Greasing the Wheels

SkunkworksYou are a Product Manager, and you are in complete control. You write out requirements, and development builds the product. 100% of what development does is the result of your unique insights into the market. Only…it’s not working out that way is it?

Every company has limited development resources. In order to efficiently utilize those resources, Product Managers have to use process to schedule projects on the roadmap. What we have to recognize however, is that there is always “slack in the rope,” no matter how tight you pull the process. To use another rope analogy, you don’t control development; you “push the rope uphill” and affect their direction.

The slack in the process goes by different names: R&D, skunkworks, or proof-of-concept. You can be a processes maniac, or recognize that sometimes there are projects you need to let go. Don’t be a control freak, but recognize when to bring out-of-process projects into the formal process. Look for these warning signs to indicate that a development driven “R&D” project has become big enough to bring into the process:

  • The Executives start asking for status
  • Customers know about it
  • It involves more than 1 developer of each discipline (hardware/software/firmware)
  • The UI gets more than one level of polish
  • A UI designer is involved in any capacity (waived if it’s a UI experiment)
  • It has new functionality hidden in a bugfix (a favorite)

There are a ton more. The point is that you will go crazy and be extremely unproductive if you try to control everything that development does. The days of the programmer as a commodity are over – the best programmers are creative thinkers who generate new ideas and want to see those ideas implemented. The benefit is that they are often relentless workers and go 10, 12, 16 hours a day when they are excited about a problem they are solving. Product Managers should learn to harness that excitement and let R&D projects go…until they get to a certain size and should be recognized as formal product enhancements, or redirected to something else.

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