Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What Makes High Performance Product Teams Successful?
by Ron Lichty

What does it take for a team to achieve high performance?

What makes high performance teams stand out from the rest of the pack?

For three years we’ve been surveying teams to find that out. We looked to those teams that told us they’ve achieved high performance and asked them to identify their characteristics. We asked the same questions to the teams that told us they hadn't. Then we conducted regression analysis on the most intriguing data to identify what high performance teams had in common and what differentiated them from the rest.

That's what makes up the now-annual Study of Product Team Performance.

In 2012 my coauthors (I didn’t join the authorship team until 2013) discovered five correlative factors:  67 percent of high performance teams do all five. (Further validating the results, only 2% of teams lacking all five factors were able to rise to high performance). My coauthors also asked what one thing product team members would change about their team; the number-one response: "Better cross-functional collaboration, trust and communication.”

In 2013, we expanded our understanding of four of the five factors of high-performing teams (the fifth had been so strong it needed no clarification). And a sixth factor - and four landmines that can undermine teams - emerged. Equally intriguing, we cross-correlated each team’s methodology with the methodology that the team believed would make their products more profitable. The finding: regardless of methodology, team members identified waterfall as having an adverse affect on profitability; even most teams using waterfall would, for profitability, opt for anything but waterfall.

This year's study is just released. The results: an additional set of factors found in high performance teams:
  • Positive team culture (and 5 elements essential to optimizing culture)
  • Positive relationships with sales and marketing teams (and some insights into how organizations foster inter-team integration and health)
  • Positive relationships between product and project managers (and why they turn out to be so important)
  • Understanding and integrating with the sales cycle
We also looked, this year, at how organizations are using return-on-investment (ROI) – or not using it as turns out to be overwhelmingly the case. And we continued to trend product development methodology adoption rates for Agile, Waterfall, blended and Kanban - observing a very interesting pattern emerge from three years' data, with implications for how these methodologies are likely to evolve going forward.

Lest you think that these results were unique to new products versus enhancing existing ones, it turns out that respondents were almost evenly split between the two. Another demographic statistic: a fifth of respondents were working on entirely internal products.

This year’s study - and both previous years’ studies - are available from lead author Greg Geracie's Web site at:

Many thanks to my other Study co-authors:
  • David Heidt, Principal, Enterprise Agility and former President of IIBA Chicagoland
  • Matt Jackson, President, Jackson Consulting
  • Gary Pickens, VP and Chief Research Officer at Truven Healthcare Analytics


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