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Managing growing pains of a scaling product team

David Marks

GM at Ebates

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Problem

At growing startups, it is common to transition from one person being the entire product team to that one person managing a team of product managers, engineers, and designers in a short amount of time. When this happens, it may blur the lines of what is the leader's role and what are the team members' roles. How do you set up a structure for a team that was brought on quickly in a non-structured environment?

Actions taken

There are a few key areas to tackle:

Delegation: Think about what problems you want to solve yourself and what problems you want others to solve. Set objectives for the team and sub teams. Let people fail so they can learn, however, implement a review system either before or after shipment so you or other leader's can give constructive feedback on failed attempts.

Training: There are a few directions you can go.

  • Bring in a company to lead product management curriculum
  • Use online PM course resources such as Udemy
  • Hire an employee who has been through a more formal product management program (Google, Facebook, etc) with the goal of mentoring and managing others on the team. Ensure this person has managed people before and has a collaborative attitude to avoid demotivating the rest of the team.

Feedback: Consider implementing 360 reviews. Along with this, ensure you implement structured individual goal setting on a quarterly or annual basis. Additionally, ensure one on ones are seen as mandatory. As the manager, you should lead this meeting and come up with the talking points.

Lessons learned

For a new product leader, it can feel hard to let go of responsibility of certain parts of the product that you used to manage. However, it's important for your employees growth that you give them clear ownership over certain parts of the product.

"When you have a more junior team it is important to invest in training and ensure that the team speaks the same language around product."

People can be blind to their strong and weak points and feedback from their peers can be motivating. However, this has to come with strong goal setting. It's important to set individual goals along with team goals. Evaluating individual goals can happen at a quarterly or yearly basis. It's important to keep feedback and evaluations light. You can input from more people if the format is answer questions in a succinct one or two sentences versus expecting peers to write a large document about all of their experiences with a coworker.

Sometimes one on ones can turn into status updates if you let the team member run the meeting. To avoid this, you can create themes for each one on one and rotate them over time. For example, the first one of each month could have the questions: "what have you found most motivating" and "what is the most frustrating". Then each other meeting of the month can have a different topic.


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David Marks

GM at Ebates


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