From How to What to Why to Who


For the past two years I got increasingly more involved in product development. In this time I was part of several projects and I have noticed an interesting way how development of products evolve over time. Also start-ups grow in similar fashion. An idea for a new product usually hatches for a long time. That's why when the development of a new product starts, the idea is clear and team members mostly concern themselves with the problem of how to build it. The team building the product is usually small and highly motivated, so progress is swift. The How is domain where engineers excel.

After the initial version of the product is delivered, the best ideas are exhausted and feature requests by users start to trickle in. At this stage the team is mostly concerned with evaluation and prioritization of all the different ideas and it is the responsibility of product managers to define What should be built and (even more importantly) What shouldn't be built.

Even the luckiest of the products runs into hurdles that seem insurmountable. No matter what a product manager defines and engineers implement seems to have no influence on the success of the product. At such moment someone must go out of the building and start questioning him or herself Why users are or are not using the product. It is the role of a director of product to ask such questions and sift thru the answers to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The product cannot be conceived by a committee. There's always one person who holds the product vision even if he or she is part of a team. Finding and supporting such person is the main role of C-level executives. If the director of product does not have trust and support of top management he or she will not have time to make all the mistakes and failures that are required for a successful product or will be burdened by operational stuff that will distract the director of product from really focusing and reflecting on the product.

Products and start-ups grow such clear distinction of product development roles only slowly and only over time. In most organizations an individual is playing several roles. But if any of these role is not functional, the product cannot be successful.

(Photo by Flora Omerčević)