Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Development Process and the Startup

Blog Post #2 - The Startup and Development Process
As a company grows from 10 people to 50 and then to 200, processes have to adapt and complexity grows. The reality is that product managers can get sucked into the whirlwind of trying and figuring out the best development process. Should you be agile? What about this form of agile or that form of agile, sprint lengths, etc. It's very easy to get sucked into this whirlwind of decision making at the expense of other duties.

The Problem
As a company grows rapidly, job responsibilities start to shift to newly hired specialists. Where once you were a project manager, developer, QA are now in your natural state as the roles get filled in with other "experts". The challenge comes from the fact that expectations and responsibility change at different paces, thus resulting in the need for process to overcome confusion. As a product manager who sits in the middle of many processes and departments (marketing, finance, sales, technology, etc.) you often have to fill in the gaps cause by the separation.

  • Tied at the Hip - First you must realize that as a product manager you are tied at the hip with the technology teams. Their success is your success and vice versa. Don't say "It doesn't matter what process they use as long as it gets done". Partner with technology teams try and understand their motivations and needs. Make sure that you are clear what the needs of the product management team and that those are communicated.
  • Mind the pendulum - Technology can have a tendency to dominate the development process discussion and thus creating a lot of burden on other teams. Sometimes those other teams won't be able to handle the weight of this new process and thus they become a constant bottleneck and have frustrated employees. Agile processes have altered a typical product manager's job quite a bit and so be aware of the impacts to roles/responsibilities. Just be aware that the pendulum of burden is equally shared so that there every group is stretching a little bit in order to fill in the gaps (hiring and change do not happen at the same rate). Otherwise, one group becomes a bottleneck and the target of blame...
  • Embrace change - Change is constant in startups and small companies. As a product manager, you have to embrace that change. Change is difficult for everyone. That disconnect between expectations and a changing reality combined with individual insecurities can result in a lot anxieties. Change has to become part of your job. Much like a great product manager has to embrace saying "No" to stakeholders, a great product manager must embrace change. 
  • Have a checkpoint - It is often the tendency to think one and done and once the process is set it will work for a while. That is never the case. Create a checkpoint meeting after 2 sprints (for example) to let folks know that we will not get it right and we should discuss. It also sends a signal to the team that they should be aware of pain points and jot them down so that they can bring it up at the checkpoint. It gives them an avenue for feedback and frustration rather than unhealthily venting to folks.
Just some initial thoughts on the subject...more to come in the blog post series...

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