Product Management-Team Exercises-Carbon Five

Three Team Exercises to Start Your Next Project Right

Emily Mi Cai ·

At Carbon Five, we are always kicking off new projects with different teams, and we have a set of activities that we’ve found to be pretty critical in helping ensure our teams are aligned from the beginning. Here are three activities we’ve found to be particularly meaningful (and check out their templates here).

Visions, Challenges, and Guardrails

At the start of a project there’s a lot of excitement and hope, as well as some challenges, fears, and pressures. The goal of this exercise is to provide a psychologically safe space for team members to express their visions, unearth concerns that could exist in the back of their minds, and start building guardrails in order to know what to look out for as delivery progresses.

  1. Create three sections on a large whiteboard: Visions, Challenges, and Guardrails
  2. Have everyone spend three minutes writing down their visions for the project on sticky notes
  3. Everyone should share the visions that they came up with. When categories start to emerge, the facilitator can begin grouping stickies together
  4. Repeat the process for the Challenges section
  5. Recap the main themes that emerged from Visions and Challenges. As a team, brainstorm ideas the team can implement to de-risk the challenges mentioned (aka, “Guardrails”)
  6. If you’re running short on time or have a lot of participants, pass out dot stickers and have everyone vote on their favorite three ideas 
  7. Take pictures and be sure to document 

It’s much better to air out everything that could be on peoples’ minds early — it can even feel therapeutic. Team members will all be aware of overall themes, as well as things that could potentially come up, and most importantly, action items to help de-risk concerns early.

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Tradeoff Sliders

With so many priorities constantly competing against each other, and at times, many levels of stakeholders, how do you make sure everyone is aligned? One thing we’ve found to be impactful is to facilitate a tradeoff sliders exercise with the wider team at the very start of a project.

It’s pretty simple. Here’s how you can conduct the exercise:

  1. Invite both the delivery team and high-level stakeholders 
  2. Put together a list of 5-6 competing priorities. Here are some options:
    • Finishing fast
    • Validating the user value of features
    • Eliminating bugs as soon as they’re discovered
    • Using extensible patterns that support future development
    • Excellent user experience and interactions
    • Visually-stunning product
    • Building lots of features
    • Validating the business model (enough users become paying customers)
  3. Divide participants into groups. This can be by office, discipline, organization team, etc. If it’s a small team, everyone can fill it out individually. 
  4. Explain each priority with an example
  5. Ask teams to stack rank priorities from highest priority to lowest priority. There are no ties allowed
  6. Share and discuss results as well as everyone’s rationale for their sliders. This will be an opportunity for each group to voice their perspective as well as hear the perspective from leadership 
  7. Based on discussion, document one list as a wider team

Not only does your team now have a list of shared priorities, but this list will also be tremendously helpful when writing your first set of user stories and refining your weekly backlog. Here are some examples of how teams might prioritize differently:

  • A non-profit working on a product for marginalized communities (who already face high barriers) may value having excellent user experience and interactions
  • A team building a productivity tool for entrepreneurs may value building lots of features and finishing fast, while deprioritizing a visually-stunning product
  • A new startup launching its first consumer-facing app may value a visually stunning product over building extensible patterns to support future development

Midway through a project, carve out some time to look back at the tradeoff rankings. Keep in mind things may change as the project moves along, and that’s okay! The document can and should be updated as priorities change. 

The important thing is that you now have an externalized list of priorities that you can use as a pulse check when making key decisions and prioritizing throughout your project. 

Team Survey

Now that it’s just you and the main delivery team, it’s time to better understand your teammates’ preferences, peeves, and working styles. Here’s a template you can start with:

Team-Survey-Template

Give each team member a stack of different colored stickies, have them write their name on it, and ask them to place a sticky on the spectrum for where they fall on each category. 

Next, have each person answer the following questions on a sticky and share it out:

  • If you notice I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I’d love it if you____ 
  • My biggest pet peeve is ____ 
  • I am most productive when ____
  • I am most excited about ____
  • My favorite snack is ____

Now you’ll not only be better acquainted with your team but also understand how best to support each other throughout the project. Happy kickoff! 


Carbon Five is hiring

We’re hiring! Looking for software engineers, product managers, and designers to join our teams in SF, LA, NYC, CHA.

Learn more and apply at www.carbonfive.com/careers

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