Initiatives such as Agile and DevOps have done a great deal of work to close the gap between software testers, engineers and quality assurance teams. While that has done wonders at the development team level, there is still a wall that remains in most businesses and that is between the development teams and business development teams.
Business development teams include sales, finance, marketing, and management departments. Although a development team is tasked with building the software, the business development team often has a better handle on what users actually want, because they deal with how much a feature or product is used, and then try to figure out how else they can appeal to their users, according to Leandro Margulis, vice president and general manager of developer relations of the traffic, navigation and mapping company TomTom.
“One of the most common challenges is that engineering typically wants to ‘build cool stuff’ – while business development wants to ‘sell the dream.’ The truth of what can be done within budget and an appropriate time frame is somewhere in between,” said Margulis.
SD Times spoke with Margulis to discuss why engineering teams and business development should work together, and how they can bridge the gap between their two worlds.
SD Times: What are the main challenges with building a bridge between engineering and business development?
Margulis: In some cases, what engineers want to build is not in line with what the market and customers want or are ready for at the time. Whatever is being developed should match demand, unless you are in a skunkworks group or focused on research and development for the longer term.
Engineering and business development often debate the merits of solving an intellectually challenging problem versus solving a challenge that could benefit the masses, and, in some cases, could be a simpler thing to solve from an engineering and technical complexity perspective. With that debate comes execution challenges such as production scale, maintenance, availability and regulations, among others.
While it can be exciting and intellectually challenging to solve problems, business development and product marketing must set the proper expectations for what engineering should prioritize and focus on, to ensure that the end result fills a market and/or customer need. While you don’t want to handcuff the creativity of engineering, because their dreams often do find a use case, all projects being developed should be put into perspective.
Why has this traditionally been a difficult thing to accomplish?
The challenge lies in the reality that there aren’t always the best processes or lines of communication established between the two groups, as they often work in siloes or approach each other from an adversarial perspective. One tends to view the other as difficult, stifling or unrealistic.
Another reality making this dynamic difficult is the fact that in many cases, engineering is insulated from the voice of the market and the customer. Engineers tend to subscribe to the “if we build it, they will come” philosophy, which doesn’t always work. Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. This is a paradigm that has always existed in technology development.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that engineering and business development speak different languages and are motivated by different things. While engineering is inspired and driven by the capabilities of any given technology, it’s business development’s job to focus on the use case and practical application.
What are the most common, negative side effects of this bridge not being built?
A frustrated culture in which effort is put into building things that don’t sell is a typical sign that a bridge doesn’t exist or isn’t working as it should. The end result of time and resources being wasted and market opportunities being missed is that the bottom line can ultimately be negatively affected.
A disconnect between engineering and business development can also limit an organization’s ability to attract talent, given the fact that reputation and word of mouth are major factors within these highly connected communities. You can’t innovate and be competitive if you can’t attract the appropriate talent.
What are the most important tips for building the bridge?
Establishing a formal and consistent communication structure between the two groups will enable organizations to figure out how to communicate with each other in a way that resonates with both sides. The common link should always be the product and the organization’s overall business goals. Informal chats outside of the typical work environments can help as well.
It’s the job of both engineering and business development to always have a current understanding of and mutual approach to meeting market and client needs. Schedule regular sessions where product marketing provides an outside perspective by advocating for the customers and the market. Enable engineering to interact with customers so they can put themselves in their shoes and be inspired by their challenges and goals.
This collaborative approach, with product marketing as the go-between, will enable the development of a product roadmap that takes into consideration both the creativity of engineering and the needs of customers and the market.
What are the benefits of having the bridge exist?
Establishing a collaborative environment in which engineering and business development understand each other’s needs and perspectives will result in meeting brand recognition and market share goals.
Successfully maintaining priorities and meeting market and customer needs will deliver a healthy bottom line, as well as allow engineers to have the time and resources to focus on creative greenfield work.
Proper alignment and communication between the two groups will enable engineers to see the impact they are having, which is important in engineering culture and will enable an organization to attract top developer talent.