Why developers should always be involved in product discovery
Product discovery is the cornerstone of successful product development. Yet, many companies are still exclusively focussing on delivery while neglecting the research and experimentation to actually decide the right thing to build.
Throughout our years of supporting product teams, we definitely saw a recurrent pattern: For various reasons (that we’ll try to address below), developers are often left out of the product discovery activities.
« Developers maximize their value when they focus on code »
How sure are we about this? Is your business model about writing code, or solving your client’s problems? When using developers only to code, you only get half of their value!
Developers need to work on the problem, not just the solution
If your team members don’t understand the « why » behind what they build, there’s a big chance they won’t be able to do a great job. You may think that developers can just rely on the product manager to understand the why but their engineering background will allow them to understand the pain point in a unique way and come up with the best ideas leveraging technology.
Speaking with clients is engaging and rewarding
Furthermore, when developers are directly exposed to clients and users, there’s a very strong sense of appropriation. It’s so much more engaging and rewarding than just working on a Jira ticket. Companies should never forget that purpose and meaning really do matter.
It helps mitigate the risk
Not leveraging feedback and experimenting put the delivery at risk. If developers are only expected to deliver requirements defined by others, they are entitled to feel like they did their job even when the results are not there after a release. At the end of the day, even though the company believed that they would be saving time by not involving the devs in discovery, they actually wasted a lot of time, on top of diminishing the value created for the clients and ultimately, for the company.
« So, how should they get involved? »
Start with customer interviews
It’s crucial to build customer empathy, and it’s very easy to do. They don’t need to run the interview, but having them present and making sure they can ask questions can go a long way. Developers generally don’t like to be considered mere « code generators».
By including them in customer interviews, they become actors. It significantly increases their sense of ownership. There is nothing more motivating for a developer than seeing a user struggling with their code!
By simply allowing them to talk to the customers, you managed to create a virtuous cycle!
In general, ensure developers are strongly involved in all discovery initiatives
Obviously, developers need to be part of the design cycle. They will look at the problem and the solution from the feasibility angle, and will help identify and validate solutions that are better aligned with the existing code base, more efficient, or easier to execute. It can only be good for your product (and your budget!).
Teresa Torres' "Product Trio" is a great concept to involve the whole team. The trio is composed of the product manager, the product designer and the tech lead (and ultimately the developers in general).
« What if developers don’t want to talk to customers? »
Create and promote successful initiatives.
You will be surprised to see how often they are actually looking for these moments! Some developers might push back, feeling more secure when focusing on code writing. Explaining that it’s a great opportunity to influence the upcoming features and requirements with their tech flair will motivate most developers… And of course, start simple, the objective is to create sustainable and long-lasting practices!
« Ok, but it will lower the team capacity »
Think outcomes, not output
Did you know that 80% of features in the average software product are rarely or never used?
Companies focus too often on maximizing output. But if the features are not valuable for the clients, it’s a waste of time, money and talent.
Companies need to focus more on business and customer outcomes, the real success criteria for any tech product.
To wrap things up
You have the opportunity to initiate a virtuous circle that will boost team’s morale and improve both employee retention and business results
By investing more time working on deciding what to build, you will deliver not more, but better features, your team will have a stronger impact both for the company and its customers.
By encouraging your developers to actively participate in product discovery, you will reduce the risk and cost associated with features development. Your team will reduce waste and deliver better products, enabling the right dynamic to delight customers!