Please don’t say… ’The Business’
For businesses to succeed, 'The Business' must die. Product Managers must wield the knife.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the damage wrought by stakeholders claiming dominion over customer access and data. Now, I’m going to talk briefly about a phase that's equally pernicious but much more pervasive. I bring you, ‘The Business’.
‘Let’s ask, The Business’
‘The Business won’t like this’
‘That sounds like something for The Business to answer’
‘The Business’ is a cloud, a myth, a veiled threat - and also terrifyingly real. It is likely a combination of:
Those ‘on the hook’ for the performance of a cost or profit centre
The people commissioning, but not creating, the product or service (likely via a business case and/or project budget).
Why is this a problem?
Firstly, a mysterious thing happens when people ‘own’ budgets. Suddenly, they are design experts. They are imbued with strong and important opinions about colours, copy, customer needs and all manner of things. It is really quite magical. As a consequence, the product and design specialists find themseleves held at a distance and can only orbit the centre of authority. A transactional client-agency relationship develops. Real collaboration is stymied. Progress is slow and the outputs mediocre. Frustration grows on both sides.
On the flip-side, these ‘Business’ stakeholders may genuinely know more about the customer and the market than Product. This is natural, since they are engaged with real problems every day and are personally accountable for results. So:
The problem isn’t just that they’re, ‘The Business’, it’s that you’re not.
Given this, why should they trust the judgement of ‘specialists’? They’ll get blasted if things backfire, they will have a feel for customer behaviour (even if they don’t ‘know’ the customer) - and anyway, commenting on designs is way more fun than reviewing eNPS scores. So output-based, feature-packed briefs get meted out. Tight delivery timelines are set and missed, multi-tier governance processes are built and ‘Risk’ is managed.
This is bad for the customer and - ironically - the actual business. No one wins.
Is there a better way?
Absolutely, but if ‘The Business’ is to die, Product needs to step up.
Yes, we’ll need other departments to step back, and maybe some big egos will need to accept the skillsets of digital specialists. But we need to be ready to fill this gap immediately and with authority. Product Managers must understand the mechanics of their company and their market just as well as other functional disciplines. Our insights must be deep and evidence-based. We must be credible and incisive decision makers. Otherwise we, and others, will continue to ask ‘The Business’ for answers when we can’t sensibly move things forwards - and we won’t always like what we hear.
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