goals

In the broadest sense, our goal doesn’t ever change — we’re always aiming to deliver a product that satisfies our success criteria. But, the specifics of that goal, and the micro-goals leading to it, do change. 

Build goals together

It’s a lot easier to share goals you’ve helped create. We like to discuss the following questions with our product teams: 

  • What are the risks? 
  • What are the challenges? 
  • What are your strategies? 
  • What hard decisions might you have to make? 
  • What are the key milestones? 
  • What checkpoints do we need? 

Increase transparency

For every project, we create a space for sharing updates, resources, and ideas that anyone can access and contribute to. Wikis are great for this and so are lots of project management softwares, but it doesn’t need to be fancy. We tend to use a Google spreadsheet, or Dropbox Page, or Slack channel to accomplish this goal. Again, the what is less important than the why. The point here is to reduce bureaucracy and increase transparency. 

3. Freedom to have an entrepreneurial spirit

Having a clear product vision and shared goals lay the groundwork for creating an amazing culture of ownership. It’s easy for everyone on our team to have an entrepreneurial spirit when they have transparency and access to all of the project information. 

Run great meetings

There’s nothing like a waste-of-time meeting to completely sap the entrepreneurial spirit from a room. We’ve found that our team knows when we’re wasting their time. (Just like we all do!) So, we cancel unnecessary meetings, end effective meetings early, and make meeting notes and decisions available to everyone. 

Ask for your team’s take

Every single person on our team has a different angle on the project, and every single one of those angles is valuable. As a project progresses, we love to ask everyone to weigh in: 

  • How’s the project going from your perspective? 
  • What hard decisions are you making? 
  • What’s not working as planned? 
  • What could be working better? 
  • What are you proud of? 
  • Who on the team is crushing it?

Our POV: A lot of great leadership is simply getting out of the way

At Bilberrry, the leadership sets the mission and provides the team the resources they need to achieve that mission. From there, most of the decisions belong to the team. That means: we don’t micromanage (we know, we know, it’s really hard), and we definitely don’t hoard the ownership, success, decision-making power, or impact for ourselves.