I started reading a book about Simplicity titled Simplicity: The New competitive Advantage by Bill Jensen, and immediately one of the author’s assertions struck a chord. One of the book’s hypotheses (simplified) is that knowledge workers spend too much time figuring out what to do, leading primarily to diminished productivity and frustration. For large companies, much of this is laid at the feet of upper management, who may craft a concise strategy at the top but fail to disseminate that strategy appropriately within the organization.
In the case of product companies, whose effectiveness is related to how well they can develop new products and bring them to market, this is one function of product management. Product managers are responsible with becoming intimately familiar with the market’s needs in order to identify opportunities to build solutions the market will pay for, and documenting those problems and needs as requirements. (as opposed to building something we think is cool, and then struggling to find buyers)
With this role as market spokesperson, the product manager guides designers to craft a solution that will satisfy the needs so completely that buyers will be lining up to pay. In some organizations, the product manager serves as the designer as well. Either way, when that design is delivered to development, the vision, goals and solution must be clear enough that the developers can craft an accurate plan and execute without getting mired in confusion and endless analysis paralysis. Certainly the feasibility of the design must be validated before the project team is ankle-deep, but much of the programmer-as-knowledge-worker’s confusion can be alleviated by a clear vision of the solution.
Note: Modern design patterns tell us the product should also be simple and focused, but that is a topic for another post.
Jensen cites his research to assert that the 4 primary causes of confusion among knowledge workers are:
- lack of integration of change
- unclear goals and objectives
- ineffective communication
- knowledge management experience
Certainly the integration of change is a big problem during merger and acquisition activity, forcing disparate systems to be blended. Knowledge management is the problem of finding knowledge already present within the organization. But the other two–unclear goals and ineffective communication–can be addressed within a software development organization by product management.