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Transforming Software Product Teams into Tech Investors

MMS Founder
MMS Ben Linders

Article originally posted on InfoQ. Visit InfoQ

The key responsibility of an organisation lies in balancing user value with profitability. In a product organisation, software product teams invest their own time. According to Fabrice des Mazery, software developers are much more than stakeholders; they are the main investors as they are part of the product teams.

Fabrice des Mazery spoke about how Tripadvisor transformed its software product teams into tech investors at FlowCon France.

Being user-centric was a great expression to fight against products that were conceived without taking the user into consideration, Fabrice des Mazery said. But now that it’s supposed to be the norm, this statement starts to have bad consequences. A lot of product people never consider the business side of being user-centric, as Fabrice explained:

Some teams spend more time on an evolution because “it’s better for the user”, without considering that there are other investments that could be more profitable to the user, and the company, he added.

Des Mazery mentioned the double impact law, which states that the reason to be a product organization is to generate ROI for both the company and the user. None should be detrimental to the other, he stated:

On one side, it reminds the product organization that not making a profit will harm our sustainability as a company.

On the other side, it reminds us that a product should not harm the user, as that will also harm our sustainability as a company.

To shift technology from a center of costs to a center of profits, product teams have to recognize that autonomy rhymes with responsibility, des Mazery said. It’s not about delivering features but driving revenue. Prioritising, iterating, and spending the right amount of resources, are key, des Mazery said. The knowledge of the market, the go-to market and go-to customer, are to be internalized by the product development teams.

Des Mazery mentioned that the rest of the organisation needs to understand that their biggest impact is to enable and sustain the efforts of the software product teams. And it’s not about ego. It’s about having the biggest multiplier on the big investments made by the company in its product, he argued.

Educating stakeholders about a product, telling them to bring problems and not solutions, or explaining why a roadmap is not a release plan, doesn’t work, des Mazery said. To transform their stakeholders, including software developers, from acting as clients to becoming co-investors, they made them get skin in the game:

Stakeholders need to live with the uncertainty and the emotions that go with product development. So we built a system where stakeholders, along with us, make the decision of investing in potential opportunities. They get the same level of information about the opportunities, they know exactly the envelope we can invest – not more, not less.

Des Mazery mentioned that their stakeholders define the ambition with product teams for every opportunity, and are co-responsible for success or failure:

Pretty naturally, they stopped asking “when will this be out” or “why haven’t we already done that”, and started saying “we’ll see what happens” and “how can we help”.

In a product organisation, software product teams invest their own time. With an average cost of 1 million a year at Tripadvisor, it’s a lot of money to invest, des Mazery said. Capping is about limiting your investment considering the potential ROI you can get.

Capping applies to opportunities, des Mazery said. If you think that covering a need for a specific user segment would have a positive impact on a metric that will allow you to reach your strategic destination: how much time do you think it’s worth (it’s called the appetite), versus other interesting opportunities? And for which result (aka ambition)?

Des Mazery mentioned that capping also applies to the activities of the team:

  • Problem discovery: considering your appetite, how much time do you want to invest in refining your understanding and ambition?
  • Solution discovery: how much time to invest to unrisk and refine the solution?
  • Delivery: how much time for building, releasing iterations of the solution, and ensuring its go-to-market?

A 100% confidence in the problem or in the solution will never happen, so you need to accept to either go on with what you know and don’t know, or stop, des Mazery said.

Balancing user value and profitability is the only way to ensure the long-term sustainability of a product business, des Mazery. But it’s not an easy path. To ensure the double impact rule, you need a positive, long-term ROI for both, he explained:

Answering to a short-term “internal trigger” of a user without considering the potential long-term harm, is NOT acting responsibly.

Balancing user value and profitability is as much about investment frameworks as about ethics and responsibility frameworks, des Mazery concluded.

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