Product vs. Feature Teams

February 27, 2020
3 min read

If you're involved in the awesome, often mind-boggling circus that is the tech industry, you'll know who Marty Cagan is.

Marty, the godfather of product management, dropped a literary bombshell on us recently. The fallout? An article so polarizing it could put a political debate to shame.

The core of Marty's argument? Product teams are good, feature teams are bad. Kind of like a Shakespearean play but with more code and fewer ruffled collars. He paints an idyllic image of empowered product teams blessed with autonomy and accountability, and shows us the grim picture of feature teams forced to churn out features like a factory production line.

I'll admit it. I'm nodding along with Marty here. His praise of empowered product teams strikes a chord. Autonomy in a team is like a good martini, shaken, not stirred, leading to a potent cocktail of accountability, innovation and effectiveness. The focus on outcomes rather than output? Now, that's music to my ears.

His dissection of the product manager's role in both scenarios is a piece of art. In Marty's world, product managers in feature teams are glorified project managers with a touch of design and a little bit of business thrown in. In contrast, a product manager in an empowered product team is a maestro, orchestrating a symphony of value and viability. It's a hard gig, but someone's got to do it.

But here's where I add a bit of my own spice to the mix. Can feature teams innovate? You bet. In my many years in this industry, I've seen it happen; as rare as a unicorn may be, but it exists. A feature team, with the right guidance and a touch of creative latitude, can achieve incredible outcomes and generate ideas as groundbreaking as a product team.

And remember my friends, empowerment is like tearing down the highway in a 1969 Mustang. It's the epic battle between the freedom of the open road and the fiery inferno of a ditch dive. A product team riding shotgun with unchecked autonomy can skid off the road, crash, combust, and billow out smoke signals from the ditch of oblivion.

So, what does this all mean in the grand scheme of things? Let's get down to the brass tacks.

Companies itching to transition from feature teams to product teams, take heed. This isn't a 100-meter dash; it's the Boston Marathon. It requires cultural shifts, top-down support, and patience, lots of it. Empowerment isn't about letting your teams become loose cannons. It's about bestowing them with the tools, trust, and just the right amount of structure to keep them from careening into the bottomless pit of uncertainty.

To wrap up this roller coaster ride, I'll leave you with this this: Marty's got it right for the most part. But there are nuances and shadows in the corners that need to be considered. It's not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Believe me, I’ve been there.

So, let's continue the conversation, push the boundaries, and remember that in this awesome, mind-boggling tech circus, we are all here to create, innovate, and most importantly, make a difference.

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