Cross-Functional Product Management Teams

This is the second in a series of posts exploring the ways that Agile practices can be applied to product management work.  You can see the first post in the series here.

We know cross-functional teams work!

We all understand that product management is inherently a cross-functional endeavor; bringing a product to market touches pretty much every part of the organization.  So it’s no surprise that the use of cross-functional product teams has become a best practice in product management.

cross-functional product management team

Further, the move to Agile software development practices has shown that software development productivity increases with the use of cross-functional development teams (including the design, coding, and testing functions).  What we want to examine today is how the benefits of cross-functional teams might extend to approaching the work of product managers themselves, who are often considered individual contributors.

So why aren’t we using them more in Product Management?

We’ve already seen a move this direction.  Product managers used to stretch to cover design, business analysis, product marketing, and any other role that was currently needed to fill gaps in the NPD process.  Now we have specialists in many of those areas.

Caveat:  We need to recognize that the role of product management in smaller organizations is quite different than product management in the enterprise. As a product manager in a smaller organization, you really do have to have a breadth of skill and knowledge – even if you can only claim expertise in a couple of areas.  In larger enterprises, the product manager role becomes more specialized and focused so that a single person can actually succeed at the job. So this notion of a cross-functional product management team can apply far more in larger organizations than smaller ones.

Who belongs on a cross-functional product management team?

So who might be included in your cross-functional product management team?  Let’s think about the scope of responsibility, and attach typical titles to each area.

Area of Responsibility Titles/roles involved
Vision, strategy, and roadmap/release planning Product manager, product planner
Customer needs, market segmentation, user and buyer personas, validation Market researchers, data analysts, UX/CX designers, business analysts, product marketer/product marketing manager
Product requirements UX/CX designers, product owners/technical product managers, business analysts, program managers
Go-to-market planning and execution Product marketer/product marketing manager, product manager
Communication, including with customers, internal stakeholders, and the market at large Product marketer/product marketing managers, writers, graphic designers, product managers
Sales support Product marketer/product marketing managers, product managers, sales/systems engineer
KPIs and analytics Data analysts, product managers, product owners
Business results Product manager
Governance Program manager

So when we pick up titles that occur across more than one area of responsibility, we might list:

  • Product manager
  • Product marketer/product marketing manager
  • UX/CX designer
  • Data analyst
  • Product owner/business analyst
  • Program manager

That looks like a great product management team to me!  And fits within Scrum guidelines of 7 +/- 2.  Interesting that many of the folks with the titles listed have skills that span more than one area of responsibility – hinting that this could indeed be a collection of people that truly performs as a team.

Agile experts advise to try to dedicate a single individual to one team whenever possible, but shared services are a fact of life, particularly for roles like UX/CX, data analytics, market research, and many marketing communication roles.  So we may be sharing a team member across multiple products, and its helpful to align those shared folks along product lines rather than scatter their attention across unrelated products.

How do these folks coordinate the work?

So now let’s address how this team stays coordinated.  Scrum provides a proven set of activities for enabling good team communication and self-organization.  I also envision a Kanban board, with classes of service to handle urgent requests that come in.  As each area of responsibility on the team will have different processes, the board’s process steps may need to be fairly generalized, at least to start.  But here are some interesting examples of how you can show multiple processes on a single board.

A team approach to product management might be the way to achieve Agile’s goal of “sustainable pace” for this role!  It looks possible to build a team of people who are – together – analytical, business-focused, great marketers, technology-savvy, detailed, and yet strategic and visionary.  What might your team look like?  Please add your thoughts in the Comment section below!


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