Learn how to design and structure product teams. Discover key roles, common structures, and how Product sits within the wider GTM team architecture.
So you’ve come up with a product idea that will revolutionize the world.
Now the easy part’s over.
Next step is to figure out who the heck is going to build it for you. In other words, it's time to put a decent product team together.
The dream product team consists of a handful of specialists capable not only of doing their thing well, but of collaborating toward a shared goal, often working closely with other teams from the wider GTM (Go To Market) team.
No small ask, we know.
To help your team get there, we’ve built this guide to cover the basics. Think of it as your 101 on putting together a product team.
- What a product team is
- What its purpose is
- How a good product team fits within the wider GTM architecture
- The five core product team roles
- Five options for structuring your product team
Since the key to building a great product team is team alignment, let’s start by aligning on what a product team even is…
What is a product team, and what is its purpose?
A product team is a group of people in specialized roles who work together to plan, develop, release, and market new products and/or features, whether that be a physical product or a digital one (like a software platform).
The overarching purpose of the product team is to build and bring to market new products and features. However, they’re also often involved in creating improvements to existing ones based on customer support logs and pending sales conversations.
Most of the product team members have a title with the word “product” in it (for example, Product Engineer), though team members also work directly with Project Managers and operations team members as well as other go-to-market teams.
How does a product team work with a GTM team?
Successful product teams collaborate and work closely with marketing, sales, and customer success team members.
This collaboration is orchestrated by the Product Manager (PM) —- Product team — or the Product Marketing Manager (PMM) — quarterback for the GTM team and sometimes part of the Product team. Regardless of company structure, both should be heavily involved in the GTM process.
Misalignment between these business units can lead to costly product delays or market "misfires" (between 40% and 95% of all product launches fail to meet revenue targets).
Product marketing leader Yasmeen Turayhi speaks to the importance of this collaboration:
“Almost always, Product Marketers own the Go-To-Market process, since so much of the role depends on cross-functional stakeholder management, and ensuring that the right marketing assets are being built for the right customer at the right time.”
Yasmeen Turayhi: What is “Go-To-Market” and where does this sit in an organization?
Support and Customer Success collaborate with the product team by feeding back customer requests, suggestions, and complaints, as well as opportunities they identify for revenue expansion.
The sales team is directly plugged into the needs and challenges of the company’s ICP (ideal customer profile), so they can share a lot with the product team about:
- Which features are most requested
- Deals lost to competitors due to product insufficiencies
- Challenges customers have with competitor products
In some cases, sales feeds the product roadmap directly based on contingent deals.
For example, imagine sales has a large deal on the line that isn’t closing due to a missing feature. The product and GTM teams could collaborate to run an ROI analysis and determine whether it makes sense to develop the feature to close the sale.
Then, you’ve got marketing, which is the biggest touch point between GTM and Product.
In fact, many product teams have a dedicated product marketer role, which can report to either a product or marketing leader, depending on your team structure (more on that soon).
“When companies hire a GTM owner, or Product Marketer, that role tends to report to either the Head of Marketing, Head of Product, the CEO, or Head of Strategy (if there is one). I’ve seen this process work best when Product Marketing reports to Marketing AND is fully backed by Executive teams to run the GTM process.”
Yasmeen Turayhi: What is “Go-To-Market” and where does this sit in an organization?
Product marketers, as we’ll discuss in more detail shortly, are responsible for developing product positioning and messaging and working with other GTM team members (e.g., sales reps) to ensure consistency across all customer communications.
5 core product team roles
Most companies divide product teams into five distinct roles:
- Product Manager: Drives product strategy and the build process.
- Product Engineer: Responsible for actually building the product.
- Product Designer: Creates the front-end and user interface.
- Product Marketer: Drives the commercialization of the product.
- Project Manager: Builds timelines and keeps projects on track.
The team then works closely with business leadership (primarily through the product manager) to ensure alignment with the overall company vision.
However, this isn’t the only structure that exists.
Smaller organizations might not have both a project manager and a product manager — the latter fills both roles. Others might have one product manager overseeing multiple product engineers and designers.
You’ll always have a product manager, though, and at least one engineer (to build the thing) and designer (to make it usable from a user experience standpoint).
Product Manager (PM)
The Product Manager works with the product team as well as with the product marketing team and is responsible for developing a clear vision and roadmap for product development. The PM is also responsible for keeping the C-Suite, product, marketing, and GTM teams involved.
From there, they’re responsible for managing the product through its lifecycle, maintaining the development roadmap, and staying plugged into user desires to ensure the team develops a relevant feature set.
Some companies also have a Product Marketing Manager (PMM) role, who heads the marketing organization, is heavily involved in informing product development and in steering the GTM team.
Our take here is that really, the PM and PMM roles are one role that bifurcated for a bunch of less-than-great reasons that end up causing a lot of those misalignment issues we brought up earlier.
From our POV, in an ideal world, these two roles should move as one, steering both the product and GTM teams. However, separate roles still work well, so long as they operate as a single unit through the entire build>launch process. Choose as many M’s as you like.
Companies with multiple PMs might also have a VP or Head of Product to whom they report.
The Product Engineer is responsible for actually building the product, whether hardware, software, or both.
They design the code that powers a software product or the blueprint for a physical product, design tests, and squash any problems that pop up along the way.
Product engineers will also work closely with Quality Assurance on testing.
While the engineers focus on the back end of a product (making it work), the Product Designer builds out the front end (making sure the interface is usable for software, for example).
In the context of software, their work extends to design things like typography and element placement, as well as UX research and navigation design.
Product designers work closely with product engineers and often seek feedback from users as well as customer success and support teams.
The Product Marketer or Product Marketing Manager (PMM) is involved from the earliest stages of product definition through the development of positioning and messaging to GTM strategy. The PMM owns the GTM process, ensuring the product is launched without a hitch and coordinating and controlling key activities and communications throughout the process.
They research the market and analyze competitors, design a strategy for differentiation, and build and test messaging to understand what connects with the target audience.
The PMM is usually also responsible for developing product pricing and is involved in informing the product roadmap using buyer research, shaping the product experience to ensure maximum marketability, and defining the business model of the product.
They work closely with the PM, and, as you can see from their roles, there’s a huge overlap between them. That’s why some companies have successfully merged these two roles. In any case, they should be acting together as a single unit to drive quality products to market, as opposed to the often-found “sequential” operational strategy whereby the PM throws a finished product over the fence for the PMM to “promote”.
A Project Manager takes the overall vision that the Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager have laid out, and breaks this down into measurable, manageable, realistic projects and tasks.
They plan and orchestrate resources around these schedules, manage project budgets and timelines, and ensure quality standards are met.
How to structure a product team
There’s more than one way to skin a cat (or so I’m told, I’ve never actually tried myself).
And when it comes to structuring your product team, there’s really no one-size-fits-all solution.
The structure you choose can influence things like operational efficiency (smaller teams might be more agile) as well as market success.
Some companies choose to create pods focused on specific features or divide teams by customer segment.
Daniel Slater, the Worldwide Head of Culture of Innovation at AWS, shares that Amazon and AWS have a “two-pizza team” role.
A team must be able to be fed with no more than two pizzas, which to them comes out at around 6 people (which seems a little light on the pizza, to be honest…)
“At Amazon and AWS, two-pizza teams have single-threaded ownership over a specific product or service. Rather than maintaining complex systems or solving problems spanning multiple services, lines of business, or customer segments, two-pizza teams are focused on just one service or offering, and just the customers who use it. This single-threaded focus promotes efficiency and scalability. Two-pizza teams’ roadmap – including the tradeoffs and prioritizations they need to make – are singularly focused on innovating on behalf of just their service and the customer segment that uses that service.”
Daniel Slater: Powering Innovation and Speed with Amazon’s Two-Pizza Teams.
As you approach structuring your product team, there are about five ways to organize it.
For large companies that have multiple products, it may be suitable to allocate teams to a specific product.
A product leader (typically the Product Manager) oversees a single product or line.
They manage a broad range of functions for that one product, including:
- Market research
- Building a product strategy and roadmap
- Orchestrating development and releases
This organizational structure is beneficial in that the Product Manager and their team know the product inside and out.
It can mean, however, that they lose touch with the wider company, product vision, and how their product interacts with the other products customers may use in unison.
Similar to structuring teams by product, some companies go a layer down and structure by product feature.
This is a more common approach for organizations that have complex offerings, for example, where there is an “all-in-one” product on offer rather than a series of products that can be stitched together.
For example, Pipedrive might have separate product squads working on their CRM and email marketing features, respectively.
For this structure to be effective, the company will need a Chief Product Officer or other senior product leader to sit above the entire operation and ensure cohesion across the total offering.
Without this in place, teams may end up working against one another, create issues for UX and usability, and lose sight of how the feature they work on connects to the platform at large.
By customer segment
An alternative approach is to build and structure product teams not from the perspective of the product but from that of the customer.
Here, a company might structure its product teams by customer segment.
One team might be working on servicing the SMB market, and another entirely focused on enterprise-facing features. Or, you might segment by industry if you service several distinct industries.
This approach makes sense if you have distinct products serving vastly different markets. From a GTM and marketing standpoint, this structure makes a lot of sense, as it allows Product Marketers to narrow down messaging and segment promotional activities for greater precision.
The flip side is that many companies service different marketers but with the same foundational product. If different product teams focus on developing features that service unique user groups, they might not be able to tell their hands from their feet by the end of it, and the product roadmap could end up a real mess.
Having someone sitting above the different product teams managing the entire product will ensure this approach is successful.
By customer journey stage
Another customer-focused product team structure is to divide teams by the customer journey stage.
For example, you may have one team focused on acquisition, another on onboarding, a third on adoption, and a final on retention.
In this approach, engineers and designers might work across multiple teams (you’re not exactly designing different features for acquisition as you are for retention), with dedicated Product Marketers in each pod.
By performance metric
The final option for structuring your product team is to use specific business goals or KPIs (key performance indicators).
This is similar to the journey stage structure, except it allows you to get even narrower and have one team focused on a specific metric.
For instance, you might have one team focused on customer churn, with another dedicated to increased MAU (monthly active users).
For this approach to work well, you’ll need to have a mature product and well-established KPIs and benchmarks that directly correlate to business success.
From there, you can focus teams specifically on improving those metrics.
For instance, your churn-focused team might work on increasing the stickiness of product features and adopting underutilized functionality (which would be a pretty smart idea since 80% of all features go unadopted).
Whichever structure you choose, the key to success will be in creating organizational alignment within the product team and with other go-to-market units.
Empowering product teams with Ignition
Product teams sit at the very center of the company’s overall strategic vision.
Not only do they build and design the product, but they also determine how the brand communicates its value propositions across sales and marketing activities.
As such, it's critical that product and GTM teams are aligned.
We built Ignition to create that alignment.
It’s a single AI-powered suite for end-to-end planning, execution, and measurement, aligning product, marketing, and sales teams to unlock revenue opportunities and drive more effective product launches.