Product-led organizations rely on smart, collaborative, cross-functional Product teams to deliver value. The most effective teams are empowered to make decisions, work well together, continuously evolve their ways of working, and bring their expertise to the table.
The downside for a lot of Product teams is the need to coordinate with other stakeholders in the organization. This often proves to be tricky with competing priorities and agendas and completely different ways of working.
I have certainly been there, feeling frustrated and blocked on different deliverables.
One amazing solution to this problem is utilizing the integrated product team approach (or integrated project teams if the business isn’t product-focused).
The aim of an integrated product team is to bring more functional disciplines into the Product team to really make the product a success.
What Is An Integrated Product Team (IPT)?
An integrated product team (IPT) is a multidisciplinary Product team that works towards a common goal. In addition to the standard Product team comprised of product management, engineering, and UX departments, an IPT also includes any other role needed to achieve the goals of the team.
When I talk about integrated product teams, I am referring to extended Product teams that work as one to achieve common goals. There are looser variations of integrated product teams that might also benefit some organizations. I will cover all of these below. In essence, there is no one ‘correct’ setup for an IPT—it's all about understanding your goals and the skillsets you need to fulfill them.
When Do You Need Integrated Product Teams?
Integrated product teams began as program management teams in huge organizations like the Department of Defense (DOD). They are now also very applicable to software management across all organizations.
As product organizations grow and mature, more alignment is required across teams and across different departments. Traditionally, this was led by project management. Now, in the product-led world, IPT structures are the best method to grow at scale and align multiple departments.
What Are the Benefits of an Integrated Product Team?
An IPT can really help to remove silos, achieve success quicker, and generate the best solutions through shared learnings.
I worked in several organizations without integrated product teams. The engineering and Product teams worked in silos, often had conflicts in communication, and found it harder to reach a common goal. By creating multidisciplinary teams with the exact skill set needed to succeed, you’ll be far more likely to get the right things done in the right timeframe.
The benefits an IPT offers include:
- Aligned focus
- Improved communication
- Quicker issue resolution
- Faster decision making
- A shared understanding of success
- Optimized thinking from multi-disciplinary teams
What Are the Key Roles Needed for an Integrated Product Team?
An IPT consists of a standard Product team structure, namely:
- Product Manager
- Engineering Lead
- 3-4 Engineers
Plus, additional roles from other areas of the business, for example:
- Solutions architect
- Customer success
The roles that you want to add to your IPT depend on the goals of the team and the organization. I worked in organizations that added a sustainability expert, an operations expert, and a legal expert. In DOD, they have IPTs that work across different areas like procurement and costing.
An Example of an IPT Setup
If you’re building a new product to launch in a new market, it is likely that you’ll need to be legally compliant, have the financials covered, need to generate a scalable solution, and have the expertise that the market requires to make sales. You, therefore, might want a ‘traditional’ product team as well as the input of:
- A legal expert
- A financial expert
- A solutions architect
- One or more sales associates
How To Decide Which Roles Are Needed For Your IPT
Start by identifying your strategy. What are the opportunities that you want to work on? Which skillsets do you need to achieve these goals, and which roles in your organization possess those skillsets? These roles will become your integrated product team. It sounds simple, but it can be challenging to implement in practice!
- Start with your strategy and your goals
If you’re approaching Product in a well-structured manner, you’ll know what your main goals are as an organization. This strategy can be broken down into yearly goals and quarterly goals.
- Get input from different departments and teams
When identifying the yearly goals, you can get teams across the organization involved to understand what it might take to win in this space. You might have overarching IPTs that involve multi-disciplinary team members who oversee the Product at this level.
When you know what it will take to win in each space, you should see which roles you need to contribute to this with the input from different teams.
- Establish IPTs with clear goals
As you establish an IPT, they should be clear on the main goal that they will work towards. As a group, with their combined knowledge of what it will take to succeed, they will be able to break this down into more granular goals (OKRs).
- Always reflect and evolve your IPTs
The team's setup might evolve and change over time, as with any other Product team, based on the requirements at that point in time.
If you’d like to know more about how to successfully move from strategy to delivery, I've written about it here.
What Are the Different Integrated Product Team Structures?
Integrated product team structures can vary from being quite loose to fully integrated. There are benefits to each approach, depending on what you’re trying to achieve.
The three main approaches are:
- Working groups
- Nuclei teams
- Fully-integrated product teams
A working group is the loosest approach that can be taken to an IPT.
In this setup, only the core product team members are working on the product full-time. All of the other members of the IPT are assigned to the Product but have other priorities, too.
This set-up works extremely well if the product team can largely operate independently to achieve their goals. If they occasionally need support from another discipline, they have the right people on hand to access this.
The advantage of a working group is having the right people assigned to the process to make quick decisions to deliver the goals of the Product.
When setting up working groups, you should:
- Involve everyone in creating the Product goals and outlining success
- Agree on ways of working and communication
- Agree on expectations and priorities
- Ensure that everyone is always up to speed with key decisions and changes to any approach
Any team members who aren't part of the core product team will only attend conversations as agreed in the ways of working. Beyond that, their time is focused on external activities for their role.
If you need more dedicated time from people, if they are crucial to the success of the product goal—then you’ll need to explore the more integrated team setups.
The baseline product nucleus contains UX, an engineering lead, and a product manager. All of these parties have a stake in deciding the direction and priorities of the Product. These three functions meet up more regularly than the wider team to discuss insights, learnings, and approaches to take.
The nuclei approach can be extended to contain other functions critical to the success of the product. For example, this might include commercial, data, or customer success, depending on the area in which you are working.
With nuclei, you can form a tighter working group that meets more regularly than they would otherwise. These people might still have other priorities, but are more dedicated to the success of this product than they would be as part of a working group. They might have personal objectives that highlight the priority of the work that they are doing for this product.
People in this space should be fully invested and available to make the pillar a success.
The best way to establish a nuclei team is:
- Set goals and objectives together
- Agree on ways of working (with quite regular meetings)
- Contribute to the success of the Product and actively bring forward ideas to help the Product to grow
- Own any elements in their remit and actively communicate how these are going
- Contribute to product support
The specific working styles, frequency of meetings, and roles involved depend on each team’s preferences.
Fully integrated product teams
This is the best approach to take when people from different disciplines need to be heavily involved in the success of a Product.
The idea behind fully integrated product teams is:
- These people share exactly the same goals
- They all have a shared responsibility for the success of the product roadmap
- They work together as one group, as opposed to different groups of people that depend on each other
- They are continuously collaborating, sharing learnings, and inputting into what they do next
- They have integrated product and process development
This is a great approach for large-scale program execution, as it can bring many cross-functional teams together.
The dangers of operating in this space could be too many people and too many inputs. There is also a danger of involving people in the product team if they don’t fully understand how to do Product well.
You might only want to embark on this path if you have a very mature product organization that takes a product-led approach and everyone understands what that entails.
How To Ensure Your Integrated Product Team Will Be Successful
Teamwork is crucial for an IPT to succeed. Here are four key areas that will support success:
- Be clear on the goals of the team
For the integrated Product team to be successful, they need to have at least one clear common goal to work towards. This would ideally be written in an OKR kind of format. The high-level objective could be clear (i.e. launch in X market and grow sales by Y), but the team should be able to break down their individual OKRs themselves to showcase how they will achieve this.
- Everyone needs to know their role and contribution
You might have some team members who are fully dedicated to the team, and others that have other goals and responsibilities too. You might not always be able to decide by committee, so you need to know who the key decision-maker is. You need to make this clear from the start and agree on what each person’s priorities are and how they will contribute to the goals of the team.
- Have clear communication channels
These might be agreed upon at the beginning and evolve over the life cycle of the Product team. It is important to be explicit on these so that the team creates regular feedback loops, especially if some team members aren’t fully dedicated to the IPT.
- Know how you’re going to work together.
Working together isn’t just about how you communicate, but it also includes your values, principles, and processes.
- How do you work together enough to understand the customer and the product fully, but still work individually and rely on each person’s area of expertise?
- Will you follow typical agile methodologies?
- Which product management tools will you use to support your ways of working?
Some useful resources for building an integrated product team:
You can always optimize your ways of collaborating as you progress based on what is and isn’t working.
More than the sum of its parts.
If you rely on different departments in your organization or need to coordinate across multiple teams to deliver your product goals—try utilizing integrated Product teams to speed up the process and deliver more effectively.
There are many different ways to form integrated product teams depending on how much involvement you need from different people.
And hopefully, after reading this article, you also know exactly what to do to set the teams up for success!
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