How to get along with the development team

Paul Young shares his thoughts on how Product Managers can get along with the development team.

You need what I call street cred. That means a couple of things:

first, you have to speak the language of development. Developers love to needle anyone they perceive as "marketing" (note: as a marketer you are automatically one-step above a dung beetle in the eyes of most programmers) and often times, they try to bully you! I've had programmers tell me my ideas were stupid, that they were never going to do that, that that feature would get into the product over their dead body, etc. Can you tell I've done a lot of turnarounds on Development-driven companies? You have to be able to stand tall against that pushback, and the Number 1 weapon in your arsenal is customer feedback - specifically statistically valid customer feedback.

Be able to show that you talked to a significant and representative portion of the market and most arguments will crumble before you. Second, you can't tread on their turf. It helps if you've been a developer in the past because you know what their turf is; but I'll try to explain it.

You own the "what." The developer owns the "how." You're not allowed to roll your eyes when they start going on about XML and relational databases and flash key frames and Ruby-on-Rails. Your only acceptable answer is "Wow, it sounds like you've thought about how to conquer this problem a lot. I don't get into the implementation of how to solve this problem, but it I'm sure that you and the team can apply some really cutting edge technologies against it!" As part of the same token, you can't go down the next day and complain that they chose a Java implementation when you really like .NET - you have to trust the team to choose the best tool for the job and the skill sets of the people doing the implementation.

I have seen lots of ex-programmer wannabe Product Managers fall down here, don't EVER get into a heated debate on the technology choice with the developers - you'll lose (and you should!).

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