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5 Skills Cross-Functional Teams Need In Order To Build Successful Products

Adopt, improve and implement them in early days to increase teams’ success


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Guy Molho

3 years ago | 5 min read

Photo by Farzad Mohsenvand on Unsplash

Building digital products is never easy. It requires the involvement of cross-functional teams. These teams are composed of people from different disciplines, business and technical, sometimes working remotely and distributed in few locations globally, which requires working in multi-national multi-cultural environments.

In the last decade I worked in product management at global corporates, early-stage startup and hyper-growth startup. I found that managing the process of building products in such environments requires few essential skills. Those skills are not only required for the product manager, but for all the teams that are involved in the product design and building. Skills that if adopted and implemented in early days will help those teams succeed.

Following are the 5 skills which are essential when building products in cross-functional teams:

1. Decision Making

Decision making is a key for teams to keep moving. A team must know who is authorized to make the decision, and how to escalate when decisions are not taken. It is important to know about decision making, and may sound counter-intuitive, that your goal shouldn’t be making the right decision all the time. You should aim to invest the right amount of time in making a decision relative to its importance. The importance is derived for the positive and/or negative impact of that decision.

In all management courses and workshops people are taught that the worst decision they can make is not to make one. You know what happened to Buridan’s ass when he didn’t make his mind, right?
If you have data and you understand the reasons, you should be making a decision. If found wrong, you can always change the decision and fix. Take ownership and accountability of the decisions.

Decide to unblock the team so they can continue to build. Reduce to minimum holding a process because someone did not make a decision.

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” — Peter Drucker


2. Ruthless Prioritization

Prioritization is hard, but it is a skill that when practiced can be dramatically improved. To prioritize is to make a decision. Decide what is important and what’s less important. What you do, and more important what you are not going to do. The goal when prioritizing is to invest your time in the areas where it yields the highest value.

Always ask yourself how can you do this in half the time? Or at least if there is a way to accomplish the goals faster than your current plan. What would be the impact if you remove a requirement, or narrow the solution to fit only one persona, or build something “quick & dirty” and only after gaining trust from your users investing in the full-blown architecture? What is the cost of a technical debt and does it worth it?

These are all valid and important questions. Prioritization is a game of trade-offs. When you do something faster, you lose somewhere else. When you add a “must have” requirement, you meet the market later than if you didn’t. Make sure your trade-offs are aligned with your goals and serve your KPIs.

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” — Stephen Covey


3. Challenge Assumptions

Did we assume that what worked until now is still valid? Did we assume that a new user fits a specific cohort and pattern too quick?

Our assumptions guide our thinking before we even begun to think.
When you assume something without challenging it, you are likely to miss your target at some point or worse you block innovation. Your knowledge and experience may save you a lot of time and help you move much faster, but therein lies a danger. Your experience carries assumptions and biases, some of them are conscious but some are unconscious. Sometimes framing the problem already contains an assumption which prevents you from solving it.

Same as the in prioritization, always ask “Why?” (5 times if needed) and “What if?” because if you don’t, you know what they say, right? When you assume, you make an a** out of u and me.

“Never assume the obvious is true.” — William Safire


4. Shipping as a Value

Remember the ruthless prioritization? When you decide not to prioritize and that everything is important, you push away your delivery, you are not focusing on your most promising and valuable areas and you eventually hurting your customers. Shipping should be a value. Because when you ship stuff, your assumptions are being tested. When you ship things, you get a feedback. This feedback helps you understand whether you are in the right direction or you need to revisit your decision and make some amendments in your prioritization. Believe me, you want to make those changes early than later. The cost of changing is dramatically lower in early stages than later.

The enemy of good is best — this may sound like a cliché, but if it is good enough, if it gives value to the customer, ship it and improve it later. The Pareto principle works here great — make the effort and ship a solution that covers 80% of your market/users/requirements. Later, keep on releasing and shipping more value to the rest of the 20%. Maybe in the meantime you’ll find more important requirements.

The available infrastructure for software development enables you to ship frequently (e.g., daily, bi-weekly) and to ship gradually (e.g., certain users, specific cohort and in different countries). It also enables you to easily roll-back. Use it wisely to test your assumptions and providing constant improvements and value.

“Don’t simply dream, create. Don’t simply create, ship.” — Ryan Lilly


5. Communicate as much as possible

Communication is the foundation of every good and healthy relationship. Lack of sufficient communication could lead to business catastrophes, and on the other hand, there is no real danger in over communicating, so why not?
Communication helps to keep everyone aligned, hence keeping them motivated and aware of the strategy. You would not believe the dramatic difference an open, coherent and concise communications make on the team culture.

There are so many ways and tools to collaborate and convey your messages today. Emails, Slack, WhatsApp, Trello, Notion, Zoom, Face-to-face meetings just to name (really) a few. Find the methods and tools that work for you and your team. Set the forums and the groups and define the required cadence (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly). Communicate early and often, raise flags when required and make sure all the relevant people receive it.

Communication creates clarity, it helps in decision making and by communicating with others you don’t have to assume things (because you already know what happens when you assume wrong 😊)

“It’s better to tell someone something they already know than to not tell them something they needed to hear.” — Alex Irvine

Do you agree? Are there any other skills I missed?
Would love to get your comments.

Thanks much for reading!
Feel free to contact me here or through my LinkedIn.

This post was originally posted on Medium.

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