Leading Cross-Functional Teams

Always bring the donuts

By Ken Norton

1 min read • Nov 21, 2015


Ken Norton

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I first gave this talk at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in November 2005 and then again at the SVPMA monthly meeting in January 2007. I’m pleased that “bring the donuts” has started to become synonymous with product management. These slides have taken on a life of their own and I continue to get emails and tweets from people who’ve discovered them.

“Bring the Donuts”

Here’s the original deck I used in 2005.

Open Slides in New Window

Slide 1: Leading Cross-Functional Teams – Ken Norton

Slide 2: What I am going to talk about – A disjointed set of learnings – What I wish I'd known before – (There will only be two formulas)

Slide 3: Here's the good news.

Slide 4: You have the resources.

Slide 5: You are completely accountable.

Slide 6: You are ready to go.

Slide 7: But...

Slide 8: You have no authority.

Slide 9: And everyone is skeptical.

Slide 10: Why?

Slide 11: Without sales, nobody would sell. Without engineering, nobody would build. Without support, customers would riot.

Slide 12: Without product managers?

Slide 13: Life would be just fine.

Slide 14: (For a while.)

Slide 15: Organizational structure: What you are working with

Slide 16: What you've probably learned:

Slide 17: Functional organization. [Diagram showing vertical boxes depicting teams with PM in one of them]

Slide 18: Weak matrix. [Diagram showing vertical boxes depicting teams with PM in one of them and horizontal dotted line boxes cutting across the verticals]

Slide 19: Strong matrix. [Diagram showing dotted line vertical boxes depicting teams with PM in one of them and horizontal solid line boxes cutting across the verticals]

Slide 20: What you actually find.

Slide 21: The real world. [Diagram depicting a chaotic soup of boxes and lines with PM somewhere inside]

Slide 22: The reality. You will not be closely supervised. Little to no authority will be handed to you. You will not have direct managerial oversight for the people who work on your stuff. You will be highly accountable for success (or lack thereof).

Slide 23: The team: Who you are working with

Slide 24: 7‡2 Ideal team size.

Slide 25: 7‡2 (That's the first formula)

Slide 26: Always trust your instincts.

Slide 27: If you don't have the right team, get it.

Slide 28: There is nothing more important to invest 'political capital' on.

Slide 29: Communicating: How you are working with who you are working with

Slide 30: There are only three things you need to remember.

Slide 31: 1. 'Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.' (General George Patton)

Slide 32: 2. Communicate to different people in their own language.

Slide 33: 3. Represent the points of view of the people not in the room.

Slide 34: How to get respect from engineers.

Slide 35: Clear obstacles. Always take the blame. Ask smart questions. Explain the 'why.' Empathize. Bring the donuts.

Slide 36: How to get respect from sales

Slide 37: Know their number. Get on the phone with customers. Make promises so they don't have to. Help them be creative. Bring the donuts.

Slide 38: How to get respect from executives.

Slide 39: Have a vision. Be patient. Know your competition. Make your commitments. Bring the donuts.

Slide 40: How to get respect from customers.

Slide 41: Understand what they want. Call them out of the blue. Keep your promises. Take the blame. Bring the donuts.

Slide 42: A.B.S.

Slide 43: Always Be Shipping. [Photo of a container ship]

Slide 44: Nothing helps a team become efficient more than a steady release tempo.

Slide 45: Agile development.

Slide 46: Can be extremely effective.

Slide 47: But requires hard work and experience.

Slide 48: If you do nothing else...

Slide 49: Have a fifteen minute daily meeting.

Slide 50: Ask your team three questions: • What have you completed since our last meeting? • What will you have done by tomorrow's meeting? • What's standing in your way and how can I help?

Slide 51: Estimating work.

Slide 52: Product Manager: 'When can you get this done? Today?'

Slide 53: Engineer: 'Well, I think it needs more time.'

Slide 54: Product Manager: 'We need it ASAP What about tomorrow by end of day?'

Slide 55: Engineer: 'Uh, OK.'

Slide 56: The right question: 'What needs to happen for you to finish, and what can I do to help?'

Slide 57: Rule of thumb for estimates.

Slide 58: Likely estimate (L): 'How long do you think it will take?'

Slide 59: Pessimistic estimate (P): 'OK, but what's the longest it could take, accounting for unforeseen roadblocks?'

Slide 60: Optimistic estimate (0): 'What's the least amount of time required if everything goes well?'

Slide 61: (0 + (L× 4) + p) / 6 – What you plan.

Slide 62: Another rule of thumb for estimates.

Slide 63: Never assume more than 5 hours of progress per developer per day.

Originally Published: November 21, 2015

Ken Norton is an executive coach who works with product leaders. He spent more than 14 years at Google where he built products used by more than 3 billion people.

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