Why Product Managers Need To Not Follow Their Development Plans

by drjim on January 7, 2013

Sometimes you have to change directions…

Sometimes you have to change directions…
Image Credit

If you got a chance to sit down with another product manager and share with them what you thought that they would have to do in order to be successful, what would you tell them? I’m thinking that a lot of us would tell them that they needed to make sure that once they came up with a development plan for their product, they needed to make sure that their team stuck with it. This is considered to be part of the product development definition. It turns out that this just might be the worst advice that you could give to a product manager…

Why Sticking With Your Development Plan Is Wrong

I don’t know about you, but when I’m managing a product I spend a lot of time on crafting a development plan for that product. I talk with everyone who will be involved in creating the product and I talk with customers all in an effort to collect all of the information that I’ll need. When I’m done, I’m actually quite proud of the development plan that I’ve been able to create. This is the kind of skill that we all like to put on our product manager resume.

This is where the problem first starts to show up. The requirements that I’ve built my plan on are not stable. During the design process, these requirements are going to change. This is what can cause me to run into problems.

For you see, the rest of the world saw me putting the time and energy into creating my product development plan. What this means is that they, just like I, now believe that it’s perfect. That means that if I start to deviate from it because requirements have changed, they’ll see those deviations as being signs of poor management or poor execution.

What is too easy for both a product manager and their company to overlook is that the development of a product is an innovative process. For most products, new insights are being discovered on a daily basis and the market conditions will be changing all the time.

Why Customers Can’t Help You With Your Development Plan

Early on in my product management career, I had hopes that my customers would show me the way when I was developing a new product development plan. It turns out that all too often, this doesn’t happen.

It is the responsibility of the product manager to attempt to define his or her customer’s needs. At the start of product-development-project this can be very hard to do. The reason for this is very simple: your customers will have a very hard time trying to communicate their requirements for a product that does not yet exist.

What makes this situation even worse is that your customers will draw their needs based on what they already know – things that they are familiar with. This means that their needs and desires may change during your product development process as new products enter the market and as new customer trends show up.

What All Of This Means For You

Does all of this mean that a product manager should not waste his or her time with bothering to come up with a product development plan? The answer to that question is no. Creating a product is a difficult thing to do and your product manager job description says that you need a plan in order to coordinate the actions of all of the people who will be involved.

However, it’s how you treat your product development plan that may need to change. Instead of viewing it as being set in stone, instead view your plan as simply being a starting point.

What this means is that you need to be constantly updating and revising your product development plan as new things are discovered, your assumptions change, and the customer’s situation is reevaluated. The success of your product depends on using your development plan correctly!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How often do you think that you should revisit your product development plan in order to see if it needs to be changed?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you got a chance to sit down with another product manager and share with them what you thought that they would have to do in order to be successful, what would you tell them? I’m thinking that a lot of us would tell them that they needed to make sure that once they came up with a development plan for their product, they needed to make sure that their team stuck with it. This is considered to be part of the product development definition. It turns out that this just might be the worst advice that you could give to a product manager…

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig J Willis January 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

I had a very similar conversation with a colleague in a team meeting this morning. He wanted to know how he could tell that his design was perfect before he submitted it to the engineering team!

We keep a fairly high level plan, a strategic plan that lays out the releases we want to do and the highlights of that release. These are single slides in PP with a few bullet points. Between Product Management, where we design the initial business solution, and development we maintain our own plans. These are much shorter and tactical, focused on each release project, this allows us to respond to changes quicker.

We use some agile techniques but there are certain things our customers expect of us that must be delivered and a lot of stuff that people would like to be delivered.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson January 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

Craig: Congratulations! I sure sounds like you guys are doing everything correctly. The trick is to find ways to keep things flexible — we don’t control the world (yet) and so things will always be changing on us. Starting with your high-level plan and then adding detail as you get closer to development sure seems like a great way to go about doing things. Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: