There are descriptions of the product manager role within an organization as being the “CEO” of the product and around product management as a whole, a cult of product managers being the drivers of success, which makes you think that the only person responsible for a successful product being the product manager.
I am here to tell you that this is just plain wrong.
Product Managers are simply one cog in a large machine that leads to product success.
All areas of an organization contribute to product success, from finance’s ability to manage the funds needed to continue operating to the sales team’s ability to bring in repeat revenue. And just as important is the front-end developers’ role in that success.
What is product success?
But first things first. What does product success look like?
Unfortunately, there is no one answer for this because every product is unique.
An open-source session replay product that’s been in existence for a few years will have its view of what success currently looks like, while an internal stock tagging product that’s a little older will have a completely different image of success.
What’s important within all organizations is that there are clear goals that the entire business is aware of and toward which they can channel their activities.
It’s these high-level objectives that can be used to determine the key metrics that become the guides toward success.
For example, for a retailer of pre-owned cars, there may be a goal of achieving market growth. This high-level goal will feed itself into activities supporting this growth, such as purchasing more cars at the right price to sell more cars with an appropriate margin.
The more cars you want to buy, the more it becomes necessary to automate numerous steps in the purchasing process, which might lead to some key KPIs in the business, such as “the % of inquiries that result in an automated car quote.”
An improvement in this key metric and our ability to buy and sell more cars will deliver the organization’s current view of success.
What has all this got to do with the role of a front-end developer? We’re getting there!
What does your PM need to deliver success?
One of the roles of the product manager is to determine in what ways the product can be adjusted to affect the key metric (e.g., how can we adjust the product so that the % of inquiries that result in an automated car quote increases?).
They do this through activities such as:
- analyzing data on current product performance
- researching the market to benchmark the product and identify approaches or technology that can support our product
- talking to users of the product to understand what challenges are being faced
The output of all of this tends to be a roadmap that illustrates at a high level what is hoped to be achieved over time and then a series of user stories that break down the work into manageable chunks, all of which need to be aligned with the business and understood by all parties.
And now we’re getting closer to how front-end developers can support a PM in delivering success.
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How do front-end developers support this process?
When you look at the attributes of a successful team, you will invariably see the following described:
- Clear and aligned purpose
- Clear roles and responsibilities together
- Communicate frequently and effectively
- Learning and adaptive
- Celebrate success and show appreciation
- Measure outcomes and success
From this list, there are a few that jump out as being key areas for a front-end developer to support the PM in a drive toward product success:
Nothing is worse for a product manager than discussing a piece of work with a developer, leaving them to get started, and then hearing nothing. For a PM, the silence is deafening and fills them with worry.
I’ve been telling the stakeholders we’re working on this piece of work, and it will be delivered soon, but I’ve not heard from the development team on progress. What if they’ve not started? What if they’ve hit a problem? What if they’ve built the wrong thing?
This worry and strain cause the product manager to regularly get in touch with a developer to see how things are going. This isn’t an act of mistrust or a deliberate attempt at annoying the developer. It’s an attempt to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of progress and that the expected goals are to be met.
How to help: Proactively communicate with your product manager on progress. Let them know how you’re getting on, any challenges you are facing, and how you will address them. Being proactive puts you in control of the communications and avoids interruptions from the PM when you’re in mid-flow.
Product Managers typically have a wide knowledge of things, understanding a bit about a large number of things; whether it be all aspects of the business operation, who the competition is, or which person is the subject matter expert on a particular topic.
However, due to the nature of their role and this breadth of knowledge, they often aren’t holders of deep knowledge on a subject. That’s where the front-end developer comes into their own. They should be holders of deep knowledge when it comes to user experience and front-end technologies.
It is this expertise that is valuable to a product manager and should be used to add more value to the work that is being done. There are opportunities to teach the product manager about best practices and new technologies that will support not just the current delivery but also work that will be looked at in the future.
How to help: Don’t just accept work items and deliver precisely what’s written in front of you. Consider how you can deliver the same result but more effectively, using your experience to elevate the work to a new level. Share this knowledge with the product team to allow them to suggest better improvements in the future.
Product managers often feel that when things go right, others get the praise (the designer for the great new design or the developer for getting it over the line), but when things go wrong, then it’s all their fault (it’s the wrong piece of work poorly explained).
As much as you enjoy getting a pat on the back when you’ve delivered a great new feature onto the front end of the product, the product team appreciates that kind of feedback too.
If you get a clearly written user story to work on, which allows you to use your skills to the fullest and understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, then share some appreciation back up the process to the people who got the work to you in the first place.
How to help: Show some appreciation when a product manager delivers good work or when they provide you with opportunities to show off your skills.
Ultimately, things are only a success when we can show them to be a success through measuring outcomes.
Yes, a product manager should write user stories that can be measured. Still, there’s nothing to stop developers from being a second pair of eyes on all the work that goes out of the door, asking themselves, “how will we measure the success of this work?” or “what tracking will I need in place to show this has improved things?”
Positive and proactive thinking can go a long way to delivering successful product outcomes, and as was mentioned above, it is the entire organization’s responsibility to deliver product success.
How to help: For all pieces of work, ask yourself how the success of this work will be tracked, and discuss this with the product team to ensure you can prove the value of your work.
And there you go …
It goes without saying that the most important thing a product manager needs a front-end developer to do is their job as well as they can.
Their work will be user-facing and will make a huge difference to the product’s success.
However, there are a few other areas that with a little extra effort can make a real difference in how the product manager can go about their job, and that will also result in more product success.
A TIP FROM THE EDITOR: Even if your project lacks a PM, you can use Top 7 Project Management Tools For Developers.