Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Structuring the product management team at US/Israel-based startups

One of the questions every Israeli startup needs to address at some stage is how to structure the product management team. Most startup companies initially focus on the US. Most of these companies have their engineering teams in Israel.

How do you go about launching a new product and getting good-quality customer feedback in a timely manner?

Email, Skype, Video chat, Facebook, Twitter, Wikis - have all made communication simpler, yet none of these communication channels is a replacement for good old face-to-face meetings, which is why product managers need to be as close as possible to their customers. Nothing beats lunch with a customer when it comes to gathering product feedback. On the other hand, no matter how detailed your MRD/PRD is, there will always be changes and quick decisions to be made during development. A good product management team can quickly prioritize, make trade-off decisions and work with the engineers to resolve urgent issues.

Having worked at various companies throughout the years, I got the opportunity to try out every possible structure: a product manager based in Israel and a product marketing manager based in the US; a product manager based in the US and a product marketing manager based in Israel; a product manager in Israel reporting to an executive located in the US; a product manager based in the US reporting to an executive located in Israel, etc.

So what team structure works best?

I believe any structure can work flawlessly, and any structure can fail miserably. In my experience, product management worked well when:
  1. We had A players in the team
  2. We had team members in both the US and Israel
  3. We got egos out of the way
  4. We maintained very intensive communication between all team members
  5. We set clear strategy and goals
Bottom line? A cliché, but nonetheless, it's all about the people.