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Business aware developers

I spoke with many product owners over the last two weeks while hiring for the Head of the Product role at Inline Manual. One of my questions was whether they would be calm with letting the Dev Team run the following two Cycles without talking to them.

To my surprise, many of them spoke of developers primarily as "nerds" out of a different world who need clear guidance on what they should develop, which means they don't trust them. Product owners would end micromanaging the team based on assumptions (stereotype) that developers cannot see the big picture; they understand only 0s and 1s.

As a Product Owner, I have tried many things in the past decade and failed at many too. The biggest mistake was to do everything I could to make developers focus solely on developing - thinking I am making their lives easier. In the beginning, it worked, but as the features and scopes grew, they got out of touch with the business, which later showed up in the product, delivery, unfulfilled expectations and frustration on both sides.

I thought it was because developers didn't have to know, nor that they cared, but it was me who made them not to. I have made them forget about the business, turning them into task processors. With each misunderstanding, I was examining the tip of the iceberg, the latest interaction we had, but not what led to it.

If you think your developers are too creative and add functionalities that you didn't ask for and which do not align, it is a cry for help to show they add value. They want to break out from being task processors. If they understood the business, they would focus on what the business needs. They will be proud of optimizing for business whilst being on the same boat rather than coming up with new features nobody requested and coping with rejection from product owners.

There will be developers who will insist on not wanting to know more, and it might work for your product. Still, I assure you many would love to be part of the whole picture and contribute more, but right now, they might feel their place is within their coding editor and task scope only.

Give a developer a user story, and you make them run for one sprint. Teach them how the business works, and you have an equal technical partner for the product lifetime.

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