Do you know what it’s like to be truly indispensable to a company? If you are a Software Engineer, then you probably have your ear to the daily hum of techie hordes with comparable skill sets to your own, and you know that an army is only made up of many small soldiers. What sets you apart? You had been surprised to find that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with coding skill or technical prowess. No, members of the Development team who are leaders in the trenches and rockstars on the battlefield are the ones who know how to reach beyond their expertise and connect with business strategy.
Even though Software Engineers do not get to sit in a boardroom and define company vision, their relationship with Product Management plays a crucial role in determining what market problems are being solved and whether or not a product is being created that deliberately upholds and maintains the overarching company vision.
In order to develop this crucial skill, you need to understand the role of Product Management and the challenges they face in order to demand a smarter, more streamlined development process. By continually forcing a connection between business strategy and product development, you will rise above the minutiae and climb the ladder of success.
Often there is a deep contention that exists between those who write the product requirements and those who develop the actual product, and part of the reason for this is that Product Management doesn’t always provide developers with a credible understanding of the market that drives those requirements. The famous quote from Peter Drucker is true: ”Know and understand the customer’s problems so well that the product builds itself.” Unfortunately, Product Management doesn’t always understand or communicate customer-centric problems to Development, which results in a fair share of distrust between the two teams. Or, to be fair, they are unable to prove that they understand the problems because they haven’t collected enough market-driven data to back up their opinions.
There are a handful of other issues. Developers complain that requirements aren’t specific enough, and they sometimes feel tossed about on the whim of changing priorities. The typical development process makes it difficult for teams to accurately predict what will be delivered and when, and it feels like more time is spent estimating than building. Sometimes, there’s a feeling that development is never finished, and it can become easy to lose sight of the completion of a release. Amidst all these, the “us vs. them” mentality takes hold and can make it difficult for good communication to happen between teams.
This is where the indispensable software engineer comes in. Instead of participating in the mentality and complaining, you can work with Product Management to help them understand their responsibility to provide clear and prioritized requirements based on real market data and then tactfully hold them accountable.
In order to work well together, each team needs to clearly understand their roles and responsibilities. There is a considerable amount of role confusion, though, that holds companies back and keeps Product Management and developers from working well together. For example, many Product Management teams, in identifying market problems, want to make design decisions related to user experience, even though it is not ultimately Product Management’s responsibility to design ANY part of the solution. The true division of labor is: Product Management brings problems to light, and Product Development solves those problems, using creativity and ingenuity to design the solution for both the user experience and the back-end.
Along with role confusion and lack of good communication, there are a handful of issues that result from the weak collaboration. Sometimes Product Management provides product specifications (over-stepping their role) instead of simply providing clearly defined market problems, or they fail to provide suitable artifacts as evidence for market problems they are claiming to have. Lots of problems arise from the basic distrust from developers that product management is not necessarily prioritizing requirements based on the market, and the burden of proof lies on the unrelenting software engineer.
With better-understood roles and members who demand a more open intertwining of product development with product management, a company’s vision will be astoundingly easier to achieve. If you are a part of the embrace of this vision, then you’ve tapped into the true secret to product development success.
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