Guide to a Winning Product Development Team Structure

Dayana Mayfield

Agile Product Development

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How you structure your product development team will absolutely make or break your product. The stakes literally couldn't be higher.

21% of products fail to meet customers’ needs, meaning that 4 out of 5 businesses spend hundreds of thousands of dollars developing products that will never succeed. No one wants to fall into the dangers of that statistic. Companies hire the right resources, all in the hopes of creating a sticky product in an agile way.

But your team structure isn’t just about who you hire. It comes down to how you manage them, the expectations you set, and the way you manage success.

We’ve built over one hundred SaaS products for startups, established enterprises, and government organizations.

Here’s everything we’ve learned about creating a high-performing product team structure.

How should you structure your product development team?

Within your product development team, you need 3 micro-teams: your strategy team (focused on business strategy and market needs), your design team (focused on identifying and satisfying user expectations), and your engineering team (focused on launching validated ideas quickly).

Without these 3 micro-teams, you run the risk of hiring a bunch of yes men who build a bloated product.

A product development team is devoted to creating a product—not completing a project. That’s why you can’t jump straight into the roles, tools, and collaboration processes. To do so would be to focus too heavily on project management.

Below, we’ll take a look at how we structure each and every product team (what we call DevSquads), but for now, let’s take a closer look at these 3 functions. Because you can handle these 3 functions with a different team structure than what we recommend. The point is that no how you structure your team, you must cover all of these 3 areas.

  1. Strategy - You need to be sure that you’re building something that users need and that you’re solving their most pressing problems.

  2. Design - Digital products need clean, modern, easy-to-understand UX design so that users can easily achieve their desired outcomes.

  3. Engineering - You need engineering expertise to bring the strategy and design to life. For most digital products, Laravel and Vue.js are a winning combination.

Every team is different depending on the size of the organization and the budget, but make sure you have those 3 areas covered.

6 essential roles for product development teams

Do you want to get your product right the first time?

Use our proven structure, which consists of 6 essential roles:

  1. Product strategists

  2. Technical product manager

  3. Developers

  4. UX designers

  5. DevOps engineers

  6. QA analysts

1. Product strategists

Most people know that they need a product manager, but what about a product strategist? While all PMs do offer strategy, you still need a dedicated product strategist. While PMs are closer to the development team and designers, product strategists are closer to the stakeholders, finance team, competitive knowledge, and overall market.

Responsibilities:

  • Facilitate strategy workshops

  • Collect product ideas from various stakeholders

  • Conduct or delegate user and market research

  • Assess product ideas

  • Advise on the requirements for version 1 of the product

  • Share experience from previous development projects

  • Advise on tools, technologies, and frameworks

  • Advise on necessary team hires

If you’re an entrepreneur, you might serve as the product strategist because you know the most about the market you’re targeting. However, make sure to also get the help of an external (third-party) strategist who’s experienced in building digital products. They’ll be able to help you whittle down ideas and approach development more affordably.

2. Technical product manager

We recommend that instead of hiring a general product manager, that you hire a technical product manager. This is someone who has previously worked as a software engineer and has a much stronger knowledge of coding than the average PM. This offers a huge advantage, especially to non-technical founders and business leaders. You need your PM to be able to manage every aspect of development, and they can’t do that without a strong technical background.

Responsibilities:

  • Serve as product owner

  • Communicate with all other roles of the development team

  • Own team backlog

  • Manage user research and user testing

  • Help validate product ideas and prototypes

  • Delegate development

  • Plan product and feature releases

  • Manage product and feature launch communication

3. Developers

Responsibilities (varies widely based on whether they are backend, frontend, or full stack):

  • Discuss and analyze user requirements

  • Produce clean efficient code

  • Review the code of other developers on the team

  • Communicate with the product manager daily

  • Troubleshoot, debug, and maintain software

  • Assess and implement product feedback

  • Develop technical documentation for the product

Note: If you have more than two developers on your team, you might want to promote one of them to tech lead. Your tech lead will serve as the point person between your developers and your DevOps engineers and QA testers.

4. UX designers

Every product development team needs at least one killer UX designer. With great UX, your product will undoubtedly fail. Your designer should be experienced in writing user stories and creating user flows that are simple and effective. They should be obsessed with great design and produce clean, modern interfaces. They should also be experienced with the reiterating on their design over time to continuously optimize the UX to achieve business initiatives, such as higher conversion rates and activation rates or lower churn.

Responsibilities:

  • Conduct UX audits of the current products and competitor products

  • Create user personas to clarify user needs

  • Write user stories to showcase how users will achieve their goals with the product

  • Create low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes

  • Update prototypes based on feedback from users and stakeholders

  • Create UX designs for frontend developers to implement

  • Come up with A/B tests for UX design to improve onboarding and retention

5. DevOps engineers

Your DevOps engineer is the quarterback of the team. They make system releases possible. If you’re tooling is outdated or if you don’t have a DevOps pro on your team, it will take months instead of days to deploy ready-to-release code. DevOps engineers not only make continuous deployment possible, but they also recommend and implement cybersecurity, system performance, and data architecture enhancements.

Responsibilities:

  • Implement engineering, CI/CD, and automation tools

  • Review and validate code submitted from developers

  • Troubleshoot and fix bugs

  • Test system performance and scalability

  • Build automated processes and help improve team efficiency

  • Build a continuous deployment pipeline

  • Measure DevOps and development KPIs

  • Report on development releases and system functionality

  • Run penetration tests and assess system vulnerabilities

  • Deploy cybersecurity measures

  • Maintain and recommend improvements to data architecture

6. QA analysts

QA analysts are experienced professionals who can take charge of quality assurance (unlike QA testers, who typically need a QA manager to delegate tasks to them). A QA analyst will be run all necessary tasks and interface with the developers on the team.

Responsibilities:

  • Write test cases to cover the product

  • Execute on test cases

  • Use exploratory testing to play with the app freely as a user would

  • Write and implement automated test scripts for core functionality

  • Write issue reports and reproduction steps

  • Test using a variety of devices, network connectivity, battery life, operating systems, and web browsers

  • Test multilanguage and accessibility elements

  • Retest functionality as requested by developers and DevOps

5 secrets to running a high-performing team

Having the right people on your team isn’t enough. You need to know how to manage them and get them working together.

1. Use playbooks to get up and running faster

The Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing Framework describes the 4 stages that a new team goes through when they start working together.

The best thing you could do would be to hire a product team that is already experienced in working together so kickstart at the “Performing” level. The second best thing is to build a team yourself from scratch.

Use playbooks from expert development teams to help you progress through these 4 phases faster.

Seek out advice on:

  • Hiring for the right roles

  • Knowing what questions to ask during interviews

  • Providing technical tests

  • Delegating tasks

  • Coordinating resources

  • Deploying continuously

DevSquad offers a done-with-you service where we give you all of the playbooks you need to learn how to hire the right people and get them working together. This is an alternative for entrepreneurs who can’t afford our fully managed dev team but want to avoid the risks of managing development with no guidance.

2. Use dual-track agile development

Of all the product development frameworks, we find dual-track agile to be the most helpful. It’s very similar to Typeform’s approach to product development, which they call Discovery and Delivery.

Regardless of what you call it, the concept works like this:

dual track agile approach to product development

You separate all of the tasks required to develop a product into two different categories: Discovery and Delivery. You then run agile sprints concurrently for each.

So while your Delivery team is developing already-approved features, your Discovery team is researching, prototyping, and validating new product functionality.

These tasks fall within Discovery:

  • Customer discovery

  • Data analysis

  • Market and competitor research

  • Product vision document

  • Learn UX canvas

  • Design sprint

  • Solution document

  • Prototyping

  • Landing page smoke test

These tasks fall within Delivery:

  • Story mapping

  • Event storming

  • Design ready

  • Release plan

  • Spikes

  • Story backlog

  • Backlog refinement

  • Sprint planning

  • Acceptance criteria

  • A/B testing

3. Learn how to become a true product manager

When building a new product, most entrepreneurs begin with zero product management experience. This isn’t a death sentence for your product, but it could be if you don’t take the practice of PM seriously.

Here are some ways to upskill fast:

  • Commit to interviewing a certain number of target users each month.

  • Learn how to create a roadmap using the Now, Next, Later Framework.

  • Gain a basic understanding of the coding framework your developers will be using (we recommend Laravel).

  • Curate your backlog and remove tasks that aren’t absolutely necessary for launching V1 of your product, or whatever launch you’re working on.

  • Learn how to track and analyze developer productivity (see point #5 below).

  • Review feedback from your users (or your competitors’ users if you don’t have a beta product yet—you can find feedback in their social media accounts and a public roadmap and idea board if they have one).

  • Learn how to write user stories to guide design and development.

You can read our favorite product management techniques to learn more.

4. Get help with code reviews

You can pay a third-party service to review your code. If you’re pulling together a product development team for the first time, it’s a really good idea to fork out the extra money for code reviews. Instead of guessing if you’re getting high-quality, lightweight code, you’ll know for sure. This will improve your abilities as a manager while saving you a lot of money in the long-run.

If you’re experienced in managing technical products, you might not need to hire external code reviewers. Instead, just set up a system so that each developer’s code is being reviewed by someone else.

5. Track and review your team’s productivity like a pro

And lastly, the best product development teams are extensively monitored. You need to know how to track your teams’ work and measure their output. For instance, you might use a platform like DevStats to track developer productivity. This will provide the data you need to make sure your team is progressing at a good pace towards your product launch.

However, if this is your first time managing a product team, you might not know what to expect. Consider hiring a consultant to help you with the first few months of development. They can review your entire team’s output and help you understand whether your team is high-performing or not.

Build your product with DevSquad

Often times, it’s simply not worth it to attempt to manage a product team yourself, especially if you don't have experience.

You’ll often save money by hiring a team that already knows how to work together (compared to hiring and managing resources yourself).

Interested in working with a consultancy? What makes DevSquad different is that we’re product-level thinkers.

We provide a fully managed dev team with all of the resources you need, from strategy through quality.

Learn more about DevSquad and request a free consultation.

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