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9 ways to keep your

product team

Since 2009, (when people thought product was another name for project) I’ve been working with an array of companies to help educate them on product, as well as helping then find the right talent. 

I speak to leaders of businesses on a day-to-day basis, a lot of whom are trying to build their product development teams but struggle to keep their current team. This usually comes down to a lack of understanding of what motivates a product team and how they should go about creating the right environment for them to thrive in.

The demand for talent

Over the past 10 years, the investment in start-ups has dramatically increased as well as investment into digital by traditional businesses. 

Businesses in pharmaceuticals, banking, broadcasting, retail, media (I could go on) are all investing substantial amounts of money in to growing their digital presence and using technology to become more efficient. The UK isn’t producing enough developers, UX or product people fast enough. 

Another factor is the competition the UK faces from other cities. Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Australia have all got amazing tech businesses and are making it easier than ever for talented people to move over. The effect of all of this, is a smaller talent pool, increasing salaries and more options for people in Product Development teams. Whether you like it or not, your team are probably being contacted about other opportunities on a daily basis.

A response to this could be, “well that’s just the way the market is moving and if we lose people, we’ll just hire some more.” This is ludicrous. A cohesive and aligned product development team is potentially worth billions. Not only is it financially better for the employer because they won’t have to pay agencies to replace people (and we’re not cheap), but a team that has been with a business for a longer period of time will understand all of the following: 

  • Customers
  • Culture
  • Values
  • Methodology
  • Industry
  • Regulations they may have to work within
  • Tech stack 

And because of this, they will ultimately be able to deliver better products faster than their competitors.

There are some obvious reasons why people would want to leave a business such as salaries have remained stagnant, lack of progression or there is one or two people in the office who make everyone’s lives miserable. These are common issues within any business and I’d imagine most leadership teams are comfortable with dealing with those issues, however, here are a few ways that I believe will help sustain your product development teams.

9 ways to keep your product team

by Nick Charalambous

1. Develop Mastery

People always want to feel like they’re learning and becoming better at what they do. Implementing continuous training (internal and external), sending teams on courses and community events are all going to improve team morale and skill level which not only benefit them but the business as well. 

2. Create a better work-life balance

This has become more prevalent over the last five years. Companies are offering benefits other than cash, such as remote working, work from home, charity days and the ability to be flexible. Work and personal lives are no longer separated and you’re more likely to get a happier and more productive team if you can provide some of these.  

Also, entertaining teams is a cost-effective way to keep them happy. Social events on a Friday, creating hackathons or surprising them with a day out of the office doing a fun activity can create a spike in productivity and morale. Our team here may be a little spoiled, but we’ve held incentives to take them to Barcelona, Lisbon and they’ve recently just got back from Las Vegas. I’m confident they enjoyed the trips but there is now a deeper comradery between them and it makes coming to work fun.

3. Make sure there is alignment in leadership 

It’s not uncommon that the C-Suite are not aligned in their vision or communication for the product. However, this creates tension and consistent changes to the product roadmap.  This is extremely frustrating for product development teams because the ideas or features they are creating are never launched and are ultimately waste time and resources. The effect is that the team feels like they are not achieving anything.

4. Let them experiment

A lot of companies do not let their product development teams try new things. They need to follow the vision of the C-Suite and if they divert from it, there are consequences.  There is nothing wrong with this approach however it’s important to understand this before a team is built. If this approach is the desired outcome for the leadership team, a solution could be to take on an external development team for a fraction of the price and a project manager, but if the leadership team is looking to build an awesome product development team, then a change to the approach needs to be made.

Part of a product development teams job is to come up with ideas, test and improve them. It’s extremely unlikely that all ideas will work so there needs to be an understanding that the team are likely to fail at certain points.  The team need to be encouraged to learn from each step and take it forward, ultimately leading to a better outcome for your product.

5. Psychological safety 

This follows on from the previous point but creating a culture where people are encouraged to bring ideas forward and test them will not only create a happier team, but it could also create a huge new revenue stream. An example of this is Charlie Ward, who was a software developer at Amazon and came up with the idea for Prime which is now one of the largest products for Amazon.  Another company that does this well is Google. Ambitious OKR’s are set by every level from the founders and management all the way down. They set out what they want to test in the next quarter, highlight where they have failed and what they have learnt from the previous one. Seeing the leadership team fail at some of their OKR’s gives the psychological safety that’s required to experiment and bring ideas forward.  Another approach is to create a framework to ensure ideas that are brought forward are thought through and are good enough to test…

6. Speed and autonomy

The speed at which products are delivered and launched is important.  This doesn’t mean that launching every day or every week is a must, however, taking 3 months to sign off a small change to a product that has already been shown to be beneficial, should be reviewed.  Teams need to be given a level of autonomy to do what they think is right. This depends on the level of trust from the leadership team. If there isn’t the level required to make autonomous decisions, there is a bigger problem.  Transferwise is a fantastic example of a business that has completely autonomous product teams and they haven’t done too bad!

7. Help plan their goals 

Only a fraction of people have thought about where they want to be in the future.  A proven technique which is talked about in Reid Hoffman’s book, The Alliance, is to sit with each member of a team and ask to think about a five and 10-year plan.  Together, identify the gaps in their knowledge and what is required for them to reach their goal. Once this is done, create a timeline for the individual to work towards and highlight how the role you have offered them will assist them.  People are driven by forward momentum towards a goal and in the end not only will you have a more educated and driven team, but a team that is more likely to turn down that £10k pay increase at another business because they will see the value in where they are.

8. Have a purpose and a clear vision

People today are far more emotionally driven than the last generation. They want to do good in the world and you need to make sure you have defined a purpose.  Purpose-driven organisations are far more likely to succeed – and this is exemplified by the work of Jim Collins (Good to Great) and Dan Pink (Drive). Once you have found a purpose that is authentic and transcendent – it deeply impacts the whole organisation – and will naturally resonate with you and your team. Purpose also inspires a deeper and more aligned vision – which should then be communicated clearly to your team.  Let them know where you want to be as a business and make sure they feel like they all have an integral part of getting there. However, this should not be a one-time thing. This is something that you should reiterate every day, week and month.

9. Get out of the way

This came up a few times at a roundtable event that we ran with Product Directors.  If a company purpose and vision has been laid, the team will be able to align the product strategy with it…then you should get out of the way.  These teams are generally paid very well to do this and they should have far more experience at this than most, if not all of the leadership team, so they should be left to it.  Setting up “Show and Tell” days at the end of the month allow the whole business to be aware of what changes are happening and what problems are being tackled. It’s also a great way for the leadership team to get monthly updates.  Another way the leadership team could get involved would be to join a stand-up. This is a good way to see the dynamic of the team and understand if they’re on track, but it’s extremely important that the leadership observe as much as possible and comment as little as possible.


Conclusion

Employee retention is critical to the long-term health and success of your business and failing to retain key employees will be costly to the bottom line and will create organisational issues. Remember, a long-term commitment requires effort in both directions – if you expect and hope that employees will make and keep a long-term commitment to your company, it’s equally vital that you give them an environment where they can thrive.

Part of our company ethos is to help build product development teams, and like any structure, the foundations must be solid to support a growing team. Part of the way that we do that is to attend and sponsor events and continuously build out our network. In short, we get to speak to people who are not always looking to leave, but if the right thing came up, they would want to know. In turn, this has given me a very good insight into what frustrates product people. Patterns and commonalities start to emerge.

If you would like to learn how we can help attract, build and sustain your product development teams, please get in touch.

Written by Nick Charalambous, Co-Founder & Director of Few&Far 

After noting that Product Management was a skillset that often went misunderstood, he’s dedicated the past 10 years educating people about what they actually do and solving the problems companies face when hiring them.

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