One of the amazing things about running a software consulting company is that you get to experience so many different patterns and anti-patterns that exist across industries, application technologies, and teams.
We have found over the years that the most important factor in successful software development is focusing on outcomes—clear goals that can be tracked through analytics and data—not focusing on shipping features and bug fixes. These outcomes drive business goals and accommodate user needs. It is very easy, especially as an outside development agency, to fall into a cycle of focusing on the code output—on shipping the product, regardless of what value it really provides. But this is a trap that often results in wasted time, money and effort.
Enter the Product Strategist
Every project that integrates an outside consulting company can benefit from having a product strategist as a crucial member of the team. The consulting product strategist works with the product owner and/or product manager on the client team to understand business goals. He/she works with the user experience team to understand the user’s needs and their problems so the team can ensure the right product is being developed from the outset.
Product strategists should possess knowledge of the best practices in product management, but also have business acumen, great communication and great consulting skills. Product strategists should be adept at running workshops to align the team and to find the great ideas that hide behind the good. Product strategists fill a critical role on the team that enables product managers to know that their project will successfully fulfill business requirements.
Partnership with Product Management
Having a product strategist on the team is a partnership with the in-house product manager (or owner). Surveys have shown that product managers are overwhelmed, but often don’t have the time they really need to focus on the strategy of their products. According to a recent survey conducted by the 280 Group, 57 percent of product managers are “tactical and not strategic leaders.” Having a product strategist on the team can support the product manager by focusing on the strategic outcomes of the project at hand.
Product strategists often take on strategic product management responsibilities such as roadmapping, running innovation workshops, or doing user research to determine what to build or how to build it. That said, they can also get very tactical, focusing on ensuring developers have what they need to get to work through good user stories, and supporting QA through acceptance testing.
Ultimately, the product strategist is responsible for keeping the team aligned on the product vision and coordinating with the product manager to ensure the focus remains on the intended outcomes.
Project Managers and Product Strategists
Many development agencies feel it is sufficient to have a project manager or a scrum master on the team to oversee delivery. Project managers and scrum masters have a very important role to play - and should be part of every software development team. They ensure that there is a smooth process, that blockers are removed and the team has everything they need. And, most importantly, that the team is getting along and truly collaborating.
In this way, they are the perfect partner with product strategists. Having both on a team enables the product strategist to keep her eye on outcomes and be constantly working with the business stakeholders, as well as looking to the users to ensure the team is building the right thing in the right way. And in the meantime, the project manager/scrum master is working with the team to ensure things are going smoothly and things are getting built in a timely manner.
Software development is often perceived as a process, but in reality, it is all about people. Team dynamics and collaboration make or break virtually every project. The product strategist is a key part of best-practice outsourced software development by keeping the team aligned on product vision, being a critical voice for the user, and keeping a focus on the ultimate outcome of the product being built: business success and customer satisfaction.
Jay Garcia is co-founder and managing partner at Modus Create.