Marty Cagan has always been a champion of the concept on an Empowered Team. There’s quite some literature on the topic now and there are several proponents on this concept. I strongly believe in this concept as well. Running an organisation like this gives the ability to distribute decision-making to the edges of the organisation. Leaders do not become bottlenecks, but rather enablers. Teams are energise to create impact to the business.

I’ve seen such an “empowered product team” now and the verdict is that

“It is NOT working”

How did I reach this conclusion?

Talking to different people in the org that have differing responsibilities, interesting opinions emerge. The “product team” of product managers, developers, designers believe they are focused on the right thing. They want to solve the problem that feels most exciting for them to solve. The commercial teams (sales and CS) on the other hand are struggling with making the pitch to the customers. These folks are trying to open conversations and close deals – but see a gap in what we’re making vs. what the conversations lead to. On yet another side, the commercial teams often don’t know whats under development. They don’t understand “why” product is working on it.

What’s missing in an empowered team?

Even though the “empowered team” is well intentioned, there are some fundamental things missing here.

How did our empowered team decide on “the right problem to solve”?

The process around this is lacking inputs and considerations from all parts of the org. The considerations also have been coloured with what’s an exciting challenge to solve, rather than what drives maximum value. It’s not to say, everyone’s thinking in this direction – but clearly not everyone’s thinking in the same direction

How do we keep everyone informed?

As a faster-paced product team, we’ve embraced the mantra of ‘always-be-shipping’. Once a feature is in our QA environment, we don’t have the appetite of having it sit their long enough – it shall go to Production asap! That’s great to get feedback and learn from our users. We’ve however learned that when rolling out updates that change the user flow of a certain repetitive tasks – leads to insane amount of support tickets. As a small org, we don’t have the bandwidth to increasingly handle that. Cross-functional alignment hasn’t been our strength.

What’s next

So that’s two improvement areas to work on. Drive better alignment on all parts of the product development process