It's either Product Managers or the Invisible Requirements Monkey

Posted on 8 August 2011 in Work (2 comments)

Today I was forwarded this graphic from one of my now ex-colleagues at the BBC. It's about how developers, designers and project managers see each other.

The war between developers, designers and project managers

The first thing I did was smile because, sadly, there's an element of truth in it. Well apart from the middle one - I'm not sure most designers I've met really think they look like that.

The second thing I did was realise that there was absolutely no sign of Product Managers anywhere! An outrage! What were we, I replied to the email? Invisible requirements monkeys?

As soon as I said that throwaway comment, I realised that there's an element of truth in that. I've been recently looking for my next role (cue obligatory plug for my LinkedIn profile!) and you'd be amazed at how infrequently "Product Manager" turns up on a job search. If you search for "Product Manager" on many job websites you'll probably end up with a ton of Project Manager results instead. It says something. It says that in many companies there really are no product managers.

In many organisations requirements really do just appear out of nowhere, often just lobbed in the direction of the development team with the hope that they'll just magically happen. There's generally little steer or detail other than that it's very important. And it must be done. And everything is always important, and everything must always be done. At least four of the requirements will also contradict each other. The Invisible Requirements Monkey has struck!

It was the same in my early days as a junior product manager in the BBC's interactive department. After being given a requirement I once asked a senior manager for a business case for it. He looked at me as if he was mad. He just wanted it done. Then he ran away.

At the BBC, things have improved a lot since then, and has been actively vocalising the need for good product management to the wider community.

The BBC's evangelism is important as product management is not always the best known discipline - as the graphic above shows by absence! - and many people do get it mixed up with project management.

The difference can be explained relatively simply. The Project Manager wants everything completed as quickly as they possibly can so that the team can move on to the next thing. Meanwhile the Product Manager wants to make sure that what's delivered is the absolute best for the user/customer. That it has objectives that make sense.

Of course it's more complicated than that. A good Product Manager will do a lot in their role. As well as setting and prioritising requirements and ensuring that the team know what they're building (and why!), they'll be doing market research, planning for the future and a lot more. But it all basically boils down to trying to get the absolute best product they can.

Great products have strong product management behind them. The job title might be something else, but that will be their role. Someone to keep the product on track, who ensures that everything is balanced and prioritised as sensible as possible. And ultimately someone who insures the Invisible Requirements Monkey isn't able to swoop down and leave a pile of unfocussed requirements on the team, along with the odd banana skin.

Maybe in a few years Product Management will be better known and this graphic will be updated to be a four by four grid. But hopefully it won't, because if we all had better product management, perhaps we wouldn't need this cartoon at all. In the last five years or so at the BBC I worked with developers, project managers and designers who all worked together to create amazing products - each discipline with a mutual respect for the other. And I like to think that was helped by a good dose of Product Management.

I'll also note the omission of testers of the graphic. Tut tut! A good test team is essential if you want a good product to do what it's supposed to. Another, often undervalued, discipline of people.

No idea who I would like to credit the person who originally did this graphic, if only I knew who did. Apparently it was first created in French and then translated by Alex Toulemonde.

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orfy said:

Not to mention us poor old business analysts - though that's a luxury your products were never afforded!

I'd still like to see a 5x5 grid though...

Posted on 8 August 2011 at 4:26 PM

Andrew Bowden said:

I did have the fun of being a business analyst on the Sport website for a bit though ;)

I reckon BA's are a highly valuable part of the wider product management team so we're having no 6x6 grids thank you!

Posted on 8 August 2011 at 5:28 PM

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