Happy Teams Build Great Products. Here’s How.

Janet Brunckhorst ·

Ever feel like your product team is not working to its full potential? Here at Carbon Five, we’ve worked with hundreds of product teams, and we wondered what differentiated strong teams from struggling teams.

Our curiosity drove us to create the Product Dartboard, a digital tool that helps teams identify their strengths, challenges, and blind spots, and provides teams with actionable steps to continuously improve.

Speaking of continuous improvement — we just released a few updates to the Dartboard. Now you can see a more detailed Dartboard report, facilitate a productive team discussion with our downloadable guide, and create your own follow-up assessments — which is critical to team success!

How does it work, you ask?

Step 1: Measure. Each person on the team takes the ten-minute, 12 question online assessment. Results are completely anonymous, so everyone feels safe (more on that later) …

Step 2: Learn. Visualize the results to understand the problem and create an action plan. We just introduced a downloadable facilitation guide to help teams have productive discussions about how to improve.

Step 3: Build. Implement proven processes to improve your team. Yes, we have suggestions for what to do.

Step 4: Repeat. Teams and their environments are always changing. When your team takes multiple assessments over the course of a project, you can see improvement and continually improve along the way.

What’s Behind the Dartboard Analogy?

Product Dartboard is made up of 12 prompts, each of which measures your team for a particular dimension (the pie-shaped wedges around the dartboard). The dimensions include product, team, and personal aspects of an organization, all of which are equally important to team success. In the assessment, each dimension on the dartboard is expressed as a statement. Each team member assesses the extent to which they agree with that statement on a scale of 1 to 5.

There are five “positions” for each dimension — 1 is on the outer edge of the dartboard, and 5 is at the bullseye, so you can arrive at a quantitative — and graphical — expression of the results.

Why These 12 Dimensions?

The Dartboard’s dimensions — and the questions in the assessment — are based on my research into the traits of effective teams who build successful products. I drew on work from management theory, game development, Lean startup, and Google’s Project Aristotle.

I chose these traits to work for startups and enterprise teams alike and to cover a range of interpersonal traits (Does your team feel like they can discuss difficult questions in a fair and open way?), product strategy questions (Do you understand the people who will use the product? Do you have metrics in place to calculate successes?) and guardrails that improve the chance of product success (Can everyone on your team say what they’re supposed to be doing on the product?).

For every dimension, I included further reading on the trait and why it’s important, so if you’re not sure why we chose to measure it, you can jump down the rabbit hole and see for yourself.

Let’s Focus on a Few Dimensions

One dimension we’ve explored extensively is Clear Responsibilities. People on your team need to know what their job is. And what it isn’t. When they know, they’re more likely to act autonomously and collaborate confidently. When they don’t, trouble arises. Team members can end up doing the same work, which is demoralizing and potentially creates conflict. Work can get dropped on the floor because no one feels accountable. And people can take advantage of the situation by circumventing process because the team isn’t sure when to push back.

To understand how your team scores on the Clear Responsibilities dimension, each team member ranks this statement, on a scale of 1-5: I know what my responsibilities are; I understand what I can accomplish alone and where I can collaborate.

We also think Achievement is a strong indicator of product team success. Achievement means something different to everyone, but there are a few shared attributes. There’s a goal. There’s some challenge. There’s some reason behind the work. And there’s a sense of progress. All of this contributes to better morale, and a more motivated team.

Teams that don’t feel like they’re achieving are flat-out unhappy. The most extreme outcome is that people start leaving or checking out emotionally: long lunches, Facebook, anything to distract from the pervasive feelings of hopelessness. Productivity takes a hit. If a team isn’t achieving, it gets expensive really fast.

To assess this dimension, users rank this statement from 1-5: My team achieves something on a regular basis.

Let’s look at one last one. Clear, Shared Vision looks at how aligned your team is on vision, which affects the product at every level — from being able to get buy-in or funding, to making day-to-day decisions on how to implement features or prioritize work.

If you don’t know what you’re working towards and why, you’re going to lose focus. Ensuring the vision is shared sometimes means making it more tactical. An experience map is a great tool for helping a team understand how the vision translates into what they’re going to build.

To understand if your team has a clear, shared vision, team members rank this statement from 1-5: There is a vision for this product and it has been clearly communicated. Team members have a shared understanding of what they’re trying to achieve.

Anonymous Answers = Safe Teams

When teams take the assessment, their answers are totally anonymous. That’s because it’s about the team, not you. We want everyone on the team to be comfortable providing honest feedback without feeling like they’ll be singled out. This promotes psychological safety on your team. The goal is to understand what is and isn’t working and talk about it candidly with an eye towards solutions, not to pin blame on one person or see if someone’s feelings make them an outlier.

If you’re comfortable naming your score and talking it through with the rest of the team (i.e., “I gave us a 2 in understanding process because we haven’t been writing enough stories to have two weeks worth of backlog, so we’ve needed to slow down and write stories while the developers waited.”) you can talk about your own score, but it’s not mandatory.

An Example of the Dartboard in Action

It is very rewarding for people to see their growth as a team. When a team uses the Product Dartboard multiple times, this change visible: as your team changes, the colors and shapes within the Dartboard shift. It becomes a source of pride for a team to see how far they’ve come.

Here is an example of a Product Dartboard Before & After.

This is from a large, distributed team that had been working together for some months. Their product replaced an existing tool, and was part of a complex system of business software.

In the dartboard above, we can see that this team has multiple areas of concern. Clear responsibilities, Shared Process, Clear/Shared Vision, Valued Talent, and Achievement are all ranked low on the Product Dartboard. Upon review and further discussion, the leadership team decided to focus on Clear, Shared Vision — as they believed it affected all areas of the project.

Initially, the leadership team was surprised that this was an area of improvement for them; they had stated their vision multiple times. They realized that they hadn’t done a good job of connecting the vision to the their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) the team was building.

This meant that on a distributed team of 30+ developers, the team did not know what was the most important thing to build. This became a major “aha” moment for the leadership team, because they realized their lack of a Clear, Shared Vision was directly affecting the product.

People were pulling the product in different directions and working on things that didn’t serve the team and their immediate goals. Those tasks may have been important in the long run, but they were not the most important thing to do at the time.

The leadership team immediately swung into action. The Technical Manager addressed the team right away. He called a meeting and clearly laid out the MVP – this set expectations and a time frame to work around.

Now, the team feels connected to the business outcomes. They followed up with planning, information radiation, and story-mapping to help the team get aligned with how they want to build the product and eventually add on to the MVP.

This is the Product Dartboard after the team made these changes. You can clearly see great improvements across most dimensions. Additionally, it supports our hypothesis that one dimension was affecting many others.

Facilitation is Everything

After using the Dartboard with dozens of teams, we noticed a correlation between the quality of facilitation in the team’s conversations about the results, and the results that teams got on subsequent assessments. The teams who have gotten great value out of the dartboard were those who had a strong facilitator on their team, or someone who is really committed to team improvement.

The facilitator not only runs the workshop or conversation, but they also do a good job of guiding discussion and creating something actionable to move forward with. We have skilled, experienced facilitators on our team at Carbon Five, and we want to help product team members improve their own facilitation skills. One of the improvements we released this week is a downloadable guide for facilitators, with resources and activities that help the team uncover the underlying issues that are revealed by the Dartboard.

First of Its Kind

And on top of that, there are plenty of ways to measure the success of products, but until now we haven’t had great measurement tools for teams. Sure, there are HR tools, engagement tools, and similar tools that help you think about your team, but none address the unique needs of product teams. Until now.

The effectiveness of a team and the quality of the product are connected. Therefore, rather than thinking: “is my team happy?” or “is my team engaged?” why not ask “is my team building a great product?” and “are they sufficiently engaged to do that”?

When you take the time to ask these questions, it is empowering. Oftentimes, leadership tends to just focus on people’s feelings or one person’s subjective view. By applying the Product Dartboard, we can focus on a more objective way to visualize the feelings of an entire team in an aggregated way.

Once you’ve done the assessment, the real work starts. This is a clarifying moment for the team. With these results in hand, teams can perform a root cause analysis —do these results resonate? Do we understand how we got here and does it feel right? What’s our area of focus — what are we going to prioritize? These questions get to the root causes, allow you to identify the problem, and set you up to find the solution and take action.

Want to see how your team scores on the Dartboard? Sign up here.