Empowering Product and Engineering Leaders to Achieve the Best Business Results

Mark Haseltine

General Manager at Teachable



How do you set up a team to deliver the best results? I am a firm believer in a product-led organization. We are no longer living in a world where product teams should be measured on the number of features they ship. They need to be measured on creating high quality customer experiences that deliver concrete value. In this world, the product manager is responsible for aligning teams cross-functionally around goals, defining success, gathering the best ideas and prioritizing work for the team. Whether the team delivers 1 feature or 100 features, it all comes down to whether those features deliver results for the business.

For example, I once worked at an online education company where we had an issue effectively monetizing our courses. We had a freemium model, and needed to find more impactful ways to entice students to convert from the free to the paid track. There were any number of ways to achieve this outcome, and the product team had to do lots of experiments to discover the right features to build. Our challenge in leadership was making the team accountable for achieving the monetization outcome, and not a specific set of features.

Actions taken

One of the most important foundations you can provide a product team is proper context. What results is the company trying to achieve as a business in what timeframe? How are the specific results a team is driving important to those overall company results? I make sure the context is clear before we start talking about features and deadlines. Any team is going to make thousands of decisions -- big and small -- throughout the course of development. Context helps the team make the right decisions.

How do you know if the context you have provided is robust and complete? Ultimately of course it comes down to whether the team achieves the results, but there are many signals you can pick up along the way. Ask the team to present their chosen strategy for achieving the result to make sure it aligns with the context. Check in periodically on progress to find out what they are learning, and how they might want to change their approach to reflect those learnings. At every step, you should be seeing some progress that is leading to the desired outcome.

How much oversight should you provide? There is no right answer, and it depends on how much you trust that the team is on the right track. If the team really understands the context and is making good decisions, I would encourage you to give them as much latitude as possible. If you see problems with their decision making, I would lean in more often until you feel they are back on track. Repeated questionable decisions by a group of well meaning employees are almost always due to lack of appropriate context. Make it your job to ensure the team is well prepared by filling in the context gaps.

Lessons learned

  • Proper context is critical for a team to achieve the right results. Make sure you are arming your leaders with the business goals, and how their work leads to those goals.
  • Ensure you understand the strategy the team has chosen to achieve results, and check in on their progress. If they aren’t consistently making good decisions, see if there is a problem with the context you’ve given them. If they are making good decisions, give them more autonomy.
  • One of the best measures of progress is learning. Is the team learning more with each step about how to achieve the result? Encourage them to adapt their plans to incorporate that learning.

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Mark Haseltine

General Manager at Teachable

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