Successful product development requires input from people with specialized skills from across a variety of business departments. The best cross-functional product team managers understand engineering and design, often working daily with people from those areas. But overseeing a product team requires a larger view and incorporation of ideas from areas as diverse as marketing, quality assurance, manufacturing, supply chain, and data analysis. Cross-functional teams create that opportunity, bringing people with a variety of skills onto one project. By joining their efforts, businesses develop better products.
Managing such a team takes a unique set of skills. The best cross-functional product team managers understand engineering and design, often working daily with people from those areas. But overseeing a product team requires a larger view and incorporation of ideas from areas as diverse as marketing, quality assurance, manufacturing, supply chain, and data analysis.
Success in the field requires extensive knowledge in theory and the application of important product management skills. Some learn these skills through experience and trial and error. Increasingly, people seek to earn a graduate degree focusing on the skills needed for success as a product manager.
What is a Cross-Functional Team?
A common characteristic of companies in the past – and some current businesses – is a siloed structure that keeps people working primarily with others in the same department. While it’s necessary for workgroups to function within one department, projects with a larger objective require cross-functional teams to achieve success.
The basic idea of a cross-functional team involves bringing in individuals who offer expertise in different business functions. That can include product design, user experience (UX), engineering, safeguarding, marketing, sales, research and development, manufacturing, supply chain, data analysis, and business growth.
The makeup of a cross-functional product team depends on the company involved. Most companies create their own approach because what works in one business or industry may not work well in another.
What is the Importance of Cross-Functional Teams?
It’s difficult to overstate the critical role product development teams play in a company. They provide strategic product leadership, making it possible for a business to deliver the right product at the right time to the right market.
By bringing together people from different disciplines and knowledge bases, product development teams can work on various product-related issues, including strategy implementation, product feature definition, and marketing.
However, a team’s work typically starts with market research on customer needs, spending data, market trends, and competition. The success of a cross-functional team depends on the skills of the people involved and the team leader’s deep understanding of the needs of customers and stakeholders. That understanding, when infused throughout the team, is key, especially when creating products for a new marketing vertical.
What Role Do Product Managers Play on a Cross-Functional Team?
Product managers who lead cross-functional teams walk a fine line. Invite too many people to participate, and product development gets slowed. Invite too few, and the risk is high that not every aspect of the job will get properly addressed. Knowing how to find the right balance is an important product manager skill.
While each team member brings value to a project, the final responsibility for success rests with the product team manager. This broad responsibility requires a focus on product priorities and handling the many issues that arise when people from different departments work together.
Some of the key areas product managers must focus on for success include the following:
Communication: Product managers should start a project with an initial meeting that explains the team’s goals in detail. This first meeting provides ample time to answer any questions. From that point forward, lines of communication need to remain open throughout the project.
Listening: A good product manager listens to the ideas of everyone on the team. Multiple perspectives will provide value throughout the process. Product managers should treat each suggestion with respect and evaluate each on its merit.
Product changes: Throughout the process, it’s important to listen to team members – especially those from engineering – who may have critical tradeoffs among the features and specifications of the product. This is important to discuss and consider as a group. Product managers must weigh the value of the change against restrictions in project time, scope, and funding.
Consistency: In addition to keeping a project on track to deliver results, product managers must also ensure they respond promptly to all team members. Accessibility provides consistency, assurance to the team members and builds trust in the manager.
Merrimack College’s Online Product Management Master’s Program
Merrimack College takes a unique approach to product management education. The school’s online Master of Science in Engineering Management offers a concentration in product management. The program is open to students with either STEM or business experience.
Graduates from the program emerge ready to apply theory to real-world situations, a highly marketable skill in product-driven industries. The online program focuses on an experiential learning, industry-aligned curriculum. Students learn the skills organizations need now from product managers.
The online format gives working professionals the flexibility they need to earn a master’s degree. Graduates can work as product managers, senior product managers, program managers or directors, product development managers, and product marketing managers.
Earning an MS in Engineering Management with a concentration in product management provides professionals motivated to become leaders in product development an important step up their journey to realizing their career goals.