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The balanced product team

The stage of the product, type of product, and business imperatives all impact team makeup and size. Typical agile teams range in size from three to nine members. Smaller teams are more nimble, but larger teams have more capacity. Right-sizing the team can be critical to success. During early learning and discovery stages, the team may be more weighted to design, whereas during later build stages, the team may have more engineers. It is important to have the right scale and balance of skills and perspectives to execute quickly and effectively.

The product manager role

The Product Manager leads a team to discover and deliver a product that creates meaningful value for their company and users. Product Managers facilitate decision-making in service of releasing the most valuable features. Product Managers need to clearly understand users and what they need, what impact the business expects from the product, and identify the key stakeholders. Day to day, Product Managers collaborate closely with their teams. Importantly, at the XC, the Product Manager manages the product, not the people. The Product Manager, in concert with the team, establishes the priorities and defines the features in order to enable other disciplines to deliver excellence.

The client product manager (if applicable)

Often at Humana, part of the business will enlist a product team to accelerate the discovery, development or improvement of a product. In this case, an effective collaboration strategy involves embedding a business subject matter expert as a Client Product Manager within the product team.

Pairing, or working side-by-side at the same moment on the same piece of work, is an effective way for Product Managers on a team to collaborate. This is especially true when one person has more expertise in a particular area than another. For instance, a Client Product Manager might have more experience with market sizing activities than her Product Manager pair. Or a Product Manager might have more experience writing backlog stories than his Client Product Manager pair. In these cases, the Product Manager may teach his or her pair by "driving" -- or performing the work while the other Product Manager observes and reviews. Over time, as observing Product Managers build their knowledge, they should swap driving and observing roles.

XC balanced team roles

These are the most common disciplines you will see on a Balanced Team. For most teams, these disciplines will be assigned in pairs.

Full-stack Engineers

Product Managers help Engineers gain an understanding of what product success looks like. Engineers guide the implementation and help Product Managers understand the technical implications of product decisions. During Iteration Planning Meetings, Product Managers work together with engineers to validate backlog prioritization, and Engineers estimate stories. Day-to-day, Engineers implement stories from the backlog. Engineers ensure products are built to appropriate standards, and they manage tech debt. Engineers identify necessary technical chores and work with the Product Manager to prioritize them in the backlog.

Anchor engineer

One Engineer is designated as the Anchor. The Anchor ensures that the team makes sound technical decisions, that engineering practices are healthy and appropriate, that new and junior engineers get up to speed quickly, and that the engineering team collaborates well with Product Management and Design. The Anchor also ensures that the engineering team collectively owns the codebase and understands the engineering decisions that are made. The Anchor serves as the Product Manager's engineering primary point of collaboration.

Product Designer

Designers deliver value in the form of design decisions. Their job is to deeply understand the users in order to define solutions that are desirable, useful and usable. Product Managers work closely with Designers, pairing on user research to validate critical user and solution assumptions before adding development work to the backlog.

Design Strategists

Design Strategists, also known as Innovation Designers, are often key players during learning and discovery stages. A Design Strategist might pair with a Product Manager on activities such as user research, market research and concept evaluation. The perspective that each the Design Strategist and Product Manager bring to these activities might be different. For example, the Design Strategist might evaluate concepts in the context of the wider product ecosystem, while the Product Manager might evaluate concepts in the context of Humana's product portfolio. These diverse perspectives can make for sounder product decisions.

Data Scientist & Data Engineers

A Data Scientist's job is to bring machine learning and analytics to the product development process and the product. It is the Product Manager's job to work with Data Scientists to realize the value that these techniques enable. Product Managers must also be able to identify and communicate to data scientists which questions they should be "asking" of the data in order to focus discovery.

Stakeholders & collaborators

We often work closely with marketing, compliance, risk, infrastructure teams, legal and other stakeholders. A good general rule for groups like these is to assign a point person, establish a regular touch point and provide visibility into each other's roadmaps and/or backlogs with some ability to influence them.

Pairing within and across disciplines

Cross-discipline pairing -- for example, between Engineering and Design or between Product Management and Data Science -- is also practiced and can be helpful to discover solutions to user, business, or technological challenges.

Balanced team in practice

To build a successful product, we need to answer three questions: Will it solve a user's problem or need? Will it help our business? Can we build it well? Lean startup, user-centered design and agile/XP help us identify the best answers to these questions. When we work within the context of a Balanced Team, we ensure that all of these perspectives blend and inform each other.

Desirability: will it solve users' problems?

The product should be something that users want and that solves real problems. Designers' primary question is How is the user affected? Designers more than anyone else on the team will help us solve for Is this a problem for users? and Does this solution solve for users' problem?

If designers become too focused on user needs and cannot connect with business needs and technical feasibility, they will focus on solution ideas that cannot be implemented and/or will deliver no return on investment.

Viability: will it help our business?

The product has to support a sustainable business model. The Product Manager's primary question is By solving these specific user problems with these specific solutions, are we creating valuable user and business outcomes? If product managers become too focused on business and cannot connect with users, they will likely focus on solutions that don't solve any real needs and thus don't get used.

Feasibility: can we build it well?

The product implementation has to be feasible and robust. Engineers' primary question is What technical implementation will satisfy the project and product goals best? Engineers help us debate potential solutions and the technology constraints and the realities of what we are trying to do.

It doesn't help for engineers to come up with feasible solutions that don't solve problems for users. That is not good software. And if we home in on a solution that is desirable and viable but not feasible, we have failed.

Further reading

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