Cracking the Code to build an All-Star Product team

A simple hack on building and scaling culture in a hyper-growth startup

Cracking the Code to build an All-Star Product team

By Zen Liu

Have you ever wondered why teams are struggling to perform above expectations even though they consist of your “A” game players. Are you wondering if more incentives, tools, or even implementing a new productivity framework, is the ultimate secret sauce to building an All-Star team?

Look no further, I discovered a secret that boils down to a simple hack:

Get your team to communicate with purpose.

Contrast this…

“Today, I created a new API that does this recursive function to retrieve X data points from X data sources and output in a JSON file that is structured in a way the customer would click”

…to this

“I realised data analysts from the Marketing team is working on improving our customer checkout experience. I created a new API to enable them to retrieve all customer clicks information from the shopping cart page”

Which sentence is likely to elicit an action or response?

Why is it important?

Being a product manager, a significant portion of your time is spent on collecting insights from team members. Be it UX researchers, engineers or data scientists. Having a clear and purposeful communication from the team means listening to less ramblings and spending more time gathering high quality insights that can be funnelled into your decision-making process.

But wait, it’s not about you. It’s more than just that. Making your team go through such a mindset shift also trains them to first find a meaningful purpose, before they even begin. This means they are more likely to accurately define the problem at hand before working on them. Thus, they are less likely to miss the target and waste valuable resources on working the wrong problem.

In addition, you have to be aware that cross-functional stakeholders bring their own perspectives. This means you only have a small window of opportunity to get their attention before they lose interest. By having every member of the team becoming their own greatest advocate of the problem they’re passionate on, it significantly improves the quality of collaboration with other teams.

Now that we have established the benefits of communicating with purpose, let’s look at what is communication with purpose?

Communicating with purpose is…

1. Not telling people what you did. Tell them why they should care.

Instead of: “We use MixPanel to collect user clicks in the shopping cart page, we then take the data and put them into Tableau to create a pie chart, a bar chart and a histogram…”

Say: “We know the Product team is helping customers find more related product recommendations, therefore, we conducted an investigation that reveals 87% of customers tends to select product of price range…”

2. Don’t miss the forest for the trees

Instead of Trees: “23% of drivers clicked this notification, but 15% didn’t see it. So 90% didn’t do anything. But 30% might do something”

Show the Forest: “Notifications are not a sufficient effective way of contacting drivers, as XX% do not see them.”

3. Communication is a 2-way street.

You’ve voiced your points, backed it with data, and articulated things clearly, now it’s time to practise active listening. Active listening means asking questions and taking notes. Remember:

  • It’s ok to ask 1 million questions the first time you are asked to do a task or given a problem.
  • It’s ok to keep asking questions as you go along.
  • It’s NOT ok to work on something without knowing why. Question everything you’ve been asked or told to do. We practice this religiously at GO-JEK.
  • It’s NOT ok to ask the same question for the 3rd time, when you haven’t taken notes the 1st or 2nd time.

How to get your team to communicate with purpose?

Start by laying out the thought process:

  1. What exactly is the problem? Be clear, concise.
  2. Who is your audience? Do they have the same perspective as you? What is their background?
  3. Consider your objective. Do you want to inform, persuade or request an action?
  4. Check for understanding. Provide an opportunity for your audience to react to your message and seek clarity, if needed.

Provide a template

  1. The problem I’m solving is…
  2. I did…
  3. and the results are…
  4. The exact next steps are…

Be Patient

Change is never easy and thus, patience is key. When someone is learning something new and applying it in their everyday life, they are going to experience some level of discomfort. You can make it an enjoyable experience and help them learn better by providing timely feedback.

Be encouraging. Nudge them to practise simple ways to communicate effectively. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and find it helpful. Feel free to share your thoughts. If you want to work with a team of 200 engineers who’ve built 18+ products, check out