Your core team is a ‘jury’
April 1, 2013
Anyone who works in a technology company will say “sure, we talk to our customers”. But peel back this statement and ask yourself: Who is present at the meeting, both from our side and the customer side? Where does it take place? What customer engagement model do we follow? If your customer meetings involve one or two people on each side, maybe at a trade show, web meeting or even the customer site, you may be under-leveraging the power of team-to-team engagement to produce a successful product.
Perhaps our most important SyncDev guiding principle is ‘core team as a jury’. The metaphor is obvious, but the impact is powerful. Imagine an important trial, maybe with a defendant’s life at stake. All 12 jurors are present all the time. They hear testimony from all witnesses. They stay attentive and take notes, since a just outcome is so important.
After the testimony and closing arguments are completed, the jury adjourns to the deliberation room. Guess what? Even though all jurors saw the same exhibits and heard from the same witnesses, they often have very different opinions out of the gate. Often there is a ‘straw poll’ with split opinions. But after extensive discussion and analysis, the jury is normally able to reach a joint, unanimous decision. What a transformation!
The same dynamic is in play with product teams. Unfortunately, most product teams don’t follow the rigor of the jury. And they often pay the price when their product is released.
Typically, a product manager meets with a customer representative to determine customer requirements. Later, technical discussions take place, engineer-to-engineer focused on bits and bytes. Once the product has taken shape, an account executive meets with the customer’s decision makers to sell the product. These three touch-points happen across multiple customers through hand-offs.
Although this form of team-to-customer engagement may seem very efficient, it often turns out poorly with a failed product. It’s not that surprising, really. As hard as it is for a jury to reach consensus, what would it be like if a subset of the jury heard from a subset of the witnesses and reviewed a subset of the evidence? It would be a disaster, since each jury member would have a different shared experience.
So, when starting out with a product upgrade or new product, start by forming the right cross-functional team. This is your ‘core team’. It is analogous to a jury. It must have representatives from product management, engineering, product marketing, design, sales and service. The customer’s team must be cross-functional as well, including users, influencers and managers. We call this the customer Decision Making Team (DMT). When this core team, similar to a jury, engages with the DMT, the result is a dramatically higher product success rate.