Who's in charge of Product Development? Short answer. Everyone should.

Product tasks and decisions are usually given to the most technical people on your team. But why and how can you get your team involved?

Who's in charge of Product Development? Short answer. Everyone should.
Photo by Jason Goodman / Unsplash

One of the most exciting things of being at an early stage startup is seeing a product being built from the ground up. From the moment of conception, to seeing it work in action.

Needless to say, it is unlikely that a product will be perfect, especially during its early stages. As a matter of fact, when a team is small and resources are limited, you won’t likely build 100% of the product you’re envisioning. You’ll optimize your resources to build what user feedback tells you, plus other features you want to test.

There are a number of variables to think about when building a product. Which frameworks do you use? Code or No-Code? How do you gather feedback? Who will take care of the roadmap? There are endless questions to answer, and endless possibilities too. However, for this blog let’s focus on the people building the product. Basically, who’s in charge and who executes?

The answer seems obvious. The responsibility of the product roadmap, deciding which features to build, and what’s most important should lie upon product people and engineers. To put it simply, it should lie on those that have the technical expertise to execute and know how to build products.

At a large and established company, this is mostly true. The product is already proven to work, and there is a market for it. Of course, there are always things to improve and, but the vision is well defined  and the map is relatively clear. Plus, there’s enough resources to hire, so product development can be left to a good number of rockstars.

However, when you're at an early stage things are far  more complicated. As mentioned earlier, resources are scarce and nothing has been proven yet. Uncertainty is high and building a product that works and fulfills a need is a matter of survival.

Now, going back to the main questions of who should be in charge, the answer is simple. Everybody is in charge. Product development at an early stage startup is a team sport. Everyone must be involved, and if you think that not every single person plays a role, think twice.

There are various reasons for this, but let’s dive into the three main ones. First of all, when you’re starting out (1-10 employees), everyone is wearing various hats. It’s quite hard to find someone that only does one job. The same person doing some programming could perfectly be writing some content, and even doing customer service.

As a result, everyone needs to know what’s going on and never be left behind. Things change quickly, so everyone must be on the same page. Just imagine what would happen if the person doing your marketing, or in charge of Customer Success is out of the loop.

Second of all, when you’re small, your product is pretty much all you’ve got. Your brand is still in the making, so your product is where your success will lie. The product will be your main vehicle to attract customers, investors and create those relationships that forge your future. Since it’s the most important thing and the center of all other activities, it makes sense to have everyone involved.

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The third and final reason is the reality of different perspectives. As with everything, diversity brings huge benefits. Having a unique segment of people deciding upon the future of the product creates a bias, because they only have a unique view. On the other hand, when you bring in people selling the product, marketing it, and talking to customers you get a much more holistic view, leading to more significant improvements.

How do you actually get everyone involved?

We’ve stated that at a large company involving everyone is not necessary, and not to say impossible, as getting 500 people into a zoom meeting and discussing with each other might not be the most practical thing to do. However, at a 1-10 person company, it is doable, easy, and quite productive.

Here are the exact steps we take here at HelloGuru to have a productive product meeting:

  1. Schedule a weekly product meeting (an hour should be more than enough).
  2. Use a collaborative tool like Figma or Miro where everyone can see other’s notes.
  3. In the tool you want to use, create two sections, bugs and features. Bugs refer to things that are not letting the product achieve its intended purpose. Features are your wishlist, things users or you would like the product to have to make it more valuable
  4. Create 5-8 sticky notes for each team member. Tip: use different colours for each member.
  5. Ask your teammates, a couple of hours before the meeting, to write in their allocated sticky notes the bugs and features that seem more important to them.
  6. During your meeting, ask each team member to give a brief explanation of each of their sticky notes. While you do this, assign a fibonacci number to each sticky note. This value represents the time it will take to fix that bug or build that feature.  1 = less than four hours of work , 2 = four hours of work, 3 = a day of work, 5 = one to three days of work,  = three to five days of work
  7. Add all the assigned values and the total should tell you the total number of hours that completing all these projects will take.
  8. Create stars or some other icon that’s easy to identify and allocate five stars to each of your team members.
  9. Ask your team members to place a star on the sticky notes that seem most important to them.
  10. Once this is done, you’ll have the most important features and bugs to focus on. Add the fibonacci numbers again and divide this number by the number of teammates that can complete these projects. Each team member should have something between 10-15. For example, if the total number of team members available to work is four and the total of your fibonacci numbers is 40, then 40/4 = 10. This is a good number.
  11. Assign projects to the most appropriate team member.

There it is! Those are simple 11 steps for you to run your product meeting with all your team. Everyone was able to put their own perspective into it and no one will be left behind.

How are you running product meetings at your company and how is everyone getting involved? Chat with us and let us know!