Steer the Ship

“One of my clients can’t launch their AdWords campaign without this feature” — Client Services

“What feature?” — me

“Dropping pixels in the Activators. They want to launch ASAP.” — Client Services

That feature was planned for an upcoming sprint, likely sometime in Q3 2014. I had spent a little bit of time researching product requirements, but they were not polished enough to hand to the engineering team. To make things more complicated, our Director of Product Management was out of town.

I faced the typical Product Manager’s dilemma. Should we break the sprint to accommodate an urgent client request or should we recommend an alternate solution while we draft product requirements and consider the technical feasibility. I pulled a member of our engineering team to the side to get his perspective. He quickly told me that a one-time solution for this particular client would take 4 hours. A real solution — one that other clients could also use — would take a full day of his time. It would also require a little bit of time from our Front-End Development team. When I asked if this would disrupt our already full sprint, I received a brisk “yes”.

I pinged the person in charge of that account and told him my dilemma. As a product team, I had promised certain features to not only other team members but also other clients. Opening up the sprint to accommodate this last minute request would disrupt what we had already promised others. There is a delicate balance between an urgent request must be handled and an urgent request that can receive pushback from the individual in charge of the account. This time talking to Client Services, I framed the question differently “If we release this in the next two weeks, will it impact our relationship with the client? This sprint is full and we have quite a few outstanding deliverables for other team members and other clients. We can break the sprint and spend 8 hours building. It will support other clients but we don’t have anyone else asking at the moment.” Client Services understood. They are closest to the client and it is expected that they know when a request is truly urgent. They communicate that urgency to the PM, and the PM weighs that versus other input.

Customers come first. But a Product team has multiple customers, multiple clients, and multiple constituencies that it must respect. It is our job to “know when to hold them [sprints] and know when to fold them [sprints]” — as our Director of Product would say.

So, what do you think ?