Keeping in mind the principles of empowerment that team objectives are designed to encourage, we are ready to have the product teams get to work. So let’s discuss the mechanics of assigning objectives to product teams.
Assigning Objectives To Product Teams
To be very clear, and to address head on another one of the very common misconceptions about team objectives, it is the responsibility of the leaders to decide which problems should be worked on by which product teams.
So many companies think that the idea is to let the product teams come up with their own objectives, yet are somehow surprised when the organization complains of lack of direction, and little is accomplished. Whenever I see this in a company, this priceless Monty Python clip immediately comes to mind. And it’s important to point out that this is not the fault of the teams; it’s the clear fault of leadership.
More generally, the whole point of assigning objectives to product teams is to execute on a product strategy. The product strategy is all about deciding which problems to work on.
Assigning objectives to product teams is both a top-down and bottom-up process, and it often requires iteration.
These assignments are a function of the product strategy, and the team topology (aka team scoping); in other words, the strategy tells us which problems we need to solve, and the topology will imply which teams are best suited to tackle each problem.
Now, we love it when teams volunteer to pursue an objective, and we try hard to accommodate that desire, but we also are clear with the teams that we can’t always accommodate because we have to ensure that in aggregate, the organization is covering as much of the overall organizational objectives as possible.
So even though a team may wish to pursue a specific objective, it is up to the leaders to decide this.
Determining Key Results
Once a team is asked to pursue an objective, the first thing they need to do is consider what the appropriate key results should be, and what they believe they can accomplish.
If it’s the first time they have worked on this problem, then they may need some months to learn the space, and to start collecting some data to establish a baseline, and to get a sense of what the possibilities are. If they’ve worked in this area before, they probably already have a reasonable sense.
The team will also need guidance from leadership on how ambitious or conservative they should be in pursuing solutions. More on this topic next, but for now, let’s just say that it’s important that the leaders provide the team with some guidance on how aggressive they would like the team to be in pursuing solutions.
But suppose the team is asked to pursue two objectives, and the results they propose to achieve are considered by management as insufficient to achieve the necessary business results over the year.
In this case, the leaders might ask the team to instead pursue just a single objective rather than two, or they might ask another team to collaborate with them on one of the problems.
What is most important is that if the leaders want the product team to feel ownership of the results, then the results must come from the team.
Once the leaders have worked with the product teams to decide which product teams will pursue which actions, they then need to ensure that the product teams and the broader organization are aligned.
For example, let’s say we’re working to bring to market a significant new product offering.
We need to ensure that any necessary platform team efforts are aligned to do the work necessary to support the experience product teams.
Similarly, we need to ensure the sales and marketing efforts are appropriately aligned.
If the sales and marketing teams were pursuing a different market, or not preparing for the new market, that would be an example of not being in alignment.
Keep The Lights On Work
It’s important to keep in mind that the team objectives are not the only work that a product team is responsible for. It may be the most important work, but there is always what we call “keep the lights on” or “business as usual” work involving fixing critical problems, responding to customer issues, providing assistance to other teams, technical debt work, and more.
Over time, teams get a better understanding of what this ongoing cost is. In some cases, this ongoing work can reach the point that it consumes the team, in which case the leaders will need to either not expect anything beyond this overhead work, or they will need to invest in reducing this overhead burden, or potentially grow the team.
Next we’ll discuss one of the most important dimensions to a team objective, which is how ambitious the team should be in pursuing solutions.