Get Your Ship in Shape


I was a Product Manager with a small team of about 6 people. Our charge was, essentially, a feature (simplified for this story). But it was an important area within the service the company offered: we made sure reconciliation from online donations was being correctly represented in the client app.

Not very exciting. But when you rely on online donations to run your nonprofit, and you use client software to run your back-office accounting and marketing needs, it’s important.

Word, Nick. Word.

When I joined the company, we also got a new SVP of Product. She said something similar to what Nick says above. Her goal was to be customer-focused; ship what they need. I’d never been at a place with someone so high up in the chain that felt the same way I did about the importance of focusing on customer needs.

With my team, and with customers, I outlined a roadmap for what needed to happen to meet customer needs. We determined that the entire feature needed to be rewritten from the ground up due to bloat and technical debt. And, of course, the UX of it all needed to be greatly improved.

Before presenting the roadmap to others in the organization, we presented it to several customers first, for two reasons.

  1. We new what we were proposing was going to make certain higher-ups in the company balk.
  2. Customers were used to a no-matter-what 6-month shipping cycle.

We were proposing fixing only critical bugs for the next release, roughly 6 months away, and basically skipping a release to deliver a totally redesigned and rebuilt feature.

One customer said, “Fuck, yes.” Everyone else said yes, too, but not as … colloquially.

The team felt strongly, the customers felt strongly, I felt sure our SVP of Product would agree. But it turns out, you need more than one SVP believing in a better way of shipping. There wasn’t enough organizational support to do things differently than had been done at a company that’d been around for 25 years.

The idea got shot down. Certain higher-ups did indeed balk. I was told we need to “ship more than just bug fixes, no matter what.” You’d figure with support from the SVP that I reported up to, it wouldn’t have been so … succinct? a reply.

All of that is to underscore who Nick is talking to: C-levels, the people ultimately in charge of how a company runs, the buck-stops-here-assuming-there’s-responsible-leadership people. The ones who sign the checks. Because if they don’t believe in building for customer needs, it almost doesn’t matter if you, as an individual contributor, do.

If you want some help figuring out how to get your upper management types to come around to your way of thinking, or if you are a C-leveler and want help figuring it out, get in touch!

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Listen Up

If you’re making art, you probably don’t need to talk with anyone about what you’re making. If you’re making something people will use, and possibly pay for, it’s worth having a conversation or dozen.

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