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How to Work with Developers


Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.Vincent Van Gogh, Post-Impressionist painter

A2A: How does a product manager work with product development?

Philosophically, think of the product manager as the owner of the problem and product development as the owner of the solution.

In terms of mechanics, effective teams use three key ceremonies: A team briefing, problem discovery meeting, and formal story acceptance. Prior to iteration or sprint planning, kick off a release with a team briefing that includes personas, problems, competitive products as well as KPIs and revenue targets. You’ll find your team is interested to know who will use the product and how your organization will benefit. They also want to know how you plan to launch and sell the product.

Ron Jeffries, one of the three founders of Extreme Programming (XP), advocates the form of “Card, Conversation, Confirmation“ for stories. The “card” is merely a placeholder for the story; each story requires a discussion with the product team and a method for determining when the story capabilities have been delivered successfully. Unfortunately, many teams seem to have forgotten the conversation and confirmation parts; the card by itself isn’t very valuable.

Use a “problem discovery” meeting to discuss new problems and potential solutions before moving ideas into “Ready [for development].” Here, you’ll explain the specifics of the problem including the personas and typical use scenarios. The discovery meeting involves both a product manager and the product team who discuss only a few problems or stories at a time. This meeting reveals ambiguity as well as unarticulated needs, constraints, and outcomes. Some of these will be in your head but not documented; others will be replies to inquiries. “Should the user be able to edit items created by others?” might lead to a long discussion about user roles and permissions. Which will likely lead to more stories.

Based on the discussion, the team takes the lead with proposed solutions. The product manager’s role is to consider the business value and customer fit of the solution.

I recommend a formal “acceptance ceremony” where solutions are demonstrated and discussed. Walk through each capability and ensure that all the needs, constraints, and outcomes have been achieved before the solution is moved into a “Accepted [for customer release]” state.

Treat your team as fellow professionals and not as factory workers. They’ll appreciate it.

The "5 queues" and other techniques are featured in Turn Ideas Into Products, available from Amazon in print and Kindle format.


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