Key practice: Aligned, autonomous cross-disciplinary teams.

Jason Yip
4 min readApr 27, 2023

Key practice in effective product development culture.

Effective product development teams have clear missions that are aligned with a broader overall product strategy. They are expected to act autonomously and empowered with the capability and support to do so. This typically requires the teams to be cross-disciplinary.

Autonomy is about enabling teams to decide and act more quickly.

Teams that need to constantly ask for direction and permission, are slower.

1. Something happens; 2. Send info to decision-maker; 3. Make decision; 4. Send decision back to front-line; 5. Act
Low autonomy teams are slow.

Teams that have all the information, skills, tools, and authority they need, decide and act more quickly.

1. Something happens; 2. Make decision; 3. Act
High autonomy teams are faster

Autonomy means the team is not just taking orders.

Autonomous teams are expected to not just be order-takers.

L. David Marquet has a concept called the Ladder of Leadership. Effective product development teams operate at the top of this ladder. Not “tell us what to do” but “this is what we’ve been doing”.

Team version of L. David Marquet’s ladder of leadership. Arrow pointing to the top of the ladder “We’ve been doing” and saying “Autonomous teams operate here”.
Autonomous teams operate at the top of the ladder of leadership

“Serve the customers to support the organisation” over “serve the organisation”.

“In most companies, technology teams exist “to serve the business.” That is very often the literal phrase you will hear. But even if they aren’t explicit about it, the different parts of the business end up driving what is actually built by the technology teams.

However, in contrast, in strong product organizations, teams exist for a very different purpose. They exist “to serve the customers, in ways that meet the needs of the business.””

Empowered Product Teams, Marty Cagan

Autonomous teams are trusted by the organisation to “serve the customers to support the organisation” rather than just “serve the organisation”…

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Jason Yip

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