Jeff Strickler

Product Management is Not Optional

Would you ask your lawyer for advice on customer segmentation? Would you ask your doctor how to price your product? Is your marketing team there to tell you whether to pick python for your next app?

Then why are you asking your software developers to define your product, if they don’t represent your target customer demographic?

One of the repeated mistakes I see in startups / early-stage ventures is that they misunderstand the roles of software development and product management. There is often a further mistake made, seeing the CTO as strictly a senior developer, but we’ll save that for another article. Software development is about the technical design and construction of software, ideally following defined requirements. So where did those requirements come from? Who decided what customer to target, how to price the software, the sales channels, the branding, and the business model? That’s the role of product management.

You, and your management team, in the absence of dedicated product management personnel, must take on these responsibilities in an early-stage company. If you aren’t meeting with prospective customers and honing the set of products or services, including software features, then who will? In the absence of well-defined services and software features, your developers will struggle to deliver the appropriate capabilities. How can they understand the priorities or deliverables if they haven’t been defined?

Software developers are there to act as a counterpart to product management. They have a role to play in finding creative solutions, but it cannot be their responsibility to define the business. Leaving software developers to define the product to be built is a path to failure.

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