What are the elements of a product dream team?

That’s one of the questions I’m going to help answer May 24 at a panel discussion, “How to Build Your Product Dream Team,” hosted by General Assembly and the Chicago Product Management Association.

The idea of a dream team evokes the famous 1992 U.S. men’s Olympics basketball team, composed of a ridiculously talented group of superstars, such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. In fact, dream teams usually come down to group of professionals who bring to the table complementary skills, with no single individual approaching anywhere near the all-around Hall of Fame caliber skills made famous by the ’92 Dream Team. A product dream team can be formidable if the overall blend of skills and attributes include:

1 Empathy. Whether you are developing a team or coaching someone, you have to double down on customer obsession, which is predicated on a team’s ability to develop empathy. Empathy is the key to understanding customers and what makes them tick. Empathy is the bedrock of product discovery and delivery.

2 Focus. A team cannot solve everything at once. In fact, tools such as design sprints are intended to focus a team on solving one problem at a time. Product discovery and delivery means a lot of testing, learning, and prototyping. Testing and learning becomes exasperating if you try to solve too many interlocking problems and challenges. Start with one issue and focus.

3 Curiosity. A team must have the undying need to ask why and how. If you are not curious, you’ll always be testing without learning.

4 Resilience. A team must know how to embrace failure and learn from it, since most product ideas will fail.

5 Storytelling: Storytelling is an ability to share the voice of the customer with other people in a language that they will understand. Storytelling goes hand in hand with empathy.

6 Collaboration. Great product teams succeed through collaboration – inside the team and with other teams. As my colleague Mike Kim once wrote, product managers are collaborators in chief. Collaborators know when to lead and when to support, which requires emotional intelligence.

7 An embrace of change. Product managers are change agents. As I wrote recently, change agents seek to transform companies with lovable products. Your product isn’t going to effect change unless you’re willing to lead that change.

8 Technology savvy. A product dream team doesn’t have to be technology fluent. But they do need to be technology savvy. There’s a difference. Being technology savvy means understanding enough about the interplay between product and technology – just enough to ensure that a product is enabled by technology.

9 A business mindset. A business mindset means understanding how your ideas will generate revenue and influence success metrics in a cost-effective manner. Product teams need to drive a business forward with their ideas.

10 An ecosystem mindset. The dream team needs to know the interrelationship between the product, a company’s people, its processes, partners, and other parties that have an impact on the product or service, starting with the customer. A business model canvas can help team maintain that mindset.

Finally, there’s the X factor: how the team works together. I have long advocated for the “highly aligned, loosely coupled” model espoused by Netflix. As I blogged recently, being highly aligned means, for example, that strategy and goals are clear, specific, and broadly understood. Being loosely coupled means, among other things, that the business is characterized by trust between groups on tactics without needing for a bureaucracy to previewing/approving everything.

High alignment ensures that embrace of an emergent experience such as immersive reality supports the company strategy. Being loosely coupled ensures speed and agility.

The right approach to organizing and operating the team ensures that the dream team is even greater than the sum of its parts – a true team. I can’t wait to swap notes with my fellow panelists May 24 and help the product management community thrive.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product