Own the tension

A couple of this week’s conversations about platform/product team interactions led to this insight. I’ve been noticing a weird tension between teams that are collaborating on certain kinds of projects and it wasn’t until I applied the 1P/3P framing that the nature of the tension started to reveal itself. The symptom here is that the teams are happily collaborating on the project, but the scope and requirements of this project continue to churn a little bit, like something is pulling at it. “I thought we agreed on this?” … “Well, I guess this is right, but …” Sometimes the tension manifests as prolonged and tortured conversations around shared processes and project governance.

 In these situations, it might be good to check and see if the collaborating teams are in different parts of a two-sided market setup: the “1P team” that cares about the first-party side of the market and the “3P team” representing the third-party side of the market. The project on which these teams collaborate usually involves the 3P team providing means to develop experiences for the 1P team and feels like a great fit at first glance.

The tension arises because even though both sides are in a well-fitting customer-vendor relationship, their scopes go beyond that. The 3P team will likely have other customers who look just like the 1P team, but have different requirements and expectations. These customers might even be external to the company to which both teams belong. From the position of the 1P team, they will have this sense of being treated as “just another customer,” opening up space for heated conversations about “what’s really important here?” On the other hand, the “1P team” will likely be experimenting with ideas that are not aligned with the long-term direction of the “3P team”, leading to frustration around the health of the third-party ecosystem.

This seems like a good example of the challenge of coherence. Each team wants the other to be more aligned with them, to prioritize the work that overlaps. At the same time, each team sees their scope as a system where all parts–including those outside of the overlap–play a crucial role. There’s no right or wrong perspective here — it’s a polarity. And like with any polarity, it’s worth keeping it and the tension it represents in sight. Make it part of the project’s charter. Speak about it at syncs and all-hands. Own it — or be owned by it.

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