Skip to main content

Harmonising Structure

Product Design in Organisations

In the ever-evolving landscape of business, organisations are increasingly pivoting to a product-centric model. This shift, while essential for staying relevant, increasing efficiency, and meeting customer demands, is not without its challenges. Many organisations grapple with the complexities of transitioning from a traditional project or business-line approach to a more dynamic product-oriented structure. This transformation can often lead to confusion, misalignment, and a struggle to find a cohesive rhythm in product development and management. Understanding the variety of approaches to structure services and products is crucial in overcoming these hurdles and capturing new market opportunities. Just like an orchestra requires a harmonious blend of diverse instruments to create a symphonic masterpiece, businesses need to find the right mix of strategies to align their product offerings with their overarching goals. Below, we explore these diverse 'instruments' or approaches and see how they can come together to form a cohesive 'symphony' - creating value and realising the vision of the organisation.

Traditional Product Lines or Units: 

Organisations structure themselves based on distinct product categories. 

  • Each product line may have its own research, development, sales, and support teams. 
  • Example: A tech company may have separate divisions for smartphones, laptops, and wearables. 
  • Traditional Product Lines or Units: Compare this to classical orchestras that have well-defined instrument sections. Like a symphony orchestra with its strings, brass, woodwind, and percussion sections, each product line has its own specialisation. 

Platform Teams: 

Central teams develop and manage shared resources, tools, or platforms. 

  • Other product teams use these platforms to build specific features or products. 
  • Example: Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides a platform that various internal and external teams use to build their applications. 
  • Platform Teams: This can be likened to the backbone of the orchestra, perhaps the rhythm section. They set the foundational tone (platform) upon which other instruments (products) layer their melodies. 

Cross-functional Product Teams: 

Teams are structured around a product or feature, comprising members from various departments (e.g., design, engineering, marketing).

  • This approach fosters collaboration and faster decision-making. 
  • Example: A mobile banking app team might include UI/UX designers, app developers, marketers, and customer support representatives. 
  • Cross-functional Product Teams: Jazz ensembles, where every instrument plays a distinct yet harmonised role. Different functions come together seamlessly, just like instruments in a jazz band. 

Customer Segment Orientation: 

Products and services are designed around specific customer segments or demographics. 

  • Enables the organisation to tailor offerings more closely to customer needs. 
  • Example: An energy company may have services and products tailored for residential, small and medium busine and large industrial enterprises. 
  • Customer Segment Orientation: Similar to orchestras that customise their performances for different audiences – be it for a ballet, an opera, or a standalone concert. 

Mission-oriented Teams: 

Teams are organised around a specific mission or goal, rather than a strict product or feature. 

  • The mission drives what products or features are developed. 
  • Example: Facebook's mission "to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together" might lead to products like Facebook Groups. 
  • Mission-oriented Teams: Think of theme-based concerts, like orchestras performing movie soundtracks or focusing on a specific composer's works. The mission (theme) drives the selection of pieces (products). 

Value Stream Structure: 

Organising teams around specific steps or processes in the customer journey or product lifecycle. 

  • Focuses on optimising specific phases of the product journey from ideation to post-sales support. 
  • Example: A car manufacturer might have teams focusing on design, prototyping, manufacturing, sales, and after-sales service.
  • Value Stream Structure: Consider a progression in a symphony, from overture to crescendo. Each part of the product lifecycle can be seen as a movement in a symphonic piece. 

Service-oriented Architecture (SOA): 

Breaking down products/services into smaller, stand-alone services that communicate with each other. 

  • Allows for flexibility and scalability. 
  • Example: In IT, an e-commerce platform might break down its architecture into services like user management, inventory management, payment processing, etc. 
  • Service-oriented Architecture (SOA): Like chamber music groups, each with a unique sound but able to harmonise with larger groups. 

Matrix Organisation: 

Employees have dual reporting relationships—they report both to the functional manager and the product manager. 

  • Tries to capture the benefits of both functional and product-based structures. 
  • Example: A developer in a software company may report to the Software Department Head and also to the Project Manager of the app they're developing. 
  • Matrix Organisation: Visualise a musician playing multiple instruments or participating in multiple ensemble groups, contributing to the bigger picture. 

Centres of Excellence or Enablement (CoE): 

Centralised teams that provide specialised skills, knowledge, or tools that other product teams can tap into. 

  • Allows for consistent quality and standards across various products. 
  • Example: A data analytics CoE might serve multiple product teams by providing insights and data management expertise. 
  • Centres of Excellence (CoE): Think of specialised maestros or soloists who come in to train, enhance, or perform with the orchestra for specific pieces. 

Hybrid Models: 

Combines elements from various organisational structures to fit the unique needs and culture of the company. 

  • Can be adapted over time as the organisation grows and evolves. 
  • Example: A company may combine a traditional product line structure with mission-oriented teams for new initiatives. 
  • Hybrid Models: Fusion bands that incorporate elements from various musical genres, providing a fresh sound. 

Organisations may shift between these structures or adopt a hybrid approach based on evolving business needs, market conditions, and internal cultural shifts. There might also be the need to establish project teams to deliver a specific outcome or product within a fixed timeframe, or working with other shared functions of the business (eg marketing, innovation and user experience researchers) to define the product opportunity. The key is to ensure that the chosen structure aligns with your strategic goals and enhances its ability to deliver value to customers. If you are looking for support to identify what product means in your organisations’ context and how it might be shaped, we can help support that exploration and what the right fit for your organisation and strategic targets might be.