Better cross-functional collaboration, trust and communication

Product Team Performance Study
You can participate: what makes product teams great

In 2012’s Study of Product Team Performance, respondents were asked what they would change about the core product team.

“Better cross-functional collaboration, trust and communication” was their number-one response.

(You can participate in this year’s study. See below.)

I was struck by how closely that aspiration aligns with a step that management took 15 years ago when I was at Schwab, a step I was convinced was responsible for my team becoming one of the highest performing I’ve had opportunity to manage.

The time was February 1997. The team was embarking on building Schwab’s first web-based customer applications in Java. At the beginning of 1997, Java was mostly being used for eye candy: animated thermometers, dancing fonts, blinking messages, that sort of thing. Java applets didn’t even print. Not that there were a lot of alternatives: HTML was flat and lifeless; Javascript wasn’t yet built into a single browser; the only alternative was COM, also very early as a platform. To build business applications in Java at the beginning of 1997 was not just leading edge, it was bleeding edge.

To support the effort, senior management hired a team-building h.r. group – they go by names like “organizational development” – “OD” – but they’re all about building collaboration, trust and communication – soft skills – emotional intelligence – that sort of thing.

As keyed up as management was to prove to the execs that we could do something new, something breathtaking, something never done before – they arranged for the entire product team to take entire afternoons offsite multiple times during our short four-month development cycle. Developers, testers, project managers, product managers, business analysts, architects, instructional designers, the whole bunch of us.

That project progressed from research and ideas to working product – an asset allocation toolkit – with functionality that had never before been built even in the client-server world – in a few short months. The team won awards; the product was lauded; Schwab was lionized.

At the time, I remember thinking that I never wanted to work on a product team again that did not undertake significant cross-functional trust and collaboration team-building. I recounted the experience in our book, Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams. Sadly, I’ve never worked on a team since that did that.

The 2012 study reminded me of what gave that Schwab team greatness. The study examined the interactions of Product Managers, Project Managers, Program Managers, Business Analysts, Developers and others actively involved in product development projects.  “The goal of our research was to better understand the dynamics of product team performance and to uncover the practices that make these teams successful. What makes this survey unique is that it enjoys the support of various industry associations and market players — groups and individuals that don’t generally work together.”

This year’s Study of Product Team Performance is launching now and running till February 28 or until it has received 3,000 responses, whichever comes first.

Get in on it. Share what’s made teams great in your world – at:


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