Finding Full-Stack Product Team Success

Product can be a nebulous thing. Sometimes, it is a function of IT; sometimes, it is a function of marketing, and other times it is bundled up into an individual line of business. Inconsistencies in ownership and ambiguous mandates can lead product teams in all types of organizations to function as a reactive stop-gap rather than a strategic salve.

A successful product team that can connect customer needs with measurable outcomes over the long term is a full-stack product team. 

What is a full-stack product team? Engineers have long used the term “full-stack” to indicate individuals capable of developing both the front-end and back-end of software solutions. A “full-stack product team” is similarly holistic – it is made up of advocates for each point in the innovation triangle: desirability (design), viability (business strategy), and feasibility (development), with business and design functioning as the “front end” and development as the “back end.” 

To build a full-stack product team, we need to understand why many product initiatives fail, what a successful product team looks like, and how to build one within an organization. 

Why do product teams fail?

Most executive teams install a product team with the right intention. But without a clear definition of the team’s purpose and process, this team often finds itself jumping in to complete the most urgent tasks, anything from customer support to backlog management. 

If a product team is initially installed to quell a growing tide of inbound rising from customer support, the team will naturally migrate toward supporting the engineering organization. They become a support resolution function that lacks strategic vision. If there is a listless drift in product direction, the team may gravitate toward theoretical product visions, often getting kneecapped in the delivery cycle with no bridge between themselves and siloed engineering organizations. Engineering may then lean on “product” as the experts in design, pushing them to “make the solution fit the problem.” 

These kinds of teams may serve a purpose, but that purpose is not product. Furthermore, such teams lack user-centricity and a deep understanding of the complexity of the problems faced by users. Thus the role they fulfill does not realize the benefit and responsibility of a full-stack, integrated product team.

What does a “full-stack product team” look like?

Full-stack product is an organizational design that does not view product as traditional product management alone but as a broader umbrella incorporating customer feedback loops (such as support and marketing), business-centric strategy teams (such as finance, legal, and C-suite directives), and traditional product development practices (such as engineering, design, and QA).

Companies like Netflix, Amazon, Apple are experts at this, even if they don’t use the term. They break down internal silos and install cross-functional teams focused on the three pillars of product success: viability, desirability, and feasibility. This is driven not by individual champions but by a team of collaborators approaching business problems through the lens of business strategy, experience design, and developmental pragmatism. When functioning properly, these teams are champions of product initiatives across the organization, guiding directives and generating measurable outcomes as a function of the shared full-stack vision.

If you are to build a product team capable of providing full-stack product management, they must sit horizontally across your organization. This does not mean any accountability, but a true full-stack product team needs to be granted the operational autonomy to work across business verticals. This requires upward management and ownership skills that many will need to learn within your product org. 

Creating an integrated full-stack product team in your organization

Like all things product, the goal is a moving target that can (and should) be iterated upon to find the full-stack solution that fits your organization. Start small with a pilot team consisting of an entrepreneurial product owner, a pragmatic architect, and a product designer, with the sponsorship of an executive champion. Direct this team to focus on a specific customer pain point the organization is looking to solve. Give this team a dedicated support network in all three pillars of product success: desirability, viability, and feasibility. At a minimum, clear the way for their ability to request information from these functions without barriers to entry. 

If you need to prove the validity of a full-stack product team to a skeptical leadership team, center your measurements and outcomes around the customer. How did the product team compare to other teams when addressing customer needs? Tell the story of how the product team operated horizontally in favor of user-centricity.

Full-stack, integrated product teams are the key to success for all modern businesses, as consumer expectations and demands continue to evolve and competitive marketplaces pivot on a dime. With a horizontal, cross-disciplinary team of the customer, business, and technical advocates, your organization will be able to define a flexible product process that can swiftly and smoothly adjust to meet the consumer’s needs, the market, and your business.