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Field Trips and Career Days

Part of facilitating a successful product team is to have developers that buy into a market-driven vision for the product. Developers have a natural tendency to be motivated by cool technologies and features that may work against a product that solves real problems in the market. Company executives and the product manager can work together to overcome this tendency, but only by building consensus in the development team for a market-driven approach.

One way of fostering buy-in for a market-driven approach is field trips. On top of the normal prospect visits he should be making, let the product manager bring developers to customer sites to observe and experience use (or non-use) of the product in real life. Better yet, have career days in which each developer actually sits in for a customer and plays her role for the day. You will have to get permission from customers, of course, but you have two strong arguments to convince them:
  1. Your team, for free, will do your customers' work for them.
  2. It ultimately benefits the customer for your developers to understand the user experience.
Use the field trips to draw attention to the problems that the product is supposed to solve. Use them to gather new information that developers learn.

A product manager's role is to understand the market and communicate that understanding to the product team. To get buy-in from developers, it's not enough to throw market requirements documents at them. Field trips give developers the perspective they can get only from first-hand experience.

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