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Point of view matters


My previous post on the power of One was from the perspective of the individual on a team. But then Eric Titcombe made a great comment that could reflect the manager's point of view. And that reminded me of how the POV of people in different job roles and departments can be so different. Marketing (and/or sales) folks have a point when they say that without them, the best product in the world won't have enough customers (although that picture is changing). The engineers have a point that without them, the marketers have...nothing. Who is right? Does it matter?

I developed a game for Virgin Sound & Vision (a part of Virgin which had still been owned by Richard Branson and was focused on younger games), called Terratopia, that had 300 people working on it in one form or another. And exactly one programmer... me. I thought I was the center of the world for that game. I mean, come on, without the programmer, there WAS no game. But then when the credits were created (and rolled to look like movie credits), I came in around number 12. I didn't really care, but it still shocked me that I, center of the world, wasn't #1. But of course the producer assumed that HE was the center of that product, and the art director thought HE was, and the story's creator thought SHE was, and the lead designer, and I think even the sound designer/composer thought he ought to be above the coder.

So it was all a matter of perspective.

But what I think is far more important than recognizing that each part of the world in which the product or service exists has a different POV, is finding a way to make sure these different people talk to one another. I couldn't believe how few cross-departmental meetings we had when I was at Sun. Here I am complaining about people not ever talking to an external customer, when an even deeper issue is that so many people never talk to anyone outside their own department. And that's just crazy.

A couple of months ago I was at the Sun campus working on the new version of the Java programmer certification exam, when I bumped into the marketing guy to whom that exam belonged. He asked what I was doing there, and I told him how we were working on the new exam, and how cool it was. He looked at me strangely and said, "but there's really nothing new there, right? It's just yet another version of the same old exam." So I looked at him strangely and said, "Are you KIDDING me? This is a profoundly different exam in so many ways, and..." off I went, detailing all the reasons why I thought there was indeed a Big New Story here. I invited him down to the meeting room where he could meet the entire exam development team and interview us while we were right in the midst of it. He was seriously surprised, but in the end... delighted.

Whether the right people from other departments know about the exciting things you're working on should not depend on whether a contractor crashes into them accidentally in the cafeteria.

If you're producing a product, and you're the engineer, for frick's sake find a way to make sure the marketing and sales people hear how exciting it is. Don't wait for official department channels, just tell them. If YOU show how excited you are, chances are you'll infect them and god knows, the marketing folks could probably use a little passionate enthusiasm from the ones who deliver the goods.

And vice-versa. If you're in marketing, why aren't you really spending time talking to the ones who do the work? If I ruled the world and were a manager, I'd absolutely insist on getting these groups to meet face-to-face (or at least on web-cam) on a regular basis, not just at the annual company picnic.

And if both sides spent more time learning what the other folks really did, they might use that new knowledge and appreciation in key ways. One of the worst things that can happen to an engineering team, for example, is when marketing suddenly schedules a "press opportunity", which means... an impressive demo. I was once given two weeks to come up with a version of a game (All Dogs Go To Heaven, for MGM) that was going into a box of Cheerios. [perky voice]"You can't miss on this one, Kathy,--this is the first CD-ROM to ever go into a box of cereal. But we just KNOW you can do it" : ) [/perky voice]
I was horrified, yet not surprised, that marketing had yet again promised something that would kill me to deliver. And I couldn't help thinking that if these folks really knew what we did and how software development worked (especially on games), they wouldn't just sign us up for stuff with abandon. On the other hand, at that time I had zero appreciation for what their job or life was like in marketing, so I considered them just a big fat annoyance. People whose sole responsibility was to mess up our schedules and way over-promise the press and clients.

(Footnote: it turned out that I got four weeks instead of two, because just before they shipped it, someone realized that the protective sleeve around the CD-ROM might actually be harmful to the cereal. So I very nearly became the girl responsible for delivering the game that killed kids. )

So, what are you doing to see things from the POV of the other folks involved with your product or service? If you're a manager, what are you doing to encourage the conversation within the company?

Posted by Kathy on February 21, 2005 | Permalink


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It's called "Human Nature". We overestimate both our cotribution and how much we think the boss guy should pay us.

You want organisation theory? I'll give you organisation theory. Watch a young litter of puppies fight over the mother's teats. See the big puppies land the primare mamarian real estate. See the little puppies not too happy about it.

Rock on.

Posted by: hugh macleod | Feb 22, 2005 3:51:16 AM

This is a great post. I was always amazed, when I worked at a new media company, how you would tell the programmers, "OK make this" with no explanation of how it fit into the larger picture, and they would, with no questions asked. And then when it came out completely differently than you expected it to the blamestorming began. I developed a personal rule. Sit down with everyone involved and tell the story of the product--why you are doing it, etc, and let people add their bits to the story. In the end there are no surprises.

We started inviting the techies to our business development meetings. Most of them nearly fell asleep, but a few, not surprisingly the leaders took full advantage of them. Our deliverables were better as a result. Once you know the whole story behind the product every aspect of it makes sense.

Posted by: Jory Des Jardins | Feb 24, 2005 3:03:23 PM

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