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Product management team structure
The greatness of your product is proportional to the organizational structure of your product management team.
Your PM team builds your product roadmap, implements strategy, understands customer feedback and needs, defines product features, and leads the evolution of your product journey.
You might think having one product manager is enough, and if you’re scaling up, you can add another to your team and call it a day. But, this will only cause confusion. The more your company and customer base grows, the more complex your product processes get.
If you want to provide an excellent product experience to your audience, you need a solid team structure. This means defined roles, clear-cut responsibilities, and ownership, so every member is on the same page and working towards a collective goal—providing the best product experience to your customers and helping the business grow.
We know how hard it can be to understand how to structure your product team in a fail-proof way, but this guide will help. So let's dig in.
How to structure a product team in the best way
A product team cannot be structured with a one-size-fits-all strategy. It requires cross-functional collaboration between product management, user experience, data analytics, marketing, and sales teams.
Your team's organizational structure depends on many factors, including present and future business goals and priorities.
Answer these questions to understand the model you should pick for structuring your product team:
Who are your target customers, what needs do they have, and how often do they vary?
How many products do you have to manage? Which one(s) are higher priority based on their demand and development needs?
Based on your goals, what functions should your product team perform?
Are your existing product team members ready for the change in organizational and team structure?
Which resources do you plan to allocate to this team so they can function efficiently? Do you have the budget to accommodate their needs?
Answering these questions will give you an idea of which structuring approach you should take, so you can pick the most suitable product organizational structure for your team.
Here are five of the most common product management team structures:
1. Structure by product or individual features of a product
If you have a suite of products—or one product with several complex features that need individual attention—assigning one product manager to cover everything can be quite messy.
One of the best ways to tackle this is to assign one product manager per product or individual product feature. These product managers can then be responsible for a host of activities with teams that overlook customer research, data analytics, budgeting, marketing, sales, and product management.
A good practice to ensure product managers work seamlessly with their teams and align with product and business goals is to assign a Chief Product Officer or a VP of Product.
The effectiveness of this structure lies in consistent validation and communication, so product iterations are followed with customer feedback for effective development and goal achievement.
Specific roles and responsibilities are outlined for each team member with an organized hierarchy of who reports to whom.
Because each product/feature is assigned a dedicated project manager with a team, there’s more scope for creativity, innovation, and efficiency in functionality. This directly impacts results and overall product experience.
Since a great emphasis is placed on prioritizing features, the team might focus solely on delivery, completely overlooking the importance of customer validation and feedback.
Individual product teams can end up working competitively instead of collaboratively because of working in isolation. This can affect the delivery of product experiences and cause misalignment in vision and business goals.
2. Structuring by customer persona or segment
If your product serves the needs of various customer personas or segments, you can structure your product team to cater to the needs of different customers and come up with relevant solutions and features—specifically for them.
Here, your team needs to be laser-focused on understanding each persona's most triggering pain points and which solution should be proposed, released, and prioritized. This requires a comprehensive understanding of individual personas with data-backed insights and behavior analytics.
Customer experience stands at the top because your first goal is to understand your customer's needs and develop and improve your product to help them.
Rather than focusing on one customer, these product teams focus on and study different personas, thus targeting their research and iteration strategy to serve them—resulting in a much more accurate product experience.
This approach can reduce the rate of product innovation because each team is only focused on the needs of their customers, thus taking away the focus from holistic product enhancement.
Cross-functionality and coordination between teams can become complicated when many products are being offered to one customer segment.
3. Structure by cross-functional collaboration
If you've been scaling rapidly, have a huge team, and continuously deliver excellent product experiences, it’s time to take a slightly more flexible (yet organized) approach.
Here, you make small teams of project managers, developers, analysts, and designers whose job is to act on specific features quickly and efficiently. These teams work with a high level of autonomy which offers them the freedom to release features to the market directly, without multiple rounds of approvals from general managers or stakeholders.
This is especially great for large brands—think Shopify or Hubspot—who want to innovate and act on feedback faster than getting caught up in hierarchy or approvals.
This approach allows learning from and leveraging various skills because you get a mixture of different people from all departments that contribute to product features.
It’s a quick method to achieve goals and shortens the product iteration cycle because of the autonomy and specialization of product team members.
It holds the risk of losing the customer’s voice in the rapid process of implementation, feedback, and iteration.
Small teams can sometimes get caught in a conflict of interest—whether to focus on team-assigned roles or larger organizational roles, which can cause misalignment and confusion.
4. Structure by customer journey stage
If you have a clearly defined, linear customer journey map, it might work to structure your product team based on the different stages of a customer journey: awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy.
With this structure, assign a different product manager to each phase of the buying experience to focus on specific activities—for example, improving the product trial experience in the consideration phase.
Each team needs to understand the customer journey stages in detail to tailor and iterate features that lead customers further down the funnel.
The approach allows efficient product scaling—the growth team drives customers to the product while other teams enhance product trial and engagement experiences.
Each product manager is assigned clear metrics, such as conversions from free trial to paid—making it easy to track progress and identify gaps.
To ensure a good user experience for each customer journey stage, the team structure and supervision need to be strict. However, such tight supervision can lead to micromanagement and discomfort among members.
If team members don’t understand their assigned customer stage, it could lead to inadequate product features, and thus a poor product experience.
5. Structure by performance metrics
If you have clear product key performance indicators (KPIs) that capture business and customer outcomes, you can assign individual teams to work on performance metrics like acquisition or activation.
Each team can have one product manager, developer, designer, analyst, or marketer who directly reports to the Chief of Product or VP.
Each team performs tasks, discovers, and implements features that help them achieve or enhance their target metric values. While the teams work individually, the VP brings it all together for effectiveness.
This independent structuring method was used by Uber to build feedback loops and track their growth based on referrals, and introduce improvements wherever there was a dip in numbers.
It’s easy to measure product success because each team has specific goals and metrics to work towards.
The independent approach enhances adaptability, accountability, and decision-making skills because they work on one goal—aligning product features with customer needs to get good metric values.
You need a fixed set of KPIs that won’t change regularly (because individual teams are working on them), which is difficult to outline, especially in the initial stages.
It requires highly coordinated cross-team functionality for achieving overall goals as one metric may flow into another. For example, if customers are acquired but not activated, the flow will break down, and you won’t be able to push customers further down the funnel.
4 core roles within a product team
Before we dive into the people that make up the product team, let’s be clear: there’s a difference between roles and titles.
'Product manager' is a title, but PMs may also perform product ownership or data analysis tasks. Based on current and future product needs, roles can be added or tweaked.
So, before we understand what each member does in the team, let’s look at four roles performed by the product team in a larger sense of the term:
1. Product development
You have a brilliant product idea. Now, can you just gather a bunch of developers and take it live? Not really.
A product team performs customer research, creates a roadmap, and starts bringing your product from concept to market release while collecting and acting on customer feedback.
Many team members contribute to product development: product managers, product owners, developers, designers, analysts, business and sales executives, stakeholders, etc.
This role strikes a balance between what your customers want and what changes you need to bring to your product to bridge those gaps.
Pro tip: use Hotjar Heatmaps to simplify your product development process by visualizing user behavior, and use product experience insights to make prioritization decisions.
This will help you understand significant pain points and areas of improvement, which can be used as guiding factors for introducing relevant product features.
2. Vision development
Product vision defines which problems your product solves, who it solves them for, and where it’s headed.
To give your product team an image of what they’re working towards, why they're working towards it, and how progress will be measured, you need to develop a vision that helps achieve long-term business goals.
3. Strategy development
A product strategy defines the plan of action and workflow of tasks for each product team member.
This clear, realistic, and time-bound strategy is based on the product vision and outlines steps needed to bridge the gap from where the product is right now and where you want it to be.
4. Metrics tracking
Tracking metrics is essential to understand whether product features and iterations are getting results—track UX metrics like conversion rate, churn rate, monthly recurring revenue, and retention rate.
Once the team has launched their product, they monitor its progress and use customer feedback and behavior insights to plan future iterations to fix bugs and enhance functionality.
While these four roles summarize what a product team does, distinct professionals are responsible for different tasks that contribute to overall goal achievement. Let’s look at them:
5 titles who play a key role in product management
1. Product manager
A product manager is viewed as the leader of a product team and plays many roles which vary with organization, goals, and current and future product state.
They sit at the intersection between business, design, and tech—and understand what the market requires, the needs of the users, and how the product should evolve to articulate what success will look like.
Their core responsibilities include:
Defining the product’s vision
Understanding the customer’s needs and acting on those needs
Analyzing which product features need to be prioritized and a course of action for the same
Aligning and maintaining coordination with stakeholders and across teams
2. Product designer
A product designer uses design tools to create an exceptional product user experience through insights from business and product goals, objectives, and customer feedback.
As the company grows and the product becomes more complex with added features and constant iterations, the product manager ensures it remains intuitive, functional, and responsive.
Their core responsibilities include:
Designing a product experience customers love by defining features and ensuring efficiency in function
Providing expert and practical advice on catering to the user's needs while ensuring design and responsiveness are not compromised
Taking part in user research, prototyping, visualization, testing, and analysis to fix bugs and suggest improvements for a good user experience
3. Product owner
A product owner defines stories—development tasks to achieve a specific goal—and manages the team backlog to streamline work and overlook the execution of prioritized product features.
They ensure the team’s work aligns with the customer’s needs while maximizing the value of their produced results by addressing priorities and maintaining their technical integrity.
Their core responsibilities include:
Outlining and assigning stories to team members
Evaluating product progress and overseeing development stages
Planning product iterations by coordinating cross-functionality of teams
4. Growth product manager
A growth product manager helps achieve specific KPIs in product-related metrics, for example, adoption, activation, retention, and expansion. Their primary aim is to make the product profitable and help the organization earn recurring revenue in the long term.
Their core responsibilities include:
Defining an organization’s growth direction by outlining strategies and providing direction on areas where the organization can grow
Helping the company expand and enter into new markets and acquire more customers by identifying and testing new customer acquisition strategies
Tracking and improving metrics by overlooking each funnel stage, from user acquisition to retention and expansion
5. Test Engineers
A test engineer designs and implements product tests to ensure quality and functionality after iterations. They closely check all testing phase programs, design test parameters, troubleshoot errors, and improve the testing process.
Their core responsibilities include:
Analyzing and testing product features to ensure quality by recognizing errors and proposing solutions
Creating test cases and plans for the product—this role is performed together with the product design team to streamline the whole product creation process
Creating and analyzing test reports for the management team, who either approves or rejects them for further improvements
Pro tip: if you’re a test engineer, use Hotjar Surveys to collect user feedback during product testing phases rather than waiting and making iterations once the feature is released. This will help you act quickly on feedback and make the required changes according to customer needs.
You can find a relevant survey template based on your goals from our library.
For example, if you want to get feedback for your product in its beta testing phase, use the Early Product Feedback for a Private Beta Release Survey template to:
Get feedback and a 10-point scale rating from your users on how satisfied they are with your product
Understand what users like and don't like about your product
Get feedback on a beta version of a product or feature to improve and avoid repetitive iterations later.
Where the product team sits within the wider organizational structure
The debate over where a product management team fits within the organization has been ongoing for a long time—and for all the right reasons, because no playbook definitively says where your product team should be placed.
However, whether you choose to have your product team as part of the marketing department or give it a department of its own is your choice, and both are widely accepted:
Product and marketing are two peas in a pod. When they work closely together, it can result in clear-cut messaging, product positioning, and accurate iteration based on feedback from marketing activities. Moreover, a lack of cross-functionality between the two departments can make backlog management work difficult.
On the other hand, product can't influence or be influenced by just one part of your business; it requires collaboration across the entire organization for success—so you could assign a stand-alone cross-functional product department.
Why the structure of your product team might need to evolve
Structuring your product team is like building your product: you won’t nail your product or your team structure on the first try—you need to constantly take feedback, iterate, and introduce new features or processes.
As your organization grows, the product evolves, and you come to understand your team's inner workings and struggles, you can work out a structure that fits your changing needs.
For example, if your customer base has grown from 100,000 to 500,000, you’ll need a new team structure that can cater to the needs of all customers without falling apart.
As you grow, you’ll also need to look for more innovative ways to do things and improve your product. This may require hiring new roles with advanced skills or transferring roles from one department to another, among other changes—all of which indicate growth!
Pick a model that suits you best, and iterate as you move forward—just like your product. Team structural changes are inevitable and indicate that you’re growing, so don’t be afraid. Focus on building a team that can help you create a people-loved product and deliver exceptional product experiences.
Creating a successful product management team structure is no cakewalk. Determining your team's needs is complex because you’re constantly striving to improve processes and systems that help you deliver the best experience to your customers.
But, it’s important to pick a team structuring model that fits the context of what you’re doing currently, what you might require in the future, and what your product vision requires to make the product a success.
Don’t think of structuring as an afterthought—it can make or break your product management efforts. Remember, only a structured and clearly defined product management team can help build your product from the ground up and take it to the level you’re envisioning.
Use Hotjar’s qualitative and quantitative tools to understand your customer’s needs while building your product, structuring your team, and even assigning roles to your teams to help drive product success and business revenue.