Good product teams play jazz

There’s no shortage of frameworks and processes, models and methods in product management. And they are all good thinking tools, conversation starters, and learning opportunities for teams to develop their practices. But as teams develop those practices it’s good for them to hold onto the lessons they learned from using the frameworks but be freed from following a fixed process.

Good products teams learn to play jazz.

They don’t need orchestration. They don’t have a central controlling role. No one leads the team or assigns the work. The team does this themselves. They decide together.

They don’t need a plan. They have the confidence to develop the next step based on what they doing together now. They bounce off each other, develop new ideas, try things, drop things that fail, get out of sync and back in sync. They adapt their work as things change.

They don’t work in isolation. They understand each other’s skills and perspective, share what they’re working on and change it as others change what they’re doing. Their ability to actively respond to each, to adapt, comes from a mutual respect and encouraging interplay. They jam together.

They don’t ever stop practicing. They are constantly learning, improving their skills and their understanding of each other’s skills. They revisit foundational knowledge and introduce new opportunities to learn. They turn to guiding principles rather than strict rules. Their knowledge becomes intuition.

It’s this ability to improv that shows the maturity of a team better than any output metric. Because the ability to improv only evolves with psychological safety, team cohesion, and all the other things that are necessary for good teams, it is the best indicator of a mature and successful product team.