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What Makes Effective Teams — According to MIT and Google

We all want to work in teams that exhibit high performance and solve problems effectively. But while it’s often easier to understand what drives individual performance, team performance is a more complex activity.

There is some great research done by folks at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Google that shows how we can make smarter teams, and the answers are not what you might think.

Building Smarter Teams

In a paper published in Science, researchers split a few hundred participants into randomly assigned 2-5 person teams and spent upwards of 4 hours on a diverse set of activities, including solving visual puzzles, brainstorming, negotiating over limited resources, and playing checkers (as a group) against a computer. Continue reading…

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Play to Your Strengths

One of the things I’m trying to remind myself of this year is “play to my strengths”.

Truly understanding ourselves — our tendencies, preferences, abilities, and the impression we give to others — is enormously important to leading a successful and satisfying life. We often overlook our strengths because they come easy to us. We rely on them so frequently that they almost don’t exist in our minds. We’re typically see our weakness much more often, since it’s more obvious why we struggle than why we succeed. Continue reading…

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What Engineers, Product Managers, and Executives Can Learn from the Volkswagen Scandal

Volkswagen has been eviscerated after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in September that VW had installed “defeat devices” to cheat on their emissions testing.

It turns out least 500,000 diesel cars made by VW were rigged with software that would reduce engine emissions to meet standards, but then turn off to achieve higher fuel mileage. When not in testing mode, the engines released nitrous oxide chemicals at levels up to 38x times greater than allowed by the Clean Air Act. Continue reading…

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The Biggest Challenge With Building Products is Uncertainty

I was recently asked to share my views on three questions around product management for the UsabilityTools blog. My answers are now published along with thoughts from 46 other product managers and I thought I’d share my response here as well.

The questions were good ones and were worth thinking about. In general, I’ve found that building new things is all about creating clarity and alignment and dealing with the uncertainty.

What is the most important quality a good product manager should have?

The ability to think across disciplines and both understand and communicate needs + priorities between business, technology, design, research, users and other stakeholders.

What was (or is) the biggest challenge you were facing and what you have learned from it?

The ultimate challenge of building products is that it is hard to know what will work. You can have an incredibly well engineered, beautiful, and user centered product and it can still fail. Running a good process is how you steady a team’s morale – keeping it up when things don’t work, and not getting cocky when it succeeds wildly.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your and your team’s work?

The most important measure of productivity is time my team spends working in alignment, with a clear understanding of expectation and goals, on efforts they believe will have major positive impact.