I had a chance to lead two discussions last week at an innovation conference organized by Pitney Bowes.  One session was on how development and product management can work better together.

I like to start such sessions with unfiltered comments from development managers about their (good and bad) experiences with product managers. Typically, these include more disappointment than elation… which gives me a chance to recap the critical parts of the product job that development teams don’t see: product managers keeping in touch with the market through constant interactions with customers / prospects / partners outside the sales cycle; and “buffering” the hourly interruptions that come in from sales teams and executives.

It’s all about building and shipping great products, not getting hung up on title or roles.  About understanding how each person (or group) contributes.  And constantly collecting critical customer inputs so that we build what the market wants (= will pay for). We’re in this foxhole together.

I closed with some suggestions for each group:

Six Ways Product Managers Can Help Their Agile Dev Teams

1. Be humble

  • Product Management isn’t the source of most good ideas.  It’s great to have an MBA, but don’t be an MBA.

2. Show up for sprint planning, reviews, retrospectives, demos

  • Be part of the team, get the right thing built.

3. Summarize and share lots of customer interactions

  • Dev should see PdM as a continuous source of curated market input.

4. Buffer Dev teams from urgent/chaotic/irrational interrupts

  • True sprint-busters are very rare. Signal-to-noise in the market is very low.
  • Share how Product filters selected Sales and customer demands.

5. Run the financials with the team

  • Tie work to revenue. Success is motivating, dollars matter.

6. Map and size market segments

Not all users are equal, and our showcase customers are never representative.


Six Ways Dev Teams Can Help Their Agile Product Managers

1. Don’t demand product managers as technical as your developers

  • Different roles, different needs, different skills.  If we’d wanted to be developers…

2. Ask to see customer lists, forecasts and revenue numbers

  • This is what the rest of the company really cares about.

3. Expect your PdMs to translate complex features into simple benefits

  • Most users don’t actually care how that algorithm works

4. Not every user story gets its own ROI

  • Diminishing returns, and rarely meaningful for smaller items

5. QUIETLY sit in on some customer meetings

  • Rule: Don’t speak a word unless your product manager
    specifically requests it.  And only “yes/no” answers to “yes/no”

6. Help lobby for sufficient, relevant, passionate product manager/owner talent

  • Successful products need great tech and great market fit