Why Product Managers should care about Development Culture
Updated: Jan 25
Make sure your tools are optimized.
As product managers, we focus on many things including strategy, execution and mostly connecting strategy and execution. When it gets to development culture many product managers feel it is not their problem because it is the domain of the VP R&D.
While this is true, I do not think that as product managers we can ignore the development culture. The development culture shapes the rhythm of execution and its quality playing a major factor in our ability to deliver value.
You are only as fast as your development team
As product managers, we are constantly looking for an impact. What would be the next problem to solve that will provide the most impact on our business and customers. But sometimes this is not enough. It is not enough to be able to choose the right problem to solve. You also need to deliver it fast to the market, test it on your customers, and make fast iterations to improve and make sure you are solving the right problem and solving it right.
If your team is not fast or efficient, it does not help thinking about the right problem. I remember when I was a younger product manager that I wrote what I thought was MVP for a product and then I realized it will take the development team more than 6 months to develop it. From that point forward, as I realized how inefficient they are, I have put all my energy into moving them to agile.
When I joined my current company, the development team was very fast and efficient, yet they had a release that did not get out for 2 months because of one feature that got complicated. They were not able to get the value delivered to the customers. The first thing I have done was working with them on a process that would allow them to release once a week no matter what complications happen. That had much more impact than any other problem I could have thought worth solving
Align your processes and team structure
I once mentored a product manager that described to me how they work in their company. Product managers define features and prioritize them. But then all features go to VP R&D which distributes them among the teams. Product managers were not working directly with the teams in that company. They couldn’t work truly lean and agile because they did not have any direct discussion with their peers to discuss priority and scope. This, of course, led to heavy releases and inefficient discovery and delivery processes.
They couldn’t change how they work without a coordinated agreement with the development team. What they needed was to move into squads or teams in which every product manager is working directly with their development team on a common goal and discover together with them what needs to be done, how to prioritize and how to scope in an iterative process that happens all the time. This is a change that can be done only together with the development team.
You may have read and decided that as a product team you want to work around business goals. But if your development team is not built in squads around these goals but rather as a functional team, that will make it very hard for you to do it.
For every feature, you will need to split into multiple teams and do the coordination yourself. You will be the only one looking at the goals and how the features you develop meet those goals instead of the whole team looking together with you.
It means that as product managers you should care about the process and have a view about the perfect process for the team, but at the end, you need to work together with the development team to make the right process for both you and them
As a VP product, I also want to be involved in the recruitment process. The type of people the development team recruit, what is their expertise and how versatile they are will determine my capability to define the right roadmap and execute it.
In an ideal process, the recruitment process should be derived from the roadmap and not the other way around. I would like to recruit the right people that will help me execute the planned roadmap but also be versatile enough if the roadmap will need to change.
Transparency and Communication
You may want to communicate regularly with the development team in order to make them aware of customer problems and make sure they know what stands behind the features you develop and empower them to think on their own.
But if their leaders are not aligned with you, they might block your communication and might want to be a filter to this communication.
The development culture influences the value a product can give as well as its quality and the pace in which new value is produced. A good product manager should be willing to be involved in the definition of the development culture and may need to adapt their style to the existing culture for the best fit of product and development processes.