How product management incentives may be hurting customer experience

Commentary: Generally our greatest intentions to assist clients go awry, says Tim Bray. The issue may be how we reward PMs.

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Picture: skynesher/ Getty Photos

“We have to cease breaking the software program folks use.” Thus wrote Tim Bray, famous software program developer, and he is not fallacious. Bray was writing concerning the impression product managers have on consumer-oriented software program (just like the apps operating on our telephones), however his premise rings typically true. Particularly, that when promotions rely on a given exercise, we should not be stunned to see extra of that exercise, even when it isn’t the very best final result for patrons.

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Prospects are casualties

Bray works by way of a couple of examples of apps that he feels grew to become worse with age. From iPhoto to The Economist’s and MLB’s apps, for Bray, sure apps grow to be “immensely slower” or “fancified and crippled,” for no obvious purpose. 

Or perhaps there’s a purpose:

It is apparent. Each high-tech firm has folks known as “Product Managers” (PMs) whose job it’s to work with clients and administration and engineers to outline what merchandise ought to do. No PM in historical past has ever mentioned “This appears to be working fairly properly, let’s depart it the way in which it’s.” As a result of that is not daring. That is not visionary. That does not get you promoted. 

He went on: “It’s the dream of each PM to give you a daring UX innovation that will get reward, and lots of imagine the gospel that the software program is best at determining what the client needs than the client is. And also you get additional factors lately for utilizing ML.” So PMs could also be fidgeting with merchandise with the intention to repair their careers, not essentially the client expertise. Is that this malicious? In fact not. It is simply human nature: folks making an attempt to succeed inside the “guidelines” for fulfillment inside their given group. 

Not that that is confined to consumer-facing software program.

What you reward, persists

Bray believes this type of habits is best within the enterprise, and in the case of the sort of product improvement he is castigating, he is largely proper. “As a result of these had been Enterprise merchandise, …the variety of clients was orders of magnitude smaller than [for a consumer app], so the PM might go speak to them and bounce enchancment concepts off them. Prospects are fairly good at recognizing UX goofs within the making.”

Nicely, sure. However the underlying level that Bray makes–that promotion incentives usually (at all times?) information product choices–is not only a client software program downside. 

If I had been to inform you there are firms that extremely worth inventive software program engineering, such that engineers get promoted for constructing a gee-whiz, machine studying algorithm that may coordinate taco supply as an alternative of a PostgreSQL database service that many shoppers need, would you imagine me? Nicely, it is true (or was). Or what about firms that promote PMs for bringing new merchandise to market, fairly than making incremental enhancements to current merchandise? Additionally a real story. 

I might go on, as a result of the perverse incentives constructions for PMs are as quite a few as there are firms on this world. Nobody is ideal. Amongst different options, Bray mentioned, “Possibly we ought to begin selling PMs who’re prepared to face pat for an occasional launch or three.” Once more, he is speaking a few explicit downside in client software program, however take into consideration your individual firm and what you reward. It is easy to speak about being customer-centric (and who does not say that?), but it surely takes cautious consideration to inside incentive constructions to make sure what firms truly construct aligns with what they are saying they care most about. 

Disclosure: I work for AWS however the views expressed herein are mine.

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