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The responsibilities of Extended and Core Teams

Every time a company plans to implement an IT-related project, it requires a team of professional developers able to carry out the necessary tasks. Usually, the management creates a core team that is responsible for the success of the operation. If the project requires resources that the company lacks, then managers turn their attention to the extended team model. Let’s take a look at the responsibilities of each of the two teams and learn the differences between them.

What is a Core Team?

A Core Team (CT) is composed of several subject matter experts who are led by the core team manager to work on a particular project. These experts co-operate to find solutions for the project implementation, keeping their manager informed about the decisions they make as well as the potential associated risks.

All CT members are equally accountable for the project development process and for the outcomes.

There is no particular or exact model for a core team and the members it should be composed of since employees are selected in accordance with each project’s architecture. However, every team member is responsible for the success of a project.

The most common responsibilities for members of the core team include:

  • Carrying out project-related decisions based on their field of expertise;
  • Soliciting support from the extended team as well as other resources;
  • Leading and directing the extended team;
  • Assessing the efficiency of the extended team;
  • Administrating the project budget.

While most companies have in-house teams of developers, sometimes additional experts who possess the knowledge that the core team lacks may be required. This is why companies consider using an extended team since this enables the in-house team to be reinforced with skilled workers in the shortest possible time while also keeping operational costs to a minimum.

What is an Extended Development Team?

The extended team is a group of experts from outside brought in to augment the company’s in-house team.

One key point is that the extended team complements the core team which means that the company hires specific talent rather than a general product development unit. The company retains accountability for the idea, the product roadmap and other preparatory stages while members of the extended team apply their skills and knowledge to help the company and its core team to successfully achieve the project’s goals.

The extended team remains with the company for as long as required and can help to support a number of projects.

The most common responsibilities of the extended team members include:

  • Delivering subject-matter expertise;
  • Carrying out tasks based on the company’s project plan;
  • Working with the core team as a single entity to remain on the same page and deliver quality products on the due date.

All in all, the Extended Team Model is suitable for all concerned – the company maintains control of the development process while the members of both the core and the extended team exchange knowledge and get to know each other, creating working relationships. The entire process reflects transparency, shared trust and flexibility.

Pizzas, Minivans, and the Innovation Core Team

We’ve all been aware of the benefits of organizing your team with a small, cross-functional core team structure since the early 1990s when Wheelwright and Clark published their seminal research in “Revolutionizing Product Development”. My colleagues and I used to joke that your entire core team should be able to fit inside a minivan.

Today, the principle is being popularized by companies like Amazon using the two-pizza rule – a team shouldn’t be larger than can be fed by two pizzas. Whether pizzas or minivans, whether you apply it to core new product development teams or innovation teams, the benefits of this team structure haven’t changed.

Let’s take a look at how you can apply this cross-functional core team model in your company and what its benefits can be.

The Core Team Defined

Core teams are small, cross-functional teams with responsibility and authority for the delivery of new solutions. The core team approach goes well beyond a gathering of functional liaisons. Core team members fully represent all areas of the organization that contribute to the innovation process and are jointly accountable for market success.

Joint accountability is where the model starts to differ from the siloed, “over the wall” or serial approaches of the past, which saw individual team members held accountable to their vertical functions and measured primarily on the achievement of functional objectives.

Core teams are an effective way to break down functional silos as they move decision making and accountability towards a project-centric model where development happens concurrently across functions, and market success is the primary measurement of team-member success.

Think of it as rugby team, moving down the field in a scrum formation versus a relay race where the baton is passed from one person to the next.

Rugby Scrum by Olga Guryanova

Core teams typically consist of up to eight members with a diverse set of skills and a core team leader. The core team leader in this model is more of a mini general manager than an expert product manager or senior developer. The emphasis is on cross-functional team leadership and, ideally, this person approaches innovation with a business mindset.

There is no one-size-fits-all model for core team membership. Staffing is customized to the needs of specific projects. That said, it is helpful to establish a starting point or base structure for a typical project.

The “core team wheel” graphic below shows two sample core teams – one for a typical existing business team and the other for a new growth innovation team. The wheel is meant to reinforce the move away from a vertical hierarchy with rigid functional silos to a structure where all team members are equals with a common objective of business impact.

Core Team Composition

The core team maps to a network of individual contributors. This outer wheel is referred to as the extended team. Extended team members are individual contributors who play a key role in supporting the core team. They join the team as their skills are needed.

Core Team Characteristics

Joint Accountability

Core team members hold each other accountable and have a shared sense of responsibility for the market success of their products. This shift in responsibility away from functional objectives to team-based success is one of the more difficult transitions for large companies.

Functional managers who are used to having the ultimate say in resolving any issues feel like they are giving up their decision-making authority and control. However, properly applied, the core team approach frees functional managers up to focus on building departmental excellence – people development, tool development, functional process development, and functional strategies.

The functional manager’s role shifts from project-level decision-maker to project supporter while pushing project-level decision-making to the ones closest to the issues. This concept can be reinforced by modifying incentive and reward systems to promote team-based behaviors over management by functional objectives. For example, 50% or more of a team member’s performance evaluation could come from peer project team members using team-based performance measures.

Project Management Orientation


In large organizations, effective communication needs to take place across functional boundaries and up and down the corporate hierarchy. The more functionally siloed an organization is, the more tangled communication becomes, as information has to move horizontally across multiple functions and vertically up and down organization levels. The small, cross-functional core team structure short-circuits this approach and is designed to replicate the communication efficiencies of a small startup within a large organization.

Decision Making

Innovation and new product development requires teams to make hundreds of decisions each week. Timely decision-making is critical. Nothing slows a team down more than the team member who feels the need to go up the chain of command to get “permission” to make a decision.

Using the core team approach, teams are staffed with empowered decision-makers who are trusted to fully represent their function. The role is much more than that of a functional liaison or coordinator. Core team members have knowledge of functional strategies and know how best to apply them to project-level decisions in the context of a cross-functional, jointly accountable team.

For new growth innovation projects, team members work together to prioritize and test “leap of faith” assumptions, experiment to surface customer insights, and progress toward a scalable solution with each team member contributing a perspective from his or her area of expertise.

Core Team Roles and Responsibilities

Core Team Leader Responsibilities

The primary responsibility of the core team leader is successful execution of the product development or new growth innovation project. The core team leader functions as the “general manager” and is accountable for both team and product success. This person has organizational clout, effectively removes barriers to team success, and is the first person the CEO calls if they want an update.

Specific core team leader responsibilities include the following:

  • Maintain responsibility and accountability for achieving business impact
  • Drive team activity from problem validation through successful commercialization and scale up
  • Reinforce project objectives, guide critical trade-off decisions, keep the team moving at start-up speed
  • Maintain accountability to the governance team or new venture funding board
  • Evaluate performance of core team members

Core Team Member Responsibilities

Core team members are accountable for ensuring successful contribution for their defined area of responsibility. In addition, core team members have shared responsibility in working with the core team leader towards the overall success of the project. Core team members fully represent their functional area for project activities and are the functional representative responsible for project decisions. Team membership is designed to ensure cross-functional representation and collaborative project execution.

Specific core team member responsibilities include the following:

  • Make project-level decisions on behalf of their function or area of expertise
  • Enlist the support of other resources and from extended teams
  • Negotiate functional resource needs and assignments
  • Provide leadership and direction to extended team members
  • Maintain overall responsibility for a functional area’s performance and budget
  • Evaluate performance of extended team members and the core team leader

The Extended Team

Extended team members play a key role in supporting the core team and typically join as their skills are needed. They are identified jointly by the core team members responsible for the relevant activities and the functional managers who manage their allocation across the innovation and new product development portfolio. They are allocated to projects on phase-gate approval or as an outcome of a new venture board funding meeting. Extended team members stay with a team only as long as they are needed and can often support multiple projects.

Specific responsibilities include the following:

  • Provide functional and subject-matter expertise
  • Execute project tasks in accordance with the project plan
  • Render a professional opinion on matters outside the core competencies of the core team
  • Work closely with core team members to ensure alignment between their work and project goals

Building a team with diverse skills is a foundational component of any team. This is especially important when dealing with bold innovation where the team is dealing with conditions of high uncertainty. You want entrepreneurial people who can manage chaos and wear multiple hats. Look for a balance of the following skills:

  • Solution Designer: Creatively applies technical and customer experience design skills to build the MVP, prototypes, and design experiments for rapid, low cost learning. This person has expertise in the science or specific technology you are using.
  • Customer Zealot: Emphatic about the customer and customer job to be done; empathetic; personable. This is the person who leads the way with “outside-the-building” validated learning activities, including deep customer problem understanding.
  • Connector: Understands the inner-workings of the organization and partner ecosystem, mines a network of partners and co-creators, removing internal and external barriers to get things done.
  • Visionary Core Team Leader: Leads the charge, rallies the troops, keeps the team inspired, has a business mindset, is tenacious, persuasive, and resolves conflicts.

Serial vs Parallel Development

Serial development is the practice of one function waiting for the completion of an upstream deliverable before handing it off to a downstream function. It takes time, slows knowledge transfer, is subject to interpretation, and leads to finger-pointing when something goes wrong.

Parallel development, the practice of conducting interdependent tasks at the same time, is ideal for the type of integrated problem solving enabled by the core team structure. Core teams reinforce the rich, face-to-face, two-way communication and timely interaction needed to anticipate issues and avoid downstream surprises.

Serial vs Parallel Development

In the following graphic, adapted from Revolutionizing Product Development by Wheelwright and Clark, the arrows depict communication across functions and the darkened task bars represent knowledge transfer. Note how overall cycle time is shortened with parallel versus serial development.

Core Team Formation and Project Duration

With new product development for the base business, the core team is identified and staffed upon confirmation that the idea fits company strategy and is worth an investment to fully define the solution, validate major assumptions, and plan the project.

In most companies with a phase or stage-gate process this milestone is known as concept phase approval. Extended team members become involved as they are needed for planning and new product definition activity, and as trade-offs between product requirements, design approach, schedule, budget, and resourcing considerations are made. The size of the extended team typically changes throughout, with members rotating on and off depending where the product development is in planning, design, test, and launch phases.

For innovation, it is best to keep the extended team as small as possible, pulling in support resources from the base business as needed and on a limited basis while major solution assumptions are tested. The ideal team size is two to three people during the early stages when validating the customer problem and riskiest business model assumptions.

Project support resources and overall project spending will gradually increase as major unknowns are de-risked and the project progresses toward product/market fit and is eventually ready to scale. Along the way, the core team will need to tap into support functions such as legal and compliance, HR, finance, sales, and marketing for guidance to protect core business assets as the core innovation team experiments with customers.

Corporate Leadership’s Role

Instead of tinkering with details or getting pulled into functional disputes, the core team approach frees senior leadership to focus on new growth strategy, portfolio management, development pipeline governance, functional skill development, and ongoing operations.

For base business new product development, leadership governs the pipeline, making go/no-go business decisions at key project milestones. These milestones, or phase gates, are windows into the project. As long as the team is on track, core teams are empowered and funded to execute projects between the gates. For new growth innovation, the governance team (shown below as the Venture Funding Board) establishes areas of focus, sets opportunity size guidelines, sets customer discovery guard rails to protect core assets, and provides a “safe space” for innovation teams to operate.

Accountability for Core Teams

The following graphic summarizes the organizational model with accountability to leadership for both the base business and for new growth innovation core teams.


Most companies today have some form of a cross-functional team structure. The practice has been around for over 30 years. However, it is not enough to put people from different functions on a team.

At your next core team meeting, look around the room. Could you feed everyone in attendance with two pizzas? Could you fit everyone comfortably inside a minivan? If not, try restructuring your team with a small, empowered set of individuals at its core, clear roles and responsibilities, decision-making authority, extended team support, effective core team leadership, and joint accountability for solution success.

Different Types of Product Teams (Core, Platform, Growth, First)

So, you’ve started job hunting in product, and you’ve noticed that not all product teams are born the same.

You’ve seen one job posting which offers a role on the core product team. Your favorite company is offering two entry-level Product Manager roles, but one is with growth, and the other with platform. Which one should you apply to?

And what will happen if you take up your friend on the offer of joining their brand new startup? What does a first product team look like?

So many questions, and so much confusion! Luckily, we’re here to help.

Job hunting can feel like learning a whole new language (luckily Product Management comes with a glossary), and today we’re going to give you a quick lesson on the different, and most common, types of product team.

First Of All, What Is a Product Team Anyway?

Before we dive into the different structures and functions of various product teams, we should take a look at what product development actually is, and how teams work to make it happen.

A product team is formed with various cross-functional roles that cover all areas of development. The team structure will vary greatly depending on the type of product they’re working on, the size of the company, the industry they’re in, etc. But generally speaking, all digital products have very similar needs to get them off the ground. For instance, building a digital product will always require:

Developers and Engineers: Although the no-code community (the process of building an app or interface through drag-and-drop tools rather than hiring a tech team) is taking off in popularity, there will always be a need for engineers and developers. These are the people who actually build the product and make everything work.

Designers: Without any design at all, the users would be sold pure tech with little to no interface. Without good design, a product will receive either little to no attention, or a slew of negative reviews. Without great design, a product will never hit the big time and reach its maximum potential. Research has shown that companies who invest in design early on enjoy greater success.

Marketers: What’s the point of building an amazing product if no one knows it exists? Enter the marketing team. While it could be argued that product marketing goes painfully unrecognized as a separate discipline to eCommerce or community marketing, it’s a valuable asset to any product organization.

Marketers do so much more than just running ad campaigns. They take care of everything from key landing pages and website micro-copy to managing brand voice and image. Never underestimate the power of a good marketing team.

Product Managers: And finally, holding it all together, we have the Product Manager. A Product Manager sits at the intersection between business, design, and tech. That means they understand what the company and the market require, what the users need, and what the technology is capable of.

It’s a juggling act that involves working with a variety of internal and external stakeholders, all the while holding onto the product vision and strategy. It involves a lot of long term, big picture thinking, as well as moment where you need to roll up your sleeves and dive into the nitty gritty.

Interested in learning about different Product Management roles? Check out Decoding Job Titles: The Different Types of Product Manager

Of course, different products and companies have different requirements, meaning that product teams can be as varied in size and structure as any other team. Larger companies may have a Product Operations Manager, who makes sure that everything runs smoothly for the other PMs and their teams. They may also have access to Business Analysts and Data Scientists, and within agile organizations there may be a Scrum Master.

Now we’ve got all that out of the way, we can start taking a look at the different types of product teams.

Core Product Teams: The Real MVPs

When you imagine a ‘traditional’ product team, you’re probably imagining a core product team. These are the teams who build the products which solve customers problems, and work directly with users to give them what they need. (Not what they want…that’s a whole other topic!)

If a company offers one main product (think Canva or Spotify) then the core product teams will be working on this product. In a company that has a whole host of products (Apple and Google) then they will have as many core product teams as needed to build and maintain their offering.

What Does a Core Product Manager Do?

A core product manager does everything that a ‘normal’ product manager does, with the emphasis being on making external stakeholders happy. A core product manager’s main goal is to find a problem that needs to be solved, and working with a talented team of individuals to build a solution.

They’re the owners of the product strategy, and the product roadmap. They work closely with all members of the development team to make sure the right thing is built in the right way, at the right time.

Depending on the level of seniority, Product Managers either manage products, or people. At entry-level, a Core Product Manager will be doing more of the ground work, like working with the product designer on wireframes and translating requirements for the engineers. They’ll also be working on gathering user research and conducting surveys.

When they move to a people-management position, they work with product management teams and oversee more things at more of a macro level.

Platform Product Teams: Keeping Things Running Behind-The-Scenes

Platform product teams really do deserve more recognition for all their awesome work, they’re a huge part of the reason why some of the biggest companies on Earth are able to build the products loved by millions.

Rather than working on products to sell to businesses or the general population, platform product teams build systems and programs that are used internally by the company. For example, they could be building a cloud platform that helps cross functional teams to organize and share their assets.

What Does a Platform Product Manager Do?

A product manager for the platforms team will have to do all the aspects of the PM role that they would do in a core team. However the key difference is tat the company is now the customer.

Instead of researching things like the competitor and the market landscape, the platform teams have to listen to the needs of their teams. User experience is still vital, even when the users work across the hall from you.

A Platform Product Manager will also have to think about the future needs of the company, and weigh up whether what they’re building is what’s needed right now, or if it fits in with what will be needed in the future.

A platform product team will have to work on building something that can scale with the size of the company, as the company is investing in technology that will not be directly bringing in revenue. That means a Platform Product Manager will need to have a good grasp on the business strategy of their company, as well as a handle on the direction it is going in.

A great Platform PM will be able to foresee both the trajectory of company growth, and be agile enough to adapt to any possible requirements changes.

Growth Product Teams: Getting The Most Out Of The Market

You’ve definitely heard the word growth thrown around in dozens of different ways in the tech industry in recent years, from growth hackers to product-led growth strategies. You may also have seen that there are whole teams dedicated to aiding in the growth of a product, or a company’s entire offering of products.

The growth product team, rather than building and launching one product, finds ways to help get a product into more user’s hands, and to identify friction points that may be holding a product back from reaching its potential.

Some of the more common areas that a growth team may look at are things like adoption and discoverability.

What Does a Growth Product Manager Do?

A Growth Product Manager won’t be going through the usual stages of product development, as usually the products they’re working on have either already been launched or is being built mostly by another team.

A Growth PMs job is to identify the little things that might fall through the cracks in affect the overall user experience. They may work on new ways to help users discover new product features, or to identify unexpected use cases, which would open up new opportunities.

They’ll also work closely with the sales team, and with the customer service/support teams, to understand what speed bumps the customers are finding.

Your First Product Team: Speed and Chaos

Of all the teams to be in, this might be the most exciting. Sometimes known as a naive team, are the team brought on to build a brand new product for a brand new company.

Almost everything laid out in front of them is a blank page. This team has to figure out everything from the ground up.

Strictly speaking, most first product teams will follow established methodologies such as Agile and SCRUM in order to control the chaos. Until funding can be secured, operations will usually be bootstrapped, meaning that product teams have to get creative and think outside the box.

What Does a First Product Manager Do?

A first PM has to operate within the dual role of both PM and Product Ops (unless a Product Operations Manager has also been brought on, but it’s uncommon in startups for that to happen so early).

A first PM will lay the groundwork for the future success of the company (no pressure) by selecting resources, establishing processes, and setting out structures. They may also be involved in the hiring of engineers and designers, as they’ll be the person best suited to understand what kind of skills will be needed.

The first step towards building a brand new product will normally be to build an MVP, as it’s something to test and validate the team’s product idea.

If that sounds like something you’re eager to try, why not check out our masterclass on building digital products?

The Role of the Core Development Team in an Agile Project

This excerpt from the upcoming book, Becoming Agile, discusses a necessity in ensuring corporate buy-in for Agile development: creating a collaborative team that can evangelize Agile in the company and shepherd the software engineering methodology through enterprise software development projects.

The key to a successful Agile migration is having the change driven from within. The change needs to be driven by key players throughout the company. Once this team is created they will be evangelists to the entire company.

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The role of this group, which I call the Agile Core Team, is to learn as much as they can about Agile and use this knowledge to outline a custom Agile methodology for the company. The team will collaborate and reach consensus on new processes, then mentor project teams as they use the Agile techniques.

This core team is powerful and influential for three reasons:

They are not a part of line management. There will be very few members from the management ranks but the majority of the team will be “doers.” The people that actually design, build, create, and test the code. This will add to the credibility as the methodology is rolled out to the company. It is not a management initiative being forced upon everyone; it is coming from real people who will be a part of the project teams.

Since the team is composed of doers they actually know the ins and outs of developing in your environment. This is different than when consultants come in suggesting standard practices and disregarding the realities of a specific company. The Agile Core Team has experience with your company and they will use that experience to develop a methodology that knows what to keep and what to discard within the existing practices.

Remember our earlier discussion of awareness, buy-in, and ownership? What better way to create awareness than to have Agile Core Team members come from each functional area. Imagine a member being from quality and going back to the quality team and telling them what is going on with the new methodology, or a developer doing the same with the development team. Having team members from all areas will initialize awareness across the company.

Many companies use outside consulting to get their methodology going. I have seen several companies choose to go with Agile methods such as Scrum, and then have a third party come in and train, design, and deploy the methodology. In my opinion this approach is not as effective as growing the methodology from within. Creating it from within the organization addresses all of the issues with ownership. It is hard to get a team to buy into a process that was forced upon them. Note that there are occasions when an organization is so dysfunctional that it needs to have a methodology forced upon it. This is the exception, not the norm.

Obtain Team Members From All Areas

Once you obtain executive support you can pursue creation of the Agile Core Team. Your sponsor will probably suggest managers for the team, but you need to remind him that part of the power and influence of the core team is they are “doers.” You might also find yourself pursuing the best and brightest people from each area. People with a positive attitude and a pro-Agile mentality. People that are open minded to change. These would be excellent attributes to list on a job opening, but would they be reflective of your current employee mix, the people that you want to embrace the new methodology? Probably not.

If your company is like most you probably have some mix of the following:

Brilliant and collaborative people

People that are brilliant but difficult to work with

People who challenge ever initiative

People who loathe change and avoid it at all costs

You need to make sure the makeup of the core team is similar to the makeup of the company. This will help you obtain buy-in from all types when you begin roll-out.

After determining types of folks for the team, you need to determine team size. A group large enough to capture a diverse set of perspectives but small enough to be, yes, “Agile.” I suggest a number somewhere between 5 and 10 people. Note that if the team is larger you can still make progress when a team member is pulled for a production issue or is out due to vacation or illness.

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