Why You Need To Hire a Product Manager Before You Pick a Dev Shop

by Sean Boyce

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – building a successful product is difficult.  Even before you reach proper problem/solution fit, there are many obstacles to clear on the road to product success.  Eventually, you will be building something and often companies choose to outsource their development efforts to engineering firms aka dev shops.  I want to share with you one of the major problems with the way this process typically works today and what you can do to fix it.

If you haven’t enlisted the services of a dev shop to build a product before, then you may not know you are typically given a product or project manager (PM) as your point of contact for the duration of your build.  However, this is a problem for you and it may not be that obvious. The biggest problem with this approach for you is that you care about your product being successful, but the dev shop’s PM cares about building your software quickly according to the agreed upon spec.  These two interests are only partially aligned because building a functional product is only one aspect involved in making a successful product. Their PM has an obligation to get your product built quickly. In contrast, more important to you is that your product works great and sells well so you can build a successful business around it.  

So I want to talk to you about why you should instead hire a product or project manager of your own.  You wouldn’t buy a house using the seller’s agent or go to court using your opponent’s lawyer, would you?  There are lots of reasons you are going to want your own PM. Let’s talk through the most important reasons.

You Have a Better Chance of Building a Successful Product

Believe it or not, building a successful product means something different to you than it does to your dev shop.  The primary objective of your dev shop is to build your product quickly so they can get to building more products.  This isn’t their fault, it’s the nature of their business! This doesn’t mean they don’t want your product to sell well or your company to be successful, but it does mean those are NOT their primary objective.  However, having your own PM means having someone represent you and prioritize what it is important to the success of your product, regardless of what is best for the dev shop. Do you truly understand your customers?  Do you have an effective go to market strategy? Do you have pilot customers lined up to use your new product? These questions are critical to the overall success of your product, but your dev shop will be indifferent to these concerns.  Your own PM won’t be because it will be their job to nail these down.

You Will Save Time and Money

To combat the problem of people wanting to build products that they have no idea how to build, dev shops have incorporated an extra phase into their process.  This phase will typically be called something like ‘discovery’ or ‘onboarding’. What you will eventually realize is this phase will add time and cost to your project, sometimes significantly.  Often dev shops leave at least a few weeks and up to tens of thousands of dollars to complete this phase. The output of this phase is usually mockups and diagrams regarding what to build and how the software should operate.  Instead, if you hire a PM of your own they will complete this phase for you before you even enlist the services of a dev shop. This means you will not only save this time and money, but you will be much better prepared for the conversations with prospective dev shops when the time comes.

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It’s a Win-Win Situation

I’m beating them up a little in this article, but when dev shops learn that my clients have hired me to represent them they are over the moon.  I speak tech and I’m a product management expert plus I’ve been through this process many times. I can translate the most technical jargon a dev shop is going to throw at us into plain english for any audience.  This doesn’t just benefit my client, it makes the dev shop’s life much easier as well. Gone is the hurdle of explaining to clients what is and is not realistic from a deliverables and functionality perspective. Communication and expectations are much improved.  When everyone is on the same page surprises are kept to a minimum. Everyone knows that minimizing unexpected challenges is critical to ensuring a smooth product development process.

You’re Going to Have More Questions

As you learn just how much is involved with building a successful product, you’ll quickly realize it can easily become overwhelming.  This means you’re going to want to ask product related questions regularly and that’s something you’re not going to be able to do with your dev shop’s PM.  Again, their job is to get the product built quickly to your agreed upon spec. If you want to talk through how to best sell the product, interview customers, or setup a pilot phase you won’t be able to do so because your dev shop’s PM already has a full plate of managing the product build.  What you also must realize is that your firm’s PM is building products for other customers as well. You aren’t their only responsibility so you have to share their time. Your very own PM will not only be available whenever you need them, but will prioritize these concerns above all else because they know how important they are to overall product success.

You May Not Be Ready to Build

The most heartbreaking situations I come across are when I meet someone that had a product built that ultimately failed for very avoidable reasons.  When I dig a little deeper, I usually find out that they clearly were not ready to build the product. As I’ve said before about building successful products, there are many boxes to check before you even write a single line of code.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of dev shops out there that are more than willing to accept your checks to build whatever you want. It simply doesn’t matter to some dev shops why you want to build your product. Successful products don’t go from idea to build right away.  The crazy high failure rate with an approach like that is basically where the Lean movement came from. If you hire your own PM, you can get a much better idea of where you are in the process and what you have left to complete before you invest a ton of time and money in a product build.

If you are going to build a product it is in your best interest to hire your own product manager.  I’ve talked about the most powerful reasons that this approach is much better, but there are countless more.  You are embarking on a journey that can be long and quite expensive. Give your product and company the best chance of success by hiring your own PM to fill your teams skills gap.  Don’t rely on a third-party firm to operate in your best interest for the long term. You aren’t looking to just build a product. You want a product that dramatically improves the lives of your customers and keeps your business successful for years to come.

If you’d like to learn more about product management or talk more about the services I offer as a consultant please visit the services section of my website or reach out to me directly at sean@nxtstep.io.  Keep disrupting.

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