Are you building what your customers want, or are you just building?
Many companies confuse being busy with producing value, falling into a dangerous place called “The Build Trap”. They focus more on the motions of shipping feature after feature, without stopping to validate it’s what customer truly want and need. This is due in part to poor understanding of Product Management.
In order to get get out of the Build Trap and become a successful product-led organization, companies need to use strategy, process, principles, and practices to create an environment that focuses on outcomes for the user and the business rather than outputs.
Melissa Perri is the CEO of Produx Labs, a consulting and coaching firm that helps organizations become product-led. Melissa specializes in adding the missing pieces to many agile transformations: training the product teams and consulting on strategy, structure, and process. She coaches them to answer two important questions – “Should we build this?” and “Why?” Her clients include AthenaHealth, Capital One, Lloyds Bank, Spotify, and Plated.
In 2016 she created Product Institute, an online school focused solely on Product Management education and learning, to help enterprise and individual students level up their skills. A frequent speaker, Melissa has had the pleasure of addressing audiences in over 20 different countries. Before becoming a consultant, she worked as a Product Manager and UX Designer at Barclays Capital, OpenSky, Capital IQ, and Conductor. Melissa has a degree in Operations Research and Information Engineering from Cornell University.
Melissa is currently writing about her experiences for O’Reilly in the book, Escaping the Build Trap, due out in 2018.
Melissa: I am a Product Management consultant and I come into companies to help them become “Product-led”. What this means is having a strategy for products that help organize a company and move it forward so that we can produce value for both customers and the business. I work a lot with companies, training their Product Managers, helping them understand what Product Management is about, going through deployment strategy and product strategy from the top working with C-level all the way down to teams. I also help them set up their organizations so that they could continue to run that way, with the right policies, structures and tools, and how they work together. I’ve been working on this for the last couple of years with some really awesome clients all over the world.
Melissa: The “Escaping the build trap” talk is based off what my book will be, when I finally publish it sometime this year… it’s taking me way longer than I ever thought, but I’m very close to be done now and that’s very exciting.
The talk is about the kind of mindset that companies get into when they turn to developing software, and how to break them out of it. The “Build Trap” is this scary place where we fall into the old habit of just building, building, building and shipping software, measuring our success by how many features who get out there, and only trying to optimize for that. And you see a lot of companies trying to do that… you see that with teams that are going to agile and get very excited about velocity, about “how many story points can we ship”, about “how many features can we add to the backlog”. What they are doing is really optimizing for outputs instead of outcomes.
So to escape the Build Trap, we really have to go back to the core of “why are we even building this?” The talk is about turning more into a Product-led company where you’re really producing value. What does this value actually mean? It’s not just the quantity of features, it’s really what those features produce for people, for customers, for the business at the end of the day.
Melissa: The talk is really for anybody who works in a software environment, or an environment that’s getting into software. I’ve given the talk to leaders of companies, CEOs and they go “Wow! That’s us!”. I’ve also given it to Product Managers and Developers and they have that same exact reaction. It’s a really good talk at every level where you can really understand what are the characteristics of being in a company that’s stuck in the Build Trap and how to contribute to getting out of it. I’ll give tips and tricks about how to shift you focus and what’s needed to break through.
Melissa: I hope it prompts them to start asking questions. Even if you’re not the Product Manager, how do you go back to your Product Manager and your team, and start asking the right questions about “why are we building this?”, “what is really the customer problem?” or “how do we understand what the value is?”.
When I worked with Engineers as a Product Manager in the past, I always believed that it’s my job to make sure that they are as connected to this strategy, because I believe that’s how you do your job better as an Engineer. I don’t believe you can just tell somebody to build something: you have to really understand why you’re building things and what’s the motivation behind it!
Seniors Engineers can go back and start asking really thought provoking questions to other teams and to management. I hope it will start a little bit of a passion for developers and engineers to learn more about these things because I think it makes you a better Engineer.
Melissa: One of the big things right now for a lot of companies is “how do we scale agile?”. Where companies usually get stuck is that they focus on the practices and ceremonies of scrum, and not really the principles of agile. They’re looking at say Story Points, and how to apply this to everything at the strategic level… but these things are not made for that! There’s a reason why we do certain practices in agile, and you have to understand why. Most companies do not understand why they’re doing certain notions, and they get stuck just blindly following tasks…
Melissa: A lot of work I’m doing with companies is pulling them out of that and focus back on how to iteratively learn, how to ship software quickly in order to get feedback. There’s a purpose to why those practices exist and we have to understand which one to keep because they help us reach those principles, and which should be let go because they’re not really serving us. We can also create our own ways and make it our secret sauce, instead of running ahead with a certain framework.
Melissa: Come see me if you want to learn a little bit more about Product Management and how to build the best software in the sense of something desirable and exciting for your users!
I am really excited to come Ireland, so come say hi!