Resources / blog

Help! I’m a secretary to development

Headache 1557802 1280

Or, Why a developer can’t also be product manager

In small companies—and in some not-so-small companies—the development lead often serves as the product leader or product manager. Is this a good idea?

In your team, who is responsible for persona or market definition, requirements, acceptance testing, and feature prioritization?

Like a fox guarding the henhouse, the one who develops a feature should not also be the one who verifies that it meets the market requirement. Product features should be prioritized based on market need and not on available development resources. And the one who is managing the daily operations of product development is unlikely to have time for research on markets and their requirements.

Many product teams—and some executive teams—are confused about the role of product management. And often, this results in product managers who type up meeting notes, update spreadsheets with the team priorities, move “to do” items to the “completed” column—in short, they’re become secretaries to development.

One of the leaders of the Scrum movement told me that he’d never met a product manager he respected. Maybe that’s why today’s agile teams have a product owner instead of a product manager.

I met a developer once who said the key was patience. “I’ll be here long after the product managers are gone. I just have to wait them out.”

Back in the early 1980s, I joined a company in Dallas. This was my first vendor experience and it was one of the best-run software companies I would ever encounter, something I didn’t appreciate until many years later. This company had a very clear job description for those who performed business planning for a single product. The title: product manager.

Now jump to the late 1980s. In his seminal tech marketing book Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore recommended two separate product management titles:

A product manager is responsible for ensuring that a product gets created, tested, and shipped on schedule and meeting specifications. It is a highly internally - focused job, bridging the marketing and development organizations, and requiring a high degree of technical competence and project management experience.

A product marketing manager is responsible for bringing the product to the marketplace and to the distribution organization. It is a highly externally - focused job.

 (Actually, this is still a pretty good delineation of product management and product marketing.)

In 1995, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland formalized the Scrum development methodology. And with it came yet another product management title: product owner.

The Product Owner represents the stakeholders and is the voice of the customer. He or she is playbookable for ensuring that the team delivers value to the business. Scrum teams should have one Product Owner.

Developers tend to prioritize based on intuition while sales teams focus more on active deals in the pipeline. Others prefer to leverage their industry experience. Ideally, a product manager will employ these methods plus customer requests and quantified market data. Read more about the ways that companies make decisions.

Steve Jobs was famous for using his intuition on what the market needed; he generally ignored the advice of industry pundits. Marissa Meyer seems to use data to support her decision-making. But what can you say about Microsoft, Nokia, and Blackberry? Who did they listen to for insights on where to take their products? Did they listen to sales and development? Did they listen to the analysts and reporters? Or did they have meaningful conversations with their best customers?

Sure, there are many companies people use as examples, both good and bad. You can use Apple and Microsoft and Google and others to make almost any point you want to make.

Who in your organization should be making the business decisions about the product? Unlike some, I rely on development to make technical decisions; I want them solving problems. And I want product managers and product owners talking about personas and problems rather than solutions and capabilities. Product managers define the problem; product developers solve the problem.

Developers don’t need a secretary reading aloud from a requirements document; they need context about markets and problems that address a business need.

There is much more to a product than the product: there’s promotion, sales, support, operations. These are strategic decisions about the business of the product. Who in your organization is best suited to make these decisions?

Return to Blogs