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You need to talk with real users in order to build good software
April 12th, 2012 by Joca

I was reviewing ThoughtWorks latest version of their Technology Radar, which is a great source of information to help you know what’s hot in terms of software development and IT management, and notice it doesn’t mention Product Management (or you can call it Product Ownership) and put Experience Design (XD) only at the “assess” sector of the technique area of the radar.

In my view, Product Management and Experience Design are techniques as critical to successful software projects as DevOps, Continuous Delivery, Testing, Agile and Lean.

  • Product Management role tells what needs to done and in what order.
  • Experience Design role tells how what needs to done should be done, from the user experience perspective.

It is quite difficult to develop good software without those two roles and their techniques. Both should be in the “adopt” sector of the technique area of the radar.

Product Management is not only for systems that will become a product, but for any system, since any system will have users. The Product Management role is the link between system users and the team who will build the system. It is different from the Business Analyst role which is more focused in the business and the owners of the system. And its different from Experience Design role which is more focused on how a user interacts with a system.

The Product Management role is responsible for talking with real users of the system, understanding the pain that the system is supposed to solve for these real users and help define what needs to be developed. Note that a system may be owned by a company, like a ticketing system or an ecommerce system, and this company who owns the system will ask for a certain set of features so they can reach a certain business goal, but the requirement gathering is incomplete if we don’t listen to the real users of the system who normally are customers of the company who owns the system.

If you have a great group of developers, QAs and BAs, all veterans in using Agile, Lean, Testing, DevOps and Continuous Delivery, all of that is useless if you are not able define what is the minimal set of features that can create value for the customer in the first release. And subsequently define the minimal features to be developed and deployed that brings greatest value to real users. The Lean Startup movement calls it MVP (Minimal Viable Product). Mark Denne and Jane Cleland-Huang, authors of Software by Numbers, first published in 2003, coined another term for this minimal set of features. They call it MMF (Minimal Marketable Feature).

The Agile Manifesto says that we should value “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation” and set as it’s first principle that “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”. The issue with these two statements is that it assumes that the customer who is the owner of the system knows what is “valuable software”. However, the customer normally knows what is “valuable software” for him, i.e., he knows what are his business goals that they want to achieve with the system. The problem is that the customer doesn’t know his own customers/users enough in order to define the requirements upon what a system should be developed, i.e., the customer doesn’t know what is “valuable software” for his own customers/users.

It is the Product Manager’s role to understand the users of a product/system, the problem the users have, and should bring this information back to the developers and experience designers so these three roles can jointly come up with a product/system that solves the users problem and, at the same time, meet the system owner’s business goals.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Share your comments below! :-)

8 people like this post.

One Response  
The IT problem | Joca on stuff writes:
March 7th, 2014 at 4:08 PM

[…] In these software development teams it is common to see someone with the role of Product Owner or Product Manager. This is a role I’ve already described earlier: […]

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