Learn about the 4 most important members of a development team — product manager, designer, developer, and project manager — and how to hire the best candidates.
There are 4 major components of every successful development team.
The four major components of a development team are:
- Product manager/owner
- Project manager (optional)
This article explains how to strengthen each component, the traits to look for when hiring, and what questions to ask potential candidates.
A Product Manager Leads
The product manager is arguably the most important role in the entire team. He or she is responsible for:
- Driving the vision of the product
- Liaising with customers
- Coming up with the project scope that the entire team must follow to create a product that will serve customers’ needs.
For a startup, the co-founder can play the role of a product manager in the early stages, guiding and communicating with both sales and marketing to come up with a clear vision of the product.
Roles of the Product Manager
The right product manager is successful at the following.
Strategic Planning of the Product
The product manager spends time in the market, finding out what problems the product should solve, catching up with industry insights, and determining the best go-to-market strategy of the product.
Product managers are commonly known as the "CEOs of the product", as coined by Ben Horowitz in his book, “Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager.”
They steer the vision, strategize, and clearly communicate to the team the value the product brings to the customer and exactly why the team should build it.
Generating Ideas for the Product
Because the product manager is constantly catching up with the industry and listening to customer feedback, he or she should always be coming up with ways to improve the product and how it can further serve customers.
Product managers constantly communicate with customers and the team about how their ideas can be implemented and which to prioritize.
Great product managers must be able to argue with or against their teams with evidence from customer feedback to back up their claims.
Deciding Features to Implement
Once they generate ideas, product managers need to prioritize and plan the features need to be built first. This will be based on the strategic goals the product manager sets for the product and the value that they will deliver to the customer.
Product managers also define the requirements of a product's features, design their wireframes, and work with the engineering team to make sure they have all the information necessary to build the software.
Planning and Executing Product and Feature Releases
It is the role of the product manager to set and execute the product’s release. Product managers, therefore, have to coordinate with all other functions within the company – sales, PR, marketing, and customer support – to ensure that they come up with a great way to take the product to market.
They also need to stay in touch with the engineering team to ensure all features are developed in time.
Traits of a Great Product Manager
Since product management is a multi-faceted role, there are key traits that indicate whether someone is a great product manager.
The Ability to Solve Problems
The role of product management, as mentioned above, requires a lot of other skill sets, and with that constantly comes challenges when it comes to developing and launching a product.
Therefore, product leaders have to be able to demonstrate how they can quickly solve such problems or how they have done so in the past.
Strong Communication and Interpersonal Skills
The core of the product management role is bringing different skill sets together and enabling them to work together toward a common goal.
Regardless of how much technical experience, industry expertise, or product knowledge a potential product manager has, if they lack great communication and interpersonal skills, they probably won’t be the best people for the role.
Determine the experiences product managers have encountered where they had to empathize with a customer and deliver a product/service that met a customer's needs.
A product manager has to look at the product from a user standpoint and generate ideas and plans for the product that will meet the user’s goals.
Passionate and Curious
A great product manager is one who is a firm believer in what the product is intended to do and is always curious to find out how it can be further improved.
Product managers must have a deep thirst for knowledge and understanding because this will eventually translate into them generating even more ideas on how to improve the product.
A great example would be Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, both visionaries who were extremely passionate about their products, which was apparent in how they communicated about their products.
These types of leaders have a deep desire to learn more and make sure they are always innovative and ahead of the curve.
Masters at Handling Failure
Great product managers always know that a product can fail for several reasons, and it is how they learn from failure and make changes that will ultimately determine their success in the role.
If they cannot handle the first exposure to failure, then they are not fit for the level of uncertainty the role can potentially carry.
Sample Interview Questions for Hiring a Product Manager
These questions will help you find the right fit when interviewing product manager candidates:
- How could you improve our product if you are given the role?
- What is your favorite product? What is one thing you could potentially change to improve it?
- Tell me about your last product that failed. Why did it fail, and what did you do about it?
- What is the best way to communicate product requirements to the engineers? How did you do it in the past, and why do you think that worked for you?
The product manager is the most important part of the development team, but more team members are necessary.
Now that you have obtained the product manager, you have developed the core of the team, and the rest of the pieces of the puzzle are easier to fill.
Developers/Engineers Create the Product
Developers are the ones who actually write and launch the code of the software or application. Depending on what your particular project requires, it is typically better to hire specialized resources for that particular technology.
Full-stack developers (masters of all trades) are increasingly common, as they help the company save on costs since it doesn’t have to hire multiple developers – the company can use the same developer no matter what platform its application is built on.
Traits of Great Developers
After you have identified that the developer has the technical experience you are looking for, the following features will help you identify if your candidate will be a “great” developer:
- Good Time Management: Great developers understand that there are deadlines to meet, and they have to go above and beyond to create code that will ensure the application is finished in time. Good developers are therefore great at estimating how much time it takes to complete a certain task.
- Fast Learners and Adaptability: Great programmers easily adapt to new technologies on their own as well as figure out the best resources to help tackle challenges they are not familiar with. They understand that they don't have all the answers, but always proactively search for them.
- Team Player: A great developer listens and contributes to a team environment. This is one of the key factors when hiring any member of the team. If your developers can’t work together as a team, then the development loses efficiency.
Sample Interview Questions for Hiring Developers
These questions will help you find the right fit when interviewing developer candidates:
- What did you not like about your last work environment? What did you like?
- What makes a great developer? Do you reckon you have those qualities?
- What are your hobbies outside of work?
Designers Bring the Vision to Life
A standard development team needs a UI designer to design the pages with which users interact.
- Communicate with the product manager and developers to create stunning visuals for the product.
- Create the visual assets from the initial concept to launch.
- Create wireframes, storyboards, user flows, process flows, and sitemaps to effectively communicate interaction and design ideas.
Great UI designers must be knowledgeable of user interface trends and the best application for a particular product.
Sample Interview Questions for Hiring UI Designers
These questions will help you find the right fit when interviewing designer candidates:
- How would you describe your design process?
- How do you prefer to work with other team members?
- What is the project you are most proud of?
Project Managers Focus on the Project at Hand
The project manager is focused on bringing the product to life, the tasks involved, staying within budget, resources allocation, and deadlines.
For smaller-sized teams that can easily be managed, the team might not necessarily need a project manager, although he or she can play a crucial role in the entire project.
Find the Best Development Team
After you have hired these 4 employees, you have your new development team. You can later expand to bring in even more team members, such as business analysts, testers, scrum masters, and build engineers.
But this initial team should help get your product off the ground while seamlessly iterating as you get more user feedback.
To get the most out of your development team:
- Celebrate wins together
- Avoid micromanaging and trust the process to a larger extent
- Encourage growth and learning; take them to events and buy course material
- Be very open to ideas
- Work with them to hire more team members
When you find the right development team, your product can go far.
About the Author
Chris Peter Kimera is the co-founder of TechTIQ Solutions, a software development agency in London. Chris is very passionate about building highly effective outsourced product development teams that build game-changing solutions.