Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mike Lunt on "Selling" to the Development Team

My friend, Mike Lunt, writes:

There are many jobs that a product manager may do, and while most focus the vast majority of their time gathering requirements and selling the products to the sales team, I contend that another equally important role is necessary. This role involves selling the engineering team on the value the new features or changes in the product will have for the customer (and ultimately the success of the group). In other words, for a product to be successful, the engineering team must be motivated to implement the product manager’s feedback. Many projects have failed or been plagued by engineering feature creep because the team did not have confidence in the information stream coming from the product manager(s).
A product manager's responsibility is to help the entire product team fully understand and appreciate the needs of the customer. This responsibility underscores the product manager's facilitative role. The most effective product managers facilitate not just customers, but sales, marcom, and developers.

Mike goes on to propose some ways that a product manager can use objective data to persuade developers. While objective data is helpful, I think fundamental facilitation techniques - active listening, the Socratic method, etc. - are what's most important.


Mike Lunt said...

Roger, I agree that facilitation should make up the bulk of the information flow; however, it would also help to show which customers caused the basis for existing features. Instead of using customer A and customer B, engineers often want to have some basis for the features being proposed, especially when prioritzation occurs. For instance, the question about why certain features are being proposed in front of other features seems like a good place to implement some objective data. Maybe a good post on the negative effects of showing objective data might help sway me.

Roger L. Cauvin said...

Mike, I don't dispute that objective data can be helpful. So I don't feel compelled to produce examples of negative effects of objective data.

I do think, however, that the emphasis should not be on features, but on problems that customers are trying to solve. Go here for details.

Mike Lunt said...

Yes, talking about a customer's problems helps the team synergize a solution. I'm glad to hear that adding objective data can be helpful, and in this case, it seems like it would be good to identify which customers are having the particular problems being discussed. My point is I rarely see this kind of objective customer data along with the problems or features being proposed, and it is a good opportunity for the product manager to build additional credibility with the engineering team, especially when the prioritization occurs.