It takes two

Over the years I have developed this slightly – I suspect – off kilter idea of the split of responsibilities between Product and Delivery Managers.

Product people are responsible for decisions. That is it really. 

Delivery folks are responsible for making sure the team has everything it needs to act on those decisions

Product

Priorities. Trade-offs. Compromises. Pivots. 

I used to joke that my job was MaaS – Meetings as a Service. But really it is DaaS. Decisions as a Service 🙂

Everything else we do (the visions, roadmaps, user stories, data wrangling, research, show and tells) are activities to give us a framework for making or communicating decisions but the biggest source of intelligence to direct decisions is the team. 

Product Managers are always listening to user researchers, designers, engineers – all making their cases. All speaking on behalf of their perspectives to ensure they ship a successful product. They present the evidence, intelligence and ideas and sometimes the path is so clear things move along friction free with no need for compromise or tough decisions. This rarely lasts though and when the trade-offs need to be made the Product Manager needs to make them (and if they are not empowered to do so? Call the whole thing off.)

Product decides and communicates the what and the why. With the support of Delivery they work out the when. The team (with the help of Delivery) decides the how – right up until diverging paths emerge. Then once again Product makes a decision.

Delivery

Like I said at the start – Delivery folks are responsible for making sure the team has everything it needs to act on all those decisions. This means the right people, tools and environment but it also means sufficient clarity and confidence regarding those decisions. They hold Product to account on behalf of the team and they proactively sniff out issues before they become problems. They make sure voices are heard but that individual voices don’t drown out the team.

Product without Delivery is hobbled and visa/versa. I do think the roles can be combined in certain circumstances but when it comes to genuine software product development they need to be separate.

In a slightly unpopular analogy I don’t see product teams as democracies – I see them as benevolent dictatorships with Product Managers in that role with the Delivery Manager as their Chief of Staff.

This is because in this model Product makes the choices so also takes the responsibility. A good Product Manager takes all the blame but none of the credit. That is the gig.