The top 5 challenges of large-scale product teams

The top 5 challenges of large-scale product teams

And what to do when your processes don’t deliver.

There’s a lot of upside to large-scale product teams—big teams benefit from specialized skill sets, deep institutional knowledge, and the horsepower to deliver major impact. But size doesn’t insulate your team from the fundamental pressure of product delivery. In fact, when budgets or timelines are tight, larger teams can face more scrutiny, not less.

In a survey of over 700 large product teams (all with between 200 and 1,300 team members), we asked which parts of the product lifecycle are most painful. We found that for large teams, bigger datasets and multiplying tools lead to wider blindspots, disconnected processes, and less reliable sources of truth.

Here are the commonly-cited challenges our respondents identified—and concrete actions you can take to solve them.

#5: Setting and aligning on goals and objectives

Setting ambitious-yet-achievable goals is challenging for every team; for large product teams, this often comes down to visibility and prioritization (more on the latter in the next section). 36% of our surveyed teams said they find goal-setting difficult—and only 53% said they have high visibility into goals and objectives. All of this can have serious downstream effects. Without visibility, teams often lose sight of the bigger picture, and struggle to make smart decisions—or live up to their full potential.

If this sounds familiar, check out the following tips and resources to set better-aligned, more visible goals.

Tips for setting product team goals and objectives

  • Centralize objectives for maximum visibility. A strong goal-setting process is both centralized and empowering—allowing individual teams to design their own unique workflows around your OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Consider a tops-down model where objectives are managed centrally by product ops, and then used to shape plans for individual product teams. This also makes it easy to give stakeholders real-time visibility into progress against those OKRs. Learn more about writing effective OKRs or check out Chapter 9 (“Setting and aligning on product objectives”) in the Product Ops Playbook.
  • Team up with your GTM partners. If hitting your goals depend on a key partner—often the marketing team—you should set those objectives together. If you’re planning a launch, for example, propose and align with Marketing on responsibilities, KPIs, check-ins, and shared surface areas for launch tracking. Read more about building better partnerships between Product and Marketing.
  • Report on progress. Once objectives are defined and locked, use your roadmap to share regular progress updates against them. If you’re using Airtable or an OKR tracking software, you can automate OKR status updates to stakeholders, visualize OKR progress over time with reporting apps, or create custom, interactive interfaces to share high-level insights. Learn how Blackrock ties strategic goals to product features and keeps work on track.

#4: Managing your product roadmap

More than a third of the teams we surveyed said they struggle to manage their product roadmaps, calling the process “highly challenging.” Given that your roadmap is the heart of everything your team does, and the keeper of a product team’s most valuable information, this statistic is…not good.

But it’s also not a huge surprise. Large product teams are more likely to be juggling complex layers of stakeholders, unclear or competing priorities, multiple products and subproducts, and an overall lack of visibility. Disconnected, duplicative, out-of-date roadmaps lead to slow product development, missed insights, poor coordination, and ultimately a lack of trust in your team to deliver.

When it comes to prioritizing your roadmap, even teams with abundant resources need to be surgical. To make meaningful investments, teams need to strike a balance between the drive to move things forward, and the ability to pivot quickly as you encounter new information.

Questions to help your product team manage competing priorities

  • Strategic value: Does this product investment align with the long-term product vision and near-term company strategy?
  • Compounding potential for customers: Does this problem get worse, or create worse experiences for customers over time, if we fail to address it? Or on the flip side: does the value of solving this problem compound for customers over time?
  • Your portfolio of product “bets”: Do you have a balance of payoff periods in terms of customers realizing value? Do you have a balance of investments that will GA this half, this year, next year?

Learn more about prioritization in “Rules of the roadmap: An expert-led guide

#3 Analyzing and reporting on results

There’s no one way that product teams measure progress—monthly or daily active users, market position based on third-party ratings, or even customer retention. In our research, only 29% of product teams said they “almost always” hit their goals, but it’s clear that the issues start even further up the chain: understanding their results in the first place. 39% of large product teams said they struggled to analyze and report on their impact.

Failure to solve challenge comes with big consequences, especially for larger teams. If your team spends significant hours cobbling together reports from different tools, or manually compiling progress updates, they’re diverted from the most mission critical work. If you struggle to report your impact to your customers and company leadership, your team’s credibility suffers. And most fundamentally: if you don’t know what isn’t working, you won’t know how to fix it.

How to transform product data into insights

  • Illuminate your blindspots. If you’re on a large team that struggles to measure their impact, visibility might be the culprit. Big companies tend to have lots of ways to measure performance, but struggle to visualize the full journey, identify gaps, and surface the right information to decision makers. If you’re using Airtable, you can sync datasets from your other systems of record (like Jira or Salesforce) directly into your interfaces and bases.
  • Empower your decision-makers. Product leaders are often asked to make big, highly impactful decisions—without the luxury of time. LinkedIn was able to double capacity to report on results and demonstrate ROI to executives, which led to faster decision making and more time to conduct studies. Read more about how LinkedIn increased their speed.

#2 Collecting and acting on customer feedback

Every product team wants to be closer to their customers, and deliver products those customers love. At large companies, you’re dealing with a high volume of feedback from a complex mix of sources—and you need a scalable system to bring it all together.

Almost 40% of the large product teams we surveyed said that this process was very challenging, and it’s no wonder why. To start, you need to bring as much of your key insights as possible into the same place—including internal product feedback, feedback from customer-facing teams, research studies and data insights, and inputs from your community or customer advisory board. Beyond that, you need to translate that feedback into feedback your team can actually act on.

Ways to make customer feedback actionable

  • Centralize your product insights. Prioritizing your team’s work is never easy, but visible, robust insights make big decisions easier. Dan Cunningham of Aladdin Wealth estimates that the company’s 130 client managers and product team members save nearly 600 hours a month on product communications by building a centralized product feedback app. Read about how BlackRock and Aladdin Wealth centralized insights in Airtable.
  • Look beyond what your customers explicitly ask for. Customers’ feedback is heavily shaped by your product’s current limitations; it’s the Product team’s job to bring new ideas to the table, and to take calculated risks on innovative product investments. While it’s important to learn what customers believe they need, your team also needs to think beyond it. Learn about building insights-focused product teams in this on-demand webinar.

#1 Managing product launches

Finally, the most commonly cited delivery challenge: product launches.

Over 40% of the large product teams we surveyed said that managing product launches was “highly challenging”—and only 1 in 4 said they “almost always” ship their products on time.

Internal perception of your product teams (and external perception of your company) revolves around their ability to ship—your team works hard throughout the entire product lifecycle, but their credibility often comes down to a handful of major launch days. These efforts take massive cross-functional coordination—especially with your GTM partners on the marketing side.

But when that coordination is less than stellar, your whole team feels the pain. Planning gets siloed across countless tools, docs, and presentations; progress is nearly impossible to track; and on the day-of, you aren’t confident in what, or how, you’ll deliver. Your team can’t see—and proactively address—risks ahead of time, and when launch day is over, no one is sure whether it was a “success.”

Tips to deliver better products, faster

Want to see how product teams at Netflix, Shopify, and Amazon transform their work with Airtable? Watch the demo: How Product leaders drive operational excellence.

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