In my IT career spanning over 20 years, I have led many teams that developed outstanding products. Currently, more than 40 million people across Europe use products where I played roles such as solution engineer/architect, team lead, and project manager. To accomplish this, I mastered various techniques. Not only did I become a Project Management Professional (PMP), but I also adopted a hands-on approach to drive numerous large-scale projects, complementing the coding knowledge I acquired starting at age 9.
I constantly faced challenges to solve intricate problems for the companies I joined. Sometimes it involved developing a 3D game from scratch with a team familiar only with 2D technologies. At other times, I had to build a datacenter and provide comprehensive services to large city clients, like addressing automatic fare collection issues in public transportation. One of my most recent challenges was constructing a SaaS system managing 2PB (1PB = 1,000,000GB) of data, recruiting a new team, and mentoring them to deliver under tight constraints, such as a 6-month timeframe and a limited budget.
It was insightful for me to embrace agile methodologies early on, ranging from XP (Extreme Programming) to widely recognized ones like SCRUM and Kanban. These methodologies helped accelerate the creation of Meaningful Viable Products (MVP) and scale them for full production in industries like Gaming, Telecom, Banking, and SaaS. The essential aspect lies in synergizing a methodology with your team to deliver value-rich solutions to the customer.
Regardless of the chosen methodology to complete a project or product, it’s imperative to interact appropriately with your team and stay intimately connected with the customer and target market.
I advocate an approach known as Bottom-Up Development (BUD). Over the years, I realized that a product’s market success often hinges on empowering your team to address customer issues directly. This process revolves around two primary factors: the team and the customer.
A team comprises individuals with diverse skills essential to the product’s creation. As a manager, you may assemble them (an ideal scenario) or inherit an existing team. Your responsibility focuses on the product, but ensuring you have the right team in place is a prerequisite.
Various team-building techniques are available, but I’ll emphasize the role of mentoring and coaching. An illustrative example involves creating a SaaS system laden with vast amounts of data, ensuring page render performance is under 2 seconds.
While I can outline every step for the final product, doing so risks demoralizing developers and compromising product quality—a trap known as micromanagement.
An alternative strategy involves engaging the team to tackle one issue at a time, setting overarching goals rather than minutiae. For instance: “Can you introduce a feature handling 1GB of database data, performing a specific backend analysis, and projecting it on a frontend, perhaps using React, in under 5 seconds?” Such challenges encourage problem-solving. As a leader, your job is to facilitate solutions, foster discussions, and introduce agile methods. Crucially, it’s vital to identify and bolster areas where your team may lack in skills or behaviors.
Another BUD component is understanding the customer. A good Product Manager imparts vital skills and behaviors to the team. Given the team’s intricate problem-solving activities, it’s crucial to steer them toward addressing customer-centric challenges.
Being data-driven is pivotal. In a SaaS landscape, understanding user behavior demands collecting ample data. Implementing mechanisms to anonymously track user interactions or introducing in-app surveys can offer invaluable insights. Direct communication with customers reinforces this understanding, ensuring that the entire team grasps user concerns.
With a skilled team and clear customer understanding, you’re primed for BUD. This involves team-led problem identification and solution crafting. Workshops facilitate such endeavors, with the resulting solutions presented to customers for validation. In this model, neither managers nor Product Managers dictate tasks. The team comprehends the issues and constructs the solutions, ensuring a bottom-up approach. The role of leadership is to enable and facilitate.