Product development guiding principle: The basic unit of product development is the team, not the individual

Jason Yip
2 min readApr 3, 2022

Guiding principle in effective product development culture.

Teams are not the same as groups of individuals

Effective product development is not brilliant individuals working independently but rather people working together in teams and teams of teams.

From The Wisdom of Teams, there are 5 factors that distinguish a “team” from just a group of individuals:

  • shared purpose;
  • shared definition of performance;
  • shared working approach;
  • complementary skills;
  • mutual accountability(aka “we’re in it together”)

Shared working agreements over optimising solely for individual preferences

An effective shared working approach is neither everyone works the way they like without consideration of others nor everyone follows a process that has no consideration of individual preferences.

“We’re a team” but each person is playing a different sport. “I’m playing football”, “I’m playing baseball”, “I’m playing rugby”, “I’m playing basketball”, “I’m playing hockey”.
Teams require a shared working approach

A shared team working approach should be a shared decision, likely determined by consent, not consensus.

Team self-selection over team assignment

In Extreme Programming Explained 2nd Edition, Kent Beck said:

“Responsibility cannot be assigned; it can only be accepted. If someone tries to give you responsibility, only you can decide if you are responsible or if you aren’t.”

Because of the need for the shared working approach and mutual accountability, team membership requires acceptance, not just assignment. This is why team self-selection generally works better than team assignment when creating teams.

High performing teams do not become performing instantaneously… but structure should follow strategy

The Tuckman’s stages of group development is a well known model for team formation… which isn’t exactly an accurate reflection of reality… but we can at least say that it takes time for teams to become performing and we need to be at least thoughtful about re-teaming all the time.

Even though the Tuckman model isn’t linear, we can at least say it takes time for teams to reach performing (from Doc Norton’s “Tuckman was wrong”)

Having said that, structure should follow strategy. If the environment and resulting strategy is volatile, then we should expect teams to also be more dynamic.




Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl