19
June 2023

How to build a terrible product (and make everyone on your team miserable)

Why is management trying to stop the product team from building a great product? And why is the product team trying to stop management from building a great product? Everyone working on a digital product wants it to be great. The problem? What we mean by “great” isn’t always the same thing.
Giulio Michelon
CEO and Founder, Belka

Let’s start with a thought experiment.

Imagine you’re an ambitious digital product designer or a software engineer.

You’re eyeballing the big guns: Facebook with their Kubernetes, Airbnb and their sleek-as-silk design. You see microservices, one-click payments, and onboarding that’s smooth as butter. You’re raring to build that kind of thing, the right way.

So why doesn’t management get it? Why are they always pushing you to cut corners and pump out products that feel small, dull, or insignificant?

It’s frustrating, right?

Ok, now imagine this: You’re the manager of a digital product business.

You want your app to be a success. You’ve got investors or lenders who need to see a return on their investment. You worry about the bottom line. After all, you’ve got to meet payroll next month.

So why doesn’t the product team get it? Why do your designers want to make things complicated? And why do your developers always need more time? Don’t they get how much that will cost?

Frustrating, right?

Growing up is never easy

At Belka we’ve seen this kind of disconnect incredibly often. It’s especially common at  the kind of high-growth companies we work with.

Why?

Let’s say you’re a founder. At the start your team is very small, and you spend so much time working intimately together that information flows effortlessly between every individual on the team. It’s like the universe before The Big Bang: Everything is concentrated in a single point.

Then the market says “Let there be growth,” and there is growth. And investors see that the growth was good. Everyone wants more growth, so you hire a team of product specialists — designers and developers — to help scale up the product.

Your team grows from, let’s say, 3–6 to 10–15 people. That’s a big leap. Suddenly you have people on the team that share a different context and background than the founding team.

This is a recipe for trouble.

Founders are scrappy and want to find quick solutions that work. Specialists want to build lasting and solid products using best practices. The result? Everybody is frustrated with everybody else, and nobody knows how to fix it.

This scenario is incredibly common.

Both teams want what’s best for the product. But the problem is that “good” means different things for them. Each team speaks their own language. Management wants business results fast, the product team wants to build exceptionally crafted products.  

So, how do you get everyone on the same page?

The two kinds of companies

In my experience there are two kinds of digital product companies: Feature Factories and Goal Achievers. Understanding the difference can help solve this problem most of the time.

A Feature Factory is a company where the product team works in a bubble, separated from the broader business context. They are not privy to the overall business goals or insights. The rest of the company thinks of them like a vending machine for new features.

Sales needs a photo editor? Add it to the backlog. Customer Success wants a button? It’s on the list. The CEO wants to cut a step out of the signup funnel? You got it.

You get the picture.

Notice how none of those feature requests is about outcomes? They’re all about functionality. The team ends up adding all these requests to their backlog without understanding how the features align with business outcomes. It leaves the product team feeling like a waiter taking orders, which can lead to a lack of strategic product management and a disconnect from the larger business goals.

And here’s where it gets tricky. Sorting out what to work on, picking priorities, and coming up with a strategy for the product isn’t a walk in the park. It gets even tougher when you’re not looped in on the broader business goals.

What are Goal Achievers?

In contrast, Goal Achievers are companies where the product development process is guided by clear and measurable goals set at the beginning of a project.

Goals give the team a North Star to follow, setting a clear direction for the work. They also make it clear why you’re building something and what you expect to achieve. They let the team experiment, and sometimes fail. And that’s good, because success is about making experiments, and quickly figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

The product team in this type of company is empowered to prioritize requests and make decisions based on alignment with the set goals and business outcomes.

This approach encourages a balance between the needs of the business and the aspirations of the product team. It facilitates a better understanding of the broader business perspective, leading to more strategically sound product decisions.

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A real-life example:

A client of ours had a tricky situation. They had just signed a massive contract, vital to fueling their company’s growth. So far so good. The catch? They had six months to add an entirely new ecommerce service to their app and fully integrate it with their existing systems. If they didn’t make it, they’d face hefty penalties.

So, how do you deal with that? Well, if you’ve been reading this article you already know the answer.

You start with a kickoff to align everyone involved on the goals. And I mean everyone: founders, managers, product designers, developers, producers and anyone else on the team.

Then comes the hardest part: letting go of all the nice extras and focusing solely on the essentials to reach the goal.

Filtering the features to create the leanest product possible became the project itself. This shift in mentality, from feature abundance to minimalism, could only be achieved by transparently communicating the project’s business context to the entire team.

The lesson? When the business and product teams come together with a mutual understanding around a well-defined goal, success becomes possible, even under very challenging conditions.

Need help? Call us!

Our advice: Set a goal with your team, not to your team. And do it now. Having a clear and measurable goal that the whole team agrees about is one of the most powerful hacks available when you’re scaling up your product.

But it’s hard! Getting everyone on the same page can take a lot of time and effort. So if you need help, let’s talk. At Belka we’ve done this countless times with our clients. We can probably help you.

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Giulio Michelon is the Cofounder and CEO of Belka, and he just wants to help you. Want to talk about it? Hit him up on @mchgli or send an email to giulio@belkadigital.com. (Nothing bad will happen.)

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