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How to Create a Killer Product Team

How to Create a Killer Product Team

foodora’s head of product design shares how her team became a transparent, user-oriented chapter that learns quick and delivers faster.

“Paired designing helps us to be more transparent, communicate more and fill the gaps we have; switching [to cross functional teams] helps us focus on the user and their journey”

-Karolina Skalska, Head of Product Design, foodora

foodora’s product and tech teams used their recent merger with foodpanda as an opportunity to restructure the way the teams think and operate. Head of product design Karolina Skalska (Skali) shares how foodora implemented both cross-functional teams and paired design in order to:

  1. Challenge designers to be user-focused
  2. Increase team transparency, communication and learning speed

foodpanda turns pink!

Food ordering platform foodpanda was acquired by Delivery Hero, who foodora also operates under, last December. foodpanda now sports foodora’s signature pink color but continues to operate under its own name in Eastern markets like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Pakistan. The foodora and foodpanda product and tech teams have merged as of February to build one global front end for web, iOS, and Android that will serve both brands separately.

foodora and foodpanda now share one global, pink interface.

foodora’s product and tech leadership were tasked with merging the two products and teams to create a white label skeleton for the brands in a matter of eight months. To quickly tackle the merger’s challenges, foodora’s teams were completely restructured: cross-functional teams were implemented to make the teams more user-focused, and paired design to quickly fill talent gaps and get closer with designers from foodpanda to tackle the communication challenges that arose from the merger and change in structure. These initiatives ultimately aligned the merged “pandora” team to work towards creating the world’s most friendly food ordering platform.

Cross-functional teams keep your product user-focused

At foodora, product design teams used to be platform oriented, meaning they were siloed by iOS, Android, back-end, front-end, quality assurance and design. Skali recalls that foodora’s tech team leaders were already thinking before the merger about changing the structure to support more function-oriented work to focus on the user and their journey.

While the timing for the change was less than perfect with the challenge of merging products and teams hitting the leadership team, they took the opportunity to introduce foodora’s take on what is commonly referred to as the Spotify model.

A mini-example of how foodora distributes its team members by stages in the user journey.

foodora’s new model sorts teams into vertical squads (user functions) and horizontal chapters (technical functions). In contrast to the Spotify model, chapters are the main focus because that is foodora’s strong suit and helps team members better deal with major challenges.

Each squad focuses on one part of the user journey, guided by its own OKRs, KPIs, and long-term mission.

The new team structure reflects this user-oriented mindset. For example, there are separate squads for ordering, restaurant discovery, and checkout, each with their own designers, PM, front-end, back-end, iOS, Android, QA, and TA. This adjustment was challenging for the team at first;

“When the team was smaller, designers had ownership of what a whole product looked like, but are now responsible for just one core focus in a certain area of the user experience, which I think at the beginning was terrifying”.

However, once they adjusted to the new technique, the team found that it created a sense of ownership and forced them to critically analyze the part of the user journey that they were responsible for creating. This ultimately drove them to make their function as efficient and enjoyable as possible for the user.

Additionally, squad autonomy is key to making local decisions and minimizing approval and delivery time, which is imperative when working on a tight timeline like the pandora team.

Paired design: increase transparency, share skills and efficiently produce quality work

“We are putting a big focus on training people. When we see we have some skills missing, we try to fix that with pair designing”.

Paired design has two designers sit together and work collaboratively to solve a design problem. Within the new cross-functional teams, foodora introduced this concept as one of the design chapter’s OKRs to improve communication and design skills.

This strategy is extremely effective for four main reasons:

Skali can’t remember a time in the past month that she sat alone and similarly, challenges her designers to pair up with every other designer in the team at least once a month for a day. She has watched its effects on her team first hand:

“The quality of work definitely improves when you’re working together and you learn a lot. You might see some cool tricks in Sketch or learn how other people are dealing with challenges”.

Community builders: the glue holding the new structure together

To maximize the effectiveness of these two structural changes, foodora’s design team has adopted a variety of team rituals aimed at building an inclusive design culture. Weekly designer breakfasts are a casual time to hang out and get to know each other (How fitting of the food company to come together over a meal!) Breakfasts sometimes feature creative workshops like content writing or screen printing as well.

There is a ‘Magic Box’ where team members are encouraged to drop positive messages for each other, and designers are asked to rank on a scale of 1–10 how they are feeling each week. These tools are used to ensure that team morale and confidence is high to keep everyone aligned and working in solidarity.

Food for thought

You don’t need to be experiencing a merger or fundamental company change to re-structure your product team. It’s also important to consider that change doesn’t need to happen all at once; each of the practices highlighted in this article, while complimentary to each other, can be independently effective depending on what you are trying to achieve:

  1. Cross-functional teams increase velocity and keep teams focused on the user’s journey in the product and their experience with each of its functions.
  2. Paired Design quickly develops transparency and more skilled designers.
  3. Non-work related Community activities build trust and alignment amongst team members.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Skali at foodora for sharing how the tech leadership team at foodora is innovating the way they create products. To learn more about foodora’s incredible design culture, check out their medium publication and instagram account.

The merged pandora team sporting their new “pink is the new black” team gear.

Taplytics is a product experimentation solution committed to helping teams build great digital products. By encouraging companies to execute, listen then iterate, Taplytics helps them validate product decisions with live user data to prove that they are making a positive impact.

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