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Boosting Collaboration Between Developers and Product Managers

September 16, 2016

Never underestimate a solid, communicative product manager. Not too long ago, our developers were creating a product that the client felt didn't need an involved manager. That left Yeti's team with lots of unanswered questions about what we were building — particularly about how features might affect the end user. After several ineffective sprints, we voiced our concerns, urging the client to allocate a product manager. The difference was night and day. Developers gained confidence, the product improved, and productivity soared.

Is Your Team Collaborating Effectively?

If your product innovation team and developers aren't in close communication, you'll know. You'll see it when user stories need to be frequently revisited, which developers may have created without a managerial eye to the bigger picture. When not working closely with a product manager, developers can get lost in the details and steer the ship off course. Developers do need to create their own user stories from time to time, but a product manager's detailed acceptance criteria keep everyone on the same page.

Ineffective collaboration might also cause a sustained drop in developer velocity. Productivity can slump for any number of reasons, such as a recent change in staff that's upset an essential process. Further investigation may reveal poor product manager-developer cooperation at the root. The product manager is both captain and advocate. His or her role is to consider a wide range of interests: the end user, the business, the designers, and the developers. Only with effective collaboration throughout the development process can this person create a product that generates value for the user, accomplishes business goals, and engages the creative team.

Geoff House and Ellie Fung collaborating

7 Steps for Seamless Collaboration

At Yeti, we employ seven steps to build strong, effective relationships between product managers and developers: 

1. Establish a regular meeting schedule. 

No matter what, set and stick to a consistent meeting schedule. It's essential for the product manager to be included in key development discussions. You need this person's perspective along the way, particularly about whether proposed additions fit the product road map and how they should be prioritized. At Yeti, we ensure clients' product managers are involved in all sprint planning and review sessions. If the product manager has a conflict, we'll reschedule to ensure we're able to get feedback from week to week.

2. Invite product managers to scrums. 

Take collaboration further by inviting product managers to participate in scrum meetings. At these daily events, developers and other product players communicate quickly about what they're working on, where they're stuck, and any important product decisions. Our project managers set up daily scrums via conference calls to share updates and talk through any issues with clients' product managers. 

3. Share feedback firsthand. 

Leverage a collaboration tool to enable everyone to see feedback firsthand. In the past, product managers provided feedback to designers about wireframes, which would then get passed on to the project's developers. Unfortunately, the feedback sometimes got lost in translation because it wasn't directly conveyed to everyone on the team. We use Invision to help our team and our clients' teams share feedback, write notes, and collaborate on mock-ups and wireframes. Not only do we gain transparency, but it also improves the team's efficiency.

4. Try Slack. 

Integrate communication tools that spur dialogue and record team discussions. Email and live conversations leave people out of the loop. Modern technologies like Slack help everyone follow conversations, especially product managers, who may not be there for development discussions that happen on the fly. At Yeti, we invite client collaborators into appropriate Slack channels to foster constant cooperation with our team. It helps these decision makers answer questions as they come up and chime in with important information when they "overhear" something.

Reviewing designs

5. Review designs together. 

When it's time to review mock-ups and wireframes with the product manager, include everyone working on the project — especially the developers. While design by committee doesn't work, developers can add valuable insights and suggest alternatives on the spot. Along with formal review sessions that include the broader team, we seize ad hoc opportunities for developers and the product manager to gather around a designer's monitor — physically or virtually — to talk through a decision. 

6. Document the details. 

Add a section within your project management tool for the product manager to provide detailed acceptance criteria for user stories and tasks. Think of this as a map to the end product specifically tailored to developers. Ambiguity is the enemy of user story development. After we implemented a process for recording acceptance criteria, the clarity of our user stories drastically improved. This helped developers better understand their roles, enabling them to spend more time writing code and less time quizzing product managers.

7. Include developers in testing sessions. 

Invite developers to participate in — or at least sit in on — user testing sessions. When user testing is done by design, product managers, or even an outside firm, developers can be left out of the loop. They might see new user stories show up in the backlog but miss essential reasoning and facts gleaned from these tests. We've found that product manager-developer collaboration improves when we're able to participate in feedback sessions during clients' beta testing. Our team gains a deeper dive into the findings and a heads-up perspective on product changes.

The product manager has a tough job. Start to finish, he or she needs to keep design, development, the business, and the end user in mind. But when your developers and product manager aren't communicating effectively, it isn't just development that suffers — the whole product does. Don't let that happen. Yeti has masterminded product development for brands like Sony, Google, and Westfield Labs. Give us a call, and we'll put your next tech product on the path to prosperity.

is a EVP of Tech | Founding Partner at Yeti. He found his passion for technology as a youth, spending his childhood developing games and coding websites. Rudy now resides in the Yeti Cave where he architects Yeti’s system and heads up project production. Follow Rudy on Twitter.

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