The benefits of uniting product management with DevOps

If organizations can bring product managers deeper into the DevOps lifecycle, it can offer a competitive edge. But they must navigate through the initial challenges.

DevOps and product management teams both have value to bring to the table. The collaboration between teams with divergent yet complementary viewpoints is often what resolves technology and delivery challenges.

However, these two sets of people involved in product development often take different approaches. Product managers usually think in terms of the product -- specifically how to develop answers to user problems and how to create products that yield a positive ROI. But DevOps teams approach development from a more technical and data-driven standpoint.

Organizations can encourage a shift by enhancing collaboration between the teams, which also improves product delivery and overall success.

Building a mutually beneficial relationship with product management

The CI/CD pipeline offers a motherload of data that can be beneficial to product managers. But an organization can only reap these benefits if it has invested in observability, reporting and dashboards. When teams use these tools, they provide reporting dashboards that let product managers track bugs and issues, development and release metrics and financial data -- such as cloud costs -- without disturbing developers. If done correctly, it's a win for everybody.

On the flip side, DevOps teams sit outside the business portion of an organization. It's up to the product managers to help the DevOps team better align with business objectives. Product managers don't need to give developers an explanation of business topics. Instead, it's about creating discussions that guide a DevOps teams' thinking to a more business-minded approach. For example, a product manager can demonstrate the financial and user value of a new feature that will slow customer churn and provide a monetary return for the company.

Potential challenges between product management and DevOps

Despite these benefits, it's not an easy task to unite product management and DevOps teams. For starters, the job title "product manager" comes with many definitions. Some product managers are former engineers with a high degree of technical experience and knowledge, while others may have simply graduated from business school.

There's also potential for a major skills gap between the two parties. Developers could be more focused on technology than business outcomes. Product managers could focus more on the bottom line than technical development.

Another common challenge between product management and DevOps teams is feature prioritization. DevOps teams focus on the technical feasibility and timelines for implementation, whereas their colleagues in product management concentrate on features that map to customer demand. Balancing these priorities and timelines can lead to conflicts and trade-offs between the two teams.

If these problems exist in an organization, they can negatively affect product delivery, velocity and agility. If the problems between the teams aren't solved, higher-level management usually gets involved, which can grind the process to a halt.

Successful collaboration between DevOps teams and product management can take time to assess. DevOps teams often focus success on deployment frequency, mean time to recovery and related metrics. Product management success metrics usually focus on the business side of product delivery, such as customer satisfaction, usage metrics and retention rate. When the teams finally reach a suitable level of cohesion, it can result in an organization using instinct over metrics to define success.

How DevOps and product management can work together

The CI/CD toolchain represents a connection point for DevOps teams and product management. The toolchain is filled with ever-changing elements, such as hybrid or remote work models, open-source licensing requirements from a corporate level along with security and compliance concerns. The toolchain is filled with questions that affect everyone involved in a project.

One way to reduce this noise is to build a self-service DevOps platform. Product managers can help development teams redefine and reimagine their toolchains as platforms. There are many ways they can help:

  • Manage requirements and expectations with stakeholders.
  • Provide project management support for this internal project while considering the team's billable client work.
  • Communicate the value of a standard DevOps platform for an organization's productivity, security and compliance.
  • Serve as a buffer between solutions architects, engineers and programmers from business stakeholders during times of peak work.

Product management and DevOps teams complement each other when product delivery requires feedback. Product managers can provide timely feedback on the implementation of product features. DevOps engineers can offer insights on potential product improvements or the challenges their team faces in the development and deployment processes.

Such a complementary relationship happens when each team learns how the other works, especially the challenges they face. Reaching such a middle ground in communications and collaboration sometimes comes naturally. More often, it requires building mutual respect, teaching their specialty and learning from others' expertise. Managers and senior staff set this example.

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