The Work

Posted on June 14, 2021.
Iceberg with the tip poking above the water showing the word Code, and the part below the water showing the words design, research, product management, copywriting, collaboration and experimentation.

The way most organizations prioritize hiring budgets, headcount and staffing when it comes to building digital products and services would make any outside observer believe that you only need one kind of activity to deliver great products to market — writing code. 

While it’s true that no software product sees the light of day without code, this is only one part of the process. The Work of modern product development consists of so much more.

Product Management is part of The Work

Product managers are the stewards of the product’s vision. They evangelize for it. They confirm its requirements, validate product assumptions and plan successful ways to go to market with the product. They know their audience, deeply, and make the tough decisions about how to best serve them. 

Make time for product management. 

Research is part of The Work

Research confirms our assumptions or gives us evidence to move on to better ones. It helps the team build a better understanding of customer needs, obstacles to achieving those needs and what success looks like for our customers. Research informs our decision-making and ensures the code we write actually delivers value to our customers. Skipping research means our product decisions are stabs in the dark at coding up something that our users don’t need. 

Make time for research. 

Design is part of The Work

Design work encompasses many activities and disciplines. Without explicit design work our products end up unusable and frustrating. Design work seeks to render the intent (h/t Jared Spool for this quote) of the product’s vision in a way our customers expect and in a way that delights them. Without design work customer complaints goes up, support costs rise and, in an era of commoditized services, retention suffers in the face of better-designed competition. 

Make time for design. 

Copywriting is part of The Work

If we don’t make time to write helpful, timely and clear copy our users make mistakes and fail to complete tasks. They lose confidence in the product and reduce the amount of time they spend in it. The code might provide functionality that the user needs but without a clear set of instructions on how to use it, that code goes unused or misused reducing its value. 

Make time for copywriting. 

Cross-functional collaboration is part of The Work

Software developers working on their own create work without outside input or influence. The shared understanding generated by design and research has to be translated into documents, handoffs and negotiations about what ultimately ends up in the product. This kills efficiency, agility and productivity not to mention the exponential benefits of diverse opinions working on the same problem at the same time. Whether it’s product discovery or delivery, cross-functional teams work more quickly and deliver better products. 

Make time for cross-functional teams. 

Experimentation is part of The Work

We’d like to believe we know exactly what to build, what it should like and how our customers will use it. Inevitably, we’re wrong about these assumptions and end up writing and shipping code that fails to solve a problem in a meaningful way for your customers. Experimentation — cheap, lightweight, quick ways to test product and feature ideas — teaches us where to invest our time and when to pivot or kill the idea we’re currently exploring. 

Make time for experimentation. 

The teams I work with regularly complain that they “don’t have the time” to do The Work. This tells me that their stakeholders don’t prioritize the activities that support writing code that delivers value. Code is important but it’s just one part of the products we make. Making time to do The Work increases our chances of success. The Work is done by cross-functional teams. It’s not outsourced. It is prioritized in our backlogs and forms a part of our definitions of done. 

Make time to do The Work.