Empowered product teams are critical for any organization that wants to build innovative products and experiences. But fostering empowerment takes work.
What does it mean to truly empower product teams?
How can product managers and leaders unlock intrinsic motivation and ownership?
As Marty Cagan has noted, companies must take an active role ensuring teams have the skills and resources to deliver the best value for customers amidst tradeoffs.
This requires aligning the entire business around the goal of empowering teams.
This guide covers core principles and practices for empowering your teams to achieve extraordinary results for both customers and the business.
- Empowered teams feel accountable for product success, take smart risks, and collaborate seamlessly. Assess for ownership, skills growth, and customer focus.
- Product management plays a lead role through coaching, providing insights, setting goals, and fostering cross-functional collaboration.
- Leaders give autonomy, context, and room for innovation. But also ensure the right support, resources, and environment for teams to thrive.
- Understanding the broader business strategy empowers teams to make better product decisions aligned to company goals.
- Unlocking intrinsic motivation is key. Empowered teams push the status quo when given purpose, autonomy, mastery, and progress.
Building an empowered product team
To create empowered product teams, product management needs to give autonomy and set clear goals. An empowered team feels ownership over the product they build.
The product manager plays a key role in making sure the product team stays empowered. They foster collaboration across functions to support the empowered product team. Empowered product teams are focused on solving customer problems.
Building an empowered, cross-functional team takes strong leadership and aligning the entire organization.
We involve our product teams in key business planning to give context on priorities and tradeoffs. By celebrating wins when product teams meet business metrics, we reinforce accountability.
Our product leaders constantly communicate how the team's work ladders up to overarching business outcomes.
At our company, we believe in building empowered teams that have autonomy over their products. The product manager plays a key role in making sure the empowered team has the insights, skills, and support they need.
We celebrate when the empowered team reaches their goals because it reflects their sense of ownership. An empowered team feels truly accountable for their product's success. They are enabled, not micromanaged, to focus on delivering value.
Fostering empowered teams takes work, but it pays off with stronger business outcomes, innovation, and products customers love. Our entire organization aligns to help keep our product teams empowered.
Product management plays a critical role in empowering product teams. The product manager sets the vision and strategy to align the team.
They make sure the product team has the insights and context needed to understand customer problems deeply. The product manager also focuses on growing the team's skills through coaching and mentorship programs.
By fostering collaboration between designers, engineers, and other functions, the product manager gets the team working together towards shared goals. The product manager is hands-on, while also giving the team autonomy and room for innovation.
With strong product management, teams feel empowered to build incredible products that solve real customer needs. The product manager enables the team to have end-to-end ownership over their work.
- I ensure the empowered product team has the context and insights they need to make strategic decisions.
- By providing coaching and mentorship, I help grow the skills and confidence of the empowered product team.
- Collaboration between the empowered product team and other functions like engineering is critical for success.
- We celebrate wins with the empowered product team when they achieve the goals we outlined together.
- Carving out dedicated time for the empowered product team to experiment with new ideas leads to innovation.
- I strive to give the empowered product team full ownership of the products they are building.
- As a product leader, I make it a priority to give the empowered product team autonomy, clear goals, and room for innovation.
Most companies understand the importance of product discovery, yet fail to appropriately involve a product designer early on. A skilled product designer plays a critical role throughout product discovery and ideation.
During product discovery, our designer starts exploring potential user flows and wireframes, testing ideas early with customers. We make sure to include our product designer in research synthesis and ideation workshops to come up with creative solutions.
Having our product designer at the table for discovery is key, given the major impact they have on shaping successful products that solve real customer needs.
Understanding customers and their needs deeply informs our business strategy and product roadmap. We involve customers throughout our product development process to create offerings that truly deliver business value and solve their most pressing problems.
How to spot an empowered team
The Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG) believes product leaders require exceptional hires with the necessary skills to produce extraordinary results. Senior leaders must get everyone moving in the same direction towards a clear product vision.
Non-empowered teams struggle compared to empowered teams that are enabled by strong leadership. The product leader plays an active role defining desired outcomes and major milestones so customers love the product strategy.
Most organizations want competent people intrinsically motivated to push beyond the limits and make strategic decisions. But assigned problems limit what a team can deliver.
Marty Cagan argues companies must take a much more active role ensuring cross functional teams have the skills needed to discover the best value for customers amidst trade offs.
Three pillars enable success according to Cagan - a specific customer problem, empowered teams, and strong product leadership. When leaders foster innovation and focus teams on outcomes, organizations can consistently deliver.
It's clear when you're working with an empowered product team. Here are some of the key signs:
- Sense of Ownership - The team feels accountable for the product's success and takes pride in their work. They are willing to make big bets and stand behind their decisions.
- Autonomy - The team is self-directed with minimal top-down management. They have the flexibility to determine solutions.
- Clear Goals - There is alignment on goals and metrics for success. The team understands how their work ladders up to business goals.
- Innovation - The empowered team has time dedicated to experimenting with new ideas. They are comfortable with taking risks and occasionally failing fast.
- Collaboration - Team members work seamlessly across functions, leveraging each other's skills towards a shared vision.
- Customer Focus - Customer pain points and needs deeply inform the team's day-to-day prioritization and problem-solving.
- Context - The team has access to company strategy and future direction. This empowers them to make better product decisions.
- Development - Each member of the team is learning, growing, and reaching their potential. The team gets coaching and opportunities to build new skills.
When you see these traits, you know a team is truly empowered. Use this checklist when assessing your own product teams and focus on areas to improve.
Characteristics of empowered teams
Creating empowered product teams is key for organizations that want to build great products. Product management plays a critical role in making sure empowered product teams have what they need to be successful.
Truly empowered teams that own the products they build lead to better business outcomes. Empowered product teams exist when product managers give autonomy and foster collaboration across functions through cross functional teams. The team focuses on solving specific customer problems.
So many organizations want to create high performing product teams that deliver consistent innovation. But feature teams often struggle to be empowered when the entire organization does not effectively communicate context or strategy.
Product leaders must ensure empowered product teams have clear goals and can focus on achieving results.
We foster collaboration between product teams and other teams like engineering to enable greater alignment. Strong leadership enables teams to deliver consistently high-quality work across the entire range of product initiatives.
By giving teams autonomy and purpose, we tap into their intrinsic motivation to create incredible products.
Give Them Ownership and Autonomy
Product teams need to feel like they truly own the products they are building. Give them as much autonomy as possible to make decisions about product direction, design, and development.
Provide guidance and guardrails, but resist the urge to micromanage.
Teams will feel accountable for product success.
Establish Clear Goals and Metrics
Set clear goals and key results for the product and team. Make sure they understand how their success will be measured and have access to the data needed to track progress.
With clear goals, the team can align and prioritize their efforts.
Celebrate wins when goals are achieved.
Foster Collaboration Across Functions
Break down silos between product, engineering, design, and other functions. Encourage collaboration through methods like design sprints, hackathons, and co-locating team members. Shared understanding leads to better solutions.
Provide opportunities for cross-functional career growth.
Give Them Room to Innovate
Carve out time for the team to experiment with new ideas and innovate. Hackweeks, innovation days, and 20% projects allow the freedom to push boundaries. Make it clear that failure is acceptable if learnings result.
Innovating is key for ongoing product success.
Communicate Context and Strategy
While details may change, ensure the team understands the overarching product vision and company strategy guiding their work. This context empowers better decision making at the team level.
Share customer insights frequently so they are grounded in real needs.
Provide Coaching and Mentorship
Invest in coaching and mentoring programs to help team members develop new skills. Encourage participation in meetups, conferences, and training.
Growing team capabilities will build their confidence to take on new challenges.
Empowered teams are essential for building great products and experiences that users love. To empower teams, product management and leadership need to provide autonomy, clear goals, context, and room for innovation.
Collaboration across functions and access to customer insights are also critical. Empowered teams and product managers feel accountable, take risks, and have the skills and support to reach their potential. Assessing for ownership, development, and customer focus helps identify when teams are truly empowered.
With the right product management and leadership, organizations can foster teams that consistently deliver results. Unlocking intrinsic motivation is key.
By bringing together the right people, environment, and leadership, companies empower product teams to achieve extraordinary outcomes.
What are some best practices for communicating effectively as an empowered leader?
- Be clear, concise, and transparent in your communication. Provide the necessary context and reasoning behind decisions.
- Actively listen when others speak. Seek to understand their perspectives before responding.
- Tailor your communication style and message to your audience. Consider what motivates them and how they best receive information.
- Communicate consistently through different channels - email, meetings, one-on-ones, etc. Ensure the team receives coherent, aligned messaging.
- Invite two-way dialogue and feedback. Be open to questions and input from your team.
- Set the tone by modeling the communication behavior you expect from others.
How can empowered leaders align what they communicate with how they act?
- Walk the talk - ensure your actions and behaviors reflect what you communicate to the team. Follow through on commitments.
- Admit mistakes quickly and openly when you fail to align words and actions. Take responsibility and aim to do better.
- Invite team members to hold you accountable. Welcome their input when they see misalignment between your communication and actions.
- Reflect on when and why misalignment happens. Identify triggers and work to improve consistency.
- Communicate honestly about challenges and difficult situations. Avoid over-promising outcomes you can’t deliver.
What makes for effective goals or OKRs in an empowered environment?
- Goals should be significant in scope but realistic in attainment. Stretch goals energize, unrealistic ones demoralize.
- Define quantitative key results that map to each qualitative goal. This focuses effort and enables tracking progress.
- Goals should connect to company mission and strategy. Employees should see how their goals advance top priorities.
- Balance short and long-term goals to enable focus on the now and the future.
- Ensure all goals are measurable and time-bound with clear start and end dates.
How often should goals be updated?
- Quarterly OKRs enable focus while allowing for responsiveness to changing business conditions.
- Annual OKRs may be too static. Monthly OKRs may be distracting and lead to short-term thinking.
- Key results can be updated more frequently than the broader goals. This allows adjusting tactics while maintaining strategic focus.
- Regularly reflect on progress at monthly/weekly check-ins. Update key results if they become irrelevant or unattainable.
How can leaders effectively cascade goals throughout an empowered organization?
- Cascading OKRs fosters alignment across the organization. Each team's OKRs should ladder up to business goals.
- Leaders must communicate connection points across OKRs. Help teams see how their objectives serve higher aims.
- Allow autonomy for teams to define key results that work for their domain. Don't dictate tactical implementation.
- Provide visibility into OKRs across the organization. This enhances coordination and prevents duplication.
- Involve employees in setting OKRs. Increased participation yields greater buy-in and commitment.
How can leaders enable teams with appropriate autonomy?
- Clearly define the team's purpose and alignment to business goals. Set them up for success.
- Delegate decision-making authority in the team's domain of expertise. Don't micromanage.
- Establish trust and psychological safety so the team feels comfortable taking initiative.
- Allow teams to organize themselves in ways that work best for their objectives.
- Provide critical context to inform decisions rather than dictating solutions.
What metrics indicate a team may have too much or too little autonomy?
- Lack of progress on goals due to bottlenecked decisions.
- morale issues such as frustration, disengagement, churn
- Leaders end up making and dictating many lower-level decisions
- Alignment issues emerge as team goes in different direction than business goals
- Performance issues arise that leaders don't have visibility into
- Chaos and confusion ensue from lack of coordination between teams
How should leaders respond when teams make mistakes due to autonomy?
- Avoid knee-jerk reactions that lead to micromanaging. Don't immediately revoke autonomy.
- Have compassion for mistakes. Recognize them as learning opportunities.
- Help the team reflect on what went wrong and how to adjust their decision-making.
- Reestablish understanding of the team's overall goals and alignment. Provide additional guidance as needed.
- Hold the team accountable while still maintaining trust and psychological safety.
- Implement additional checkpoints and communications to strike the right autonomy balance.