Building a World-Class Product Organization with Atlassian CPO, Joff Redfern

Every few weeks we host talks with Product and Marketing experts to discuss strategies, tactics, and pro-tips they use to ship great products. The events are a chance to asktoday's leading Product Managers and Marketers about whatever is on your mind — from go-to-market, to team composition, to coordinating your next launch.

These talks and AMAs are for members of the Launch Awesome community, the go-to-place to learn, discuss, and connect with Product and Marketing leaders that want improve how their companies launch new products and features. Our goal is to create a space where the next generation of Product and Marketing leaders can come up together.

Interested in joining? Request an invite here.

Introducing Joff Redfern, CPO at Atlassian

They say once you’re lucky and twice you’re good. Well if that’s true then Joff Redfern’s career has been pretty damn good. Both of his last two roles have been building product teams at companies during a period of hyper growth - first at LinkedIn and now at Atlassian.

Those periods of hyper-growth gave Joff an opportunity to see what few often have the chance to see - what it’s like to go from a quite small to quite large team in a relatively short period of time. These experiences helped Joff to form his outlook on building product teams - and he was kind enough to share those insights with us.

Product organizations are like a shipyard

As a product leader in a scaling organization, you have to start removing yourself from the day-to-day of making product decisions and instead focus on building the product team that will build the product.

He likens this to a shipyard saying “the products (or ships) we produce can only be as strong as the shipyard that produces them.” For example, if you wanted to build a large oil tanker to move oil from the Middle East to a developed country, or you’re looking to move cargo from China to the US, or you’re looking to build a beautiful wooden boat with a mahogany top, or if you wanted to build an America’s Cup racer that’s a carbon fiber boat — each of those would require you to have a different shipyard in order to produce it as the scale and quality you require.

When you think about this, it’s very similar to how one could think about product teams. At different stages and sizes of the company, your product team will have different needs. At first it must be scrappy, able to move or even pivot quickly. But after a time, the product will need to become more reliable, more dependable, able to facilitate many people working on it at the same time.

Your product organization itself must change as the demands for what your product is and does change.

If your product team is like a shipyard, then what are the parts that actually make it up?

  • The people that in it
  • The practices use they use

The people

Product management itself is an interesting field in that there are several different archetypes of product manager one can become and still be successful. As Joff put it, PMs all fall somewhere on the PM Craft Triangle spectrum. It’s this spectrum of 3 competing voices running in a PMs head that shapes how they approach the craft - the General Manager, the Scientist, and the Artist.

As a PM, you need to think about where you are currently are where you want to be. For PMs earlier in your career, it’s probably best to be towards the center and shading towards one corner - for example, you might well rounded with a Scientist forte.

Every company needs a balance of having different types of PMs  - and as a product leader it is your job to make sure you have the right type of PM in the right role. For example, a PM that is rather design oriented and likes to get in the weeds about the UX of a new feature might perform poorly in context that is very data dependent.

Regardless of where you fall on the PM Craft Triangle, the 4 qualities Atlassian actively cultivates within their PMs are: leads and inspires, product mastery, drives outcomes, and is a great communicator. Being a great communicator is the most important of the four, as it’s hard to have success in the first three with it. It’s so important that it’s one of the primary things Atlassian screens for when hiring new PMs —  having applicants give a presentation, submit a written sample.

The practices they use to build product

This one can be a bit harder because you don’t want to be prescriptive about how people do their work - it feels micromanagey. It’s better to give people a clear understanding around what the goals are and let them figure out the best way to get there. Joff describes this as wanting your teams to loosely coupled while still being tightly aligned - not too bogged down by process or layers of management, but still all rowing in the same direction.

Joff brought up that if you really want to showcase a particular way of doing things, highlight someone in the company that’s having a lot of success with doing it, people will naturally reach out and ask about their methods.

The right balance is going to be different for every team so it’s something you should revisit from time to time to get a temperature check.

If you want to succeed in tech, stay in front of the waves

Joff’s dad gave him some advice for how to be successful working in tech and that was to “stay ahead of the wave”. Tech tends to advance in these S waves:

While at LinkedIn, Joff had the advantage of riding two major paradigm shifts at the same time - the emergence of socials networks and explosion of mobile devices.

When thinking about what kind of company you want to work for you need to be careful, it’s just as easy to get onto an elevator that’s going down as it is to get on one that’s going up. You need to think deeply about the market context around where you choose to work.

Join us for future events

We put on events like this every few weeks and would love to see you in the community and at the next one! Request an invite here.

Additional resources
Additional resources
Additional resources