Product Management’s Role in a Modern Cross-Functional Team

Would it surprise you to learn that in the early days of scrum, the product manager was not generally considered part of the cross-functional team building the product? Or that some early versions of the Scrum Guide even recommended against allowing the product manager to speak during the daily scrum standups?

Clearly the role of the product manager in an agile cross-functional team has evolved a great deal in the decades since the scrum project management framework emerged. But there is still a lack of consensus about what exactly a product manager’s role should look like on a cross-functional team.

That was the focus of a recent webinar—Product Management’s Role in a Modern Cross-Functional Team—hosted by The Product Stack, an organization of like-minded companies offering practical solutions to modern product teams.

ProductPlan’s agile coach Jennifer Payne was on the panel, which addressed a wide range of questions dealing with how product managers can effectively create a high-performing team out of a disparate group of QA engineers, software developers, UX/UI designers, and project managers.

Cross-Functional Agile Teams

The webinar covered such key questions as:

  • What is a balanced cross-functional team and why is it so important?
  • What challenges do cross-functional teams face and how can PMs help overcome them?
  • How essential is technical know-how for a product manager?
  • What is product management’s role in building a high-performing cross-functional team?

These questions guided an inspired discussion that yielded tactical advice for product managers seeking to build cohesive, successful teams.

To cite just a few takeaways from the webinar, our panelists offered the following tips for product managers looking to build and inspire their cross-functional teams.Download the Cross-Functional Partnerships Checklist ➜

4 Tips for Product Managers in Cross-Functional Teams

1. Focus on building team cohesion and chemistry.

This requires establishing trust, which requires open communication, transparency, respect, and empathy.

It’s important to note that fulfilling this objective will not eliminate disagreements within your team. The important takeaway is to focus on building a team culture that allows for healthy, respectful debate.

2. Develop one-on-one relationships with each person on the team.

As our panel points out, every team is made up of individuals. Not everyone will have the same perspective, the same temperament, the same values, or the same concerns.

So part of a product manager’s role in building s cross-functional development team is building trust with each team member. And then treating each person as the unique individual they are.

3. Help everyone understand how their roles contribute to the larger picture.

Another great insight from our panel is that part of a product manager’s role is to be a team motivator. And it can become difficult for any member of a team to feel motivated without knowing why they’re being asked to do something.

So our panel suggests taking time to ensure, for example, that a developer on your team knows not only what you want coded but also why—specifically, how that coding work is going to directly benefit the product, its users, and your company.

4. Keep your cross-functional team connected even as it grows.

One challenge that often plagues a cross-functional team is that as the team grows and takes on more responsibilities, that initial sense of cohesion and chemistry is lost.

One additional responsibility for the successful product manager will be to make an ongoing effort—with regular conversations, frequent updates, lots of team communication, etc.—to maintain that sense of community and teamwork even as the team adds new members, takes on more projects, and even spreads out to new locations.
Download the Product Manager's Toolkit ➜

So, Where Should You Start?

As with most of our webinars, audience questions like the one below drove much of the conversation.

“I’m a PM and I want to build a high-performing cross-functional team with my QA engineers, UX/UI designers, software developers, and project managers. Where do I start?”

If this sounds like you, our panel offers some valuable, practical advice in answering this question. So where should you start? We suggest starting by viewing the webinar here.