Ethan Hunt and product development

What am I talking about?

Every Mission Impossible movie is incomplete without a formidable villain. Similarly, product development in many large organisations is incomplete without delays. Weird comparison, I know. While there is an entire industry dedicated to making stuff agile, we aren’t nearly there. Watch a great talk on this subject, by Dave Thomas.

I have been talking to a few friends across industries. They agree that the most important metric of product development is how fast you ship. Having great ideas is ok. However, if you don’t ship code fast enough, there is no point. Some people pride themselves on shipping code daily. However, others are lucky if they manage shipping it monthly.

What makes fast product development so difficult?

People use JIRA, DevOps, automation, but speed still underwhelms. I tried to analyse why that is the case. In summary, I list 3 key areas where improvements can be made.They are mainly to do with people. People are everything.

De-layer ruthlessly until you get to a performing product development function.

There are simply too many functions and teams involved. Its not unusual to find that the product owner works in one team, while the developers sit elsewhere. The project manager is borrowed from another function. The BA double hats across projects. The scrum masters are roped in like para-troopers. The product owner never sees the developers. Those are recipes of disaster. It is not always possible for teams to be co-located. However, we cannot allow too many layers between the product, engineering and experience. Moreover, you don’t need to “mobilise” every time.

Make sure that the product manager is technical, and has a good sense of experience design.

A Product manager should be able to converse in technical language. In Tech industry, you wouldn’t find non-technical product managers. A product manager should also understand how software engineering works. This allows a product manager to challenge the right assumptions. It also allows him / her to be empathetic towards the team.

Everyone needs “digital” skills. Period.

Digital for many is a discipline. People proudly say they are a digital product manager. There is no such thing as pure digital skill-set. Have you seen a digital department at Google? The product skills are necessary. However, Digital skills are a must have. You can hire a “Digital PM” but rest assured, it will slow you down. To be clear, Digital functions are immensely valuable. However, pure play digital skills are a thing of the past.

It is a hard to make generalisations. These are just some tips. Some of my suggestions are radical. They will take time to implement. However, for mission impossible you do need an Ethan Hunt. Charm. Wit and Charsima with patience.

By Abhi Shah

Hi, I’m Abhi. After living many years in London, me and my family re-located back to India in the summer of 2017. I spend most of my time working with a high performing team at Barclays in Pune, India and the rest with my son Anik! I have spent half of my career in commercial product roles and half in technology. I have also spent over 9 years living outside India, and have traveled to over 27 countries. Visit the Bio section of this website to learn more about me.

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