Tips for Motivating the Squad That Builds Your Product

It can be challenging for Product Managers to lead and motivate their team effectively when they’re not necessarily the team’s manager. This is definitely the case for the Product Managers at Trade Me. Here are 6 tips to help boost your product team’s motivation and engagement.

1. Explain the ‘why’

Explain to the team why they’re working on a particular piece of work. Are you trying to solve a specific problem? Trying to boost the target users’ engagement? Let the team know why you’re asking them to pour their focus and energy into a piece of work.

In an Agile world, it’s easy to get distracted by the velocity, cycle time, story points, and deadlines (yes, deadlines still exist in Agile!). If the team becomes too focused on the outputs and not the outcome, they lose sight of why they’re working on something. This consequently leads to the team building the wrong product.

It’s up to the Product Manager to champion the ‘why’ and remind the team of the value that they’re adding to their users or the business.

2. Focus on the problem, not the solution

What could be better than just explaining the problem behind a project? Give your team the problem, and let them come up with a solution. The team becomes motivated and engaged when they can contribute to designing the product.

An additional benefit is that you’re able to lean on the intelligent brains of your team members. With their different disciplines and backgrounds, your team can help you to come up with the best possible solution. For example, the developer may offer a solution that you didn’t know was technically possible.

Product guru Jeff Patton once said that Product Managers were wrong 70% of the time — and that’s only if they’re really good! So you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself to come up with all the ‘great’ product ideas.

3. Clarify what success looks like

It’s impossible to motivate the team if they don’t know what goals that they’re aiming for. Set clear success criteria for everything that your team builds.

Success criteria shouldn’t be defined as outputs, such as meeting the project deadline or ticking off a user story acceptance criteria. They give no indication as to whether the team’s built the right product or not.

They should be defining the change that you want to make for your target users or the business (refer to Trent’s article on the HEARRRT metrics framework). Then the success criteria or metrics can act as a guiding ‘compass’ for the team to help build the best solution.

4. Acknowledge all feedback

Always acknowledge your team’s feedback and suggestions. It can be incredibly demotivating for a team member when they submit a product idea that they’re excited about and there’s only cricket noise from the other side.

I’m not suggesting that you implement every product idea that comes your way, or carry out extensive research on each idea. Just let your team know that you’re listening. If you decide not to pursue their idea or suggestion, let them know and explain why.

In fact, a few people at Trade Me developed a new internal process called the ‘Idea Pipeline’. In summary, this Idea Pipeline allows anyone in the company to submit their product idea through one consistent channel. And this gets reviewed by relevant Product Managers who must respond in a timely manner.

Acknowledging all feedback encourages your team to continue giving you great suggestions and ideas in the future, and they understand how you’re making product decisions.

5. Be decisive

One of the most important jobs for a Product Manager, or any other product leaders, is to make decisions. Keep your team motivated by making decisions for them when they get stuck.

The worst thing a Product Manager could do is to avoid making product decisions, or unnecessarily delay making decisions. Your indecisiveness introduces chaos and uncertainty to your team.

If you’d like to improve your decision-making skills, I recommend the book Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

6. Engage the team early

Encourage your team to get involved in projects as early as possible. The sooner that your team gets involved, the more they’ll be motivated to build the right product. The most effective way to engage your team early is to include them in the product discovery.

Encourage your developers and testers to observe user test interviews. Or invite your whole team to an ideation workshop. These activities help the team to understand the core needs and problems of their users.

Not all projects need interactive discovery tasks like interviews or ideation workshops. In that case, you can simply keep the team up-to-date on your product research, instead of waiting until it’s time to develop!

I hope these tips have sparked some inspirations.

How do you like to motivate and lead your product team?

Originally published at

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