Modern product teams consist of three key groups working together—Design, Development, and Product Management. It’s surprising how many companies struggle, simply because they don’t recognize the need for all three to work on equal footing but with clear lines of responsibility. Putting expectations in place makes all three groups more effective, allows each to do the job they’re best at, and ultimately results in a thoughtful, well-constructed, kick-ass product. 

So let me tell you about your job.


Design 

Your job is to advocate for the user. This means knowing the user cold. 

Which means consistently looking at quantitative metrics, and consistently talking to users through qualitative research. Advocating for the user means thinking in the short-term about helping the team, especially product management, prioritize the features that will provide the most benefit to the user. But it also means taking a longer view — helping define the current product, future product, and/or product suite in ways that delight users. 

At a larger company, Design Leaders should be working with designers in all teams to ensure that all products have a consistent and appropriate design language. 

Development 

Your job is to advocate for the system. This means knowing the codebase cold. 

Advocating for the system means thinking in the short-term, narrow sense about the best way to build certain features or squash bugs. But it also means taking a longer view — building a system that scales elegantly and works well with other systems, both within the company and with associated 3rd party systems. 

At a larger company, Development Leaders should be working with developers in all teams to ensure that all products have a consistent, appropriate and scalable framework so that data can flow freely across the product suite. 

Product Management 

Your job is to advocate for the business. This means knowing the business cold. 

Advocating for the business means owning the product strategy and using it to make the hard decisions about what to build, and the harder decisions about what not to build. When design wants to do something that’s best for the user, but development wants to do something that’s best for the system — and those two directions are fundamentally at odds — it means being the tiebreaker. 

It means working with company leadership to understand the business strategy, and how your product fits into that business strategy. In situations where there are multiple products under the company umbrella, it means knowing where your product fits into that business strategy. In situations where there are similar products at the company (ex. a “Pro” version and a “Lite” version), it means knowing where those products break out — who uses each version, why the company is selling each, what capabilities should exist in each, and ultimately the strategy behind why multiple similar products exist. 

At a larger company, Product Management Leaders should be working with company leadership, including design, development, marketing, and operations to determine the trajectory of the company’s product suite. working with product managers in all teams to ensure that all products are on track to contribute appropriately to the overall product suite today and into the future.

Thoughts were heavily influenced by conversations with Jonathan Korman. Thanks JK.