Having a close relationship with the customer is always a good idea. But with that relationship comes risks. Most projects could use a knight in shining armor to protect their product's future. Discover how a product champion can help your organization stay focused on the customer without losing sight of the big picture.
I recently attended a conference on new approaches for agile software development. All of the approaches had two elements in common: 1) building a closer relationship with the customer and 2) building the simplest software possible. The ultimate goal of all of the approaches was for the product developer and the customer to "speak with the same voice," thereby producing what the customer really needs—and only what the customer needs.
These things are all good. We should be closer to our customers. We should aim for simplicity. And yes, we should speak with the same voice. But who will worry about longterm planning? Who will look beyond the simplest thing, searching for the best thing? Who will peer over the head of the current customer and forecast future applications for the product? When conflicts arise, who will be the one voice that speaks for all? The product champion, that's who.
In our industry, we rush to do this, and we rush to do that. It's difficult to step back and reflect—to take a broader view. That's where the product champion (PC) comes in. The PC is the one person who is officially responsible for delivering the product. This person helps the stakeholders and the project manager reach a shared vision for a product, and then defines and initiates the product within that vision.
A single person should play the role of PC, not a group. Being a PC requires leadership, clear vision, and quick decisions—something that is difficult for a committee to do. While a small support group can advise and assist the PC during a large development effort, there must be one person, and one person only, who is ultimately responsible for a product.
The Product Champion and the Customer
We can all agree that having a close relationship with the customer is a good idea. But with that relationship come risks. First, you usually have more than one customer. And these customers may have conflicting interests. Even if you have only one large customer, there are often internal disagreements to contend with. A PC can arbitrate to make the best decision for the life of the product. He knows the customers and the product and is able to reach the best decision for all. On the other hand, you may have so many customers that you can gauge their needs only through focus groups or some other sampling method. This is especially true for shrink-wrapped products. In this situation, the PC knows the market and is able to effectively apply this data.
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