I was a waiter for a number of years, and I loved it. I worked in two really fun restaurants. One was in Cape Town and other in London. What I enjoyed most; besides the live music and the interesting co-workers was the feeling of satisfying a customer’s need by providing them with a great product (in this case, a fantastic night out). Delivery consultants play the vital role of delivering products to satisfy clients’ needs as well as being the Voice of the Customer to the organization. Their regular engagement with users gives them great insights into product improvements and makes them a product manager’s key partner in learning. In this post, which is part three of the Relationship Series, I unpack the relationship between the product manager and the delivery consultant.
I have found that the product manager, delivery consultant relationship can vary greatly depending on the maturity of the product. For mature products, with a long track record of implementations, the relationship reaches a point of steady state. The product has been optimised over a number of years and new ideas are generally iterative in nature. The process for feeding new ideas into the product backlog has been well established. Furthermore, there’s a deep understanding of the product by seasoned delivery consultants and the training of new staff runs like clockwork. These characteristics of a mature product and delivery environment reduces conflict in the relationship.
Now, when the product is new, the relationship gets really interesting. It seems, the more innovative the product the greater the challenges. So why is this? In a new product environment we, as product managers, are pushing to get new product features out into the market. This can trigger significant anxiety for the delivery consultant and lead to tension between the consultant and the product manager. I have observed several key explanations for this anxiety.
With a continuously changing product it is challenging for the delivery consultant to keep up with the product’s capabilities and therefore support the value proposition of the solution. This makes it hard to manage client expectations, leading to both an unhappy client and a frustrated consultant. Also, time for implementation is hard to predict, which can have a significant impact on committed timelines. At other times, product features are not released as quickly as required to deliver on the sales promise made to the client. The delivery consultant is then caught in the middle. Finally, delivery consultants can get discouraged when an unmet client need is deemed, by the product manager to be either low priority on the roadmap or not aligned with the product vision. It is under these circumstances where the relationship can be placed under great strain.
How can we, as product managers, reduce the delivery consultant’s anxiety? Of course there are technical solutions relating to better release management, more effective product training and improved roadmap priority visibility. However, what lies at the heart of this issue is the Product Manager’s participation in client implementations. For mature product implementations the product manager hardly ever has to be involved. However, for the first implementation of a novel product the product manager should be right there, next to the delivery consultant, providing as much support as possible. In this way we not only reduce the anxiety of the delivery consultant, but we find a partner who is as dedicated to the improvement of our product as we are.