I’ve got a friend who has spent the last couple of years as a Product Manager for a Canadian directories company. He’s been back in Australia for a little while now and we recently spent some time over a beer discussing his role (in addition to ice hockey fights, maple syrup infused beer, beards per capita and random encounters with moose).
The company he worked for is an emerging competitor to the established monopoly – similar to the businesses that are trying to take market share off Yellow and White Pages in Australia – and they have a heavy innovation focus. They do the majority of development on their established products using in-house Agile teams and the Product Managers interact with the development teams using Agile BAs as the intermediary.
Pretty standard stuff, really.
However, what I found really interesting was that in addition to the in-house Dev teams, the Product Managers all have a budget that they manage themselves for outsourced software development. My friend gave me an example of a piece of data cleansing work. He wanted a piece of software that:
– took a spreadsheet of organisation contact details as input;
– did a search on the web for each organisation;
– spidered 2-3 of the top results;
– gathered contact information (address, phone number, etc.);
– compared the discovered contact information with the spreadsheet details; and,
– provided a score which indicated the likelihood that the spreadsheet data was wrong.
After visiting ifreelance.com he found a Ukranian firm who developed the software at the princely sum of $20USD an hour. He wrote the User Stories and Acceptance Criteria himself and ran an iterative process (e.g. adding a blacklist of sites to ensure that his own company’s results didn’t come up in the search, tuning the algorithm for discovering contact information, tuning the scoring mechanism, searching from proxies so as not to get blacklisted, etc.).
Within 3 weeks he had working software that resolved in excess of 500,000 data quality issues and cost less than $10k. He told me that if he had have tried to get the in-house team to do the work he would likely never have got an outcome because of the low priority of the work and the associated costs.
Obviously this approach isn’t going to work for everyone. In a larger environment, with integration and environment considerations, you need the support of professional analysts and a dedicated development function. You’d also have to be very careful about where you ran the software from – e.g. a demilitarised zone or similar – and you’d probably want some sort of technical assurance to ensure protection of Intellectual Property.
All that said, the two things that stood out for me were:
1. The value of a product manager with competency in some key dimensions of Business Analysis;
2. The changing face of the IT marketplace.
Anyway, so last week, I got an email from a former colleague in the UK who needed 5 weeks of .NET / Umbraco CMS development done with tight timeframes and a small budget. I forwarded the email to my Australian / Canadian friend, who forwarded it to his Ukranian contact. They’ve since engaged and are about to kick off iteration zero…