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Integrating Engineering Into Product During the Product Discovery Process

Collaboration
Cross-functional collaboration

30 September, 2020

Justin Potts, VP of Engineering at MoneyLion, explains how including engineers in the product discovery process helps with assessing the feasibility of product ideas.

Problem

Engineers would be typically introduced to product ideas too late in the game and would find out that some of the suggestions made by Product were not feasible. As a consequence, a lot of time would be spent developing solutions that are not feasible. They might have value to customers, but after being scrutinized by Engineering, it would be often discovered that they were not feasible to build. A great number of complications could prevent engineers from providing the solution and the feasibility analysis is frequently happening too late in the product life cycle for them to voice their divergent opinion.
 

Actions taken

We introduced a process that included engineers in the product discovery process. We made sure engineers were present during discussions about problems and solutions along with a designer and that they could test for value, usability and feasibility in one place and have that conversation early in the pipeline.
 

The main challenges relating to the process were mostly cultural. Some teams perhaps resented the notion that we had to implement the process, but others were more appreciative.
 

As with other things, execution proved to be crucial. We supported the process through continual repetition, all-hands, one-on-ones, check-ins, etc. We made sure that people understood the reasons and motivations behind it and we were providing a lot of Why instead of the customary Just do it.
 

The following example should illustrate the impact that the new process had on the problem solution.
As a banking platform, one of the ideas that were proposed to Engineering was to develop a set of options for every banking transaction that would allow users to convert it to a loan, microfinance it by taking a micro-loan, assess how this fits into their overall spending behavior or dispute the charge. Simply, there were too many actions that a user could take for every single transaction. After careful consideration, engineers concluded that it would imply a lot of cross-communication for every single transaction to find out those things right. There were multiple ways of going about it. For example, you could try to do it just in time as a user clicks the transaction or if you want to be very fast and intelligent you would have to pre-load these options and values and build them into the transaction data themselves. When Engineering presented these problems, Design reflected on the path of least resistance -- if that would still provide our users the value that they needed.
 

Lessons learned

  • Engineers should be involved in product discovery and as close as possible to customers. This is something most organizations fail to do.
  • Engineering and Product often have different values. Product has values about revenue and cost of customer acquisition, whereas Engineering has values about their own craft and intrinsically connected to their skills -- is the system they built elegant, are they up to the standards, etc. Different values are often fertile ground for various types of discussion -- some more or less productive.

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