You cannot negotiate market requirements with Engineering.

Market requirements are independent of what any individual supplier can do. They are driven by what your customers need in order to be successful in their own businesses and what you must do to address those needs better than the competition.

The “market requirements are non-negotiable” position, however, is not designed to set up a confrontation with Engineering, establish an ultimatum position, or imply that a Market Requirements Document (MRD) can just be thrown over the wall. This would be a recipe for disaster.

Actually, one of the critical factors for new product success is Engineering involvement in the market requirements development process.

Failure to maintain open, active lines of communication between Product Management and Engineering can lead to big disconnects between what the market needs and what the organization is capable of delivering. This in turn leads to late deliveries and products that fail to meet business objectives.

To avoid big disconnects with Engineering, employ these three strategies in your requirements development process:

  1. Educate each other
  2. Use the “What, Why, How” principle
  3. Encourage direct contact

Educate Each Other

Product Management should take the lead and conduct regular forums with engineering on emerging market trends, customer challenges, and the competitive environment. Likewise, engineering should educate product management on available technologies, new ways to use existing technologies, product development issues, and technical trade-offs.

The more Product Management and Engineering understand each other, the more likely they are to produce winning products.

Use the “What, Why, How” Principle

The “What, Why, How” principle is very helpful when things get heated in the give and take between Product Management and Engineering. When there is an issue on the table that Product Management and Engineering cannot agree on, the first thing to do is figure out where the issue fits in the “What, Why, and How” construct.

To apply this principle, first get agreement on whether the issue is about:

  • What is needed?
  • Why is it needed? or
  • How is the need to be addressed?

Many times, it can appear that Engineering is challenging a market requirement, but when examined through the “What, Why, How” lens, you may find that it’s not the requirement (what) that is being questioned but rather the approach (how). By the same token, it’s also common for Product Management to passionately defend what appears to be a market requirement when, under closer examination, it turns out that the market requirement (what) was really a solution (how).

In general, Product Management should be the steward of “what” and be able to defend it with “why.” Engineering’s primary concern is to understand the “what” and “why” well enough to figure out the “how.”

Encourage Direct Contact

Finally, don’t insulate Engineering from direct contact with your market. Expose them to customers by taking them on requirements gathering missions, and even let them observe the battle over a particularly competitive purchase order. This direct contact with the real market will help Engineering to internalize what the market really needs better than even the most eloquently written MRD could do.

For a product to be successful, the engineering team must be motivated to address the market requirements. The more they understand the context of market problems, the more creative and relevant their proposed solutions will be.

Good product management is more than producing a lean definition of a whole product to address market needs. It’s also the ability to develop the understanding across the organization so that the market needs can be connected to a winning solution.