Developers will be idle soon, why are you not creating user stories?

A few years back, a senior engineering manager kept a stern face and told me “The developers will be idle from next month as you seem to have no more user stories lined-up for them. I will withdraw them from your product and they will not be available when you need them”. I looked at him flabbergasted. When on earth was Product Manager’s job to create work for developers? A Product Manager’s job is to run the product’s business in a profitable manner; in the process if there is work for developers or sales or support – that is only a consequence of it. I have seen Product Managers succumbing to such statements by:

– Developing features which have low business value – thereby creating a monster which needs to be supported for years to come

– Developing supplementary services which do not align with the overall vision of the company

While such a statement to start with was myopic, so are some of the reactions. During “lean” periods there are productive ways to make the best use of the time:

  • Solve technical debts. There may not be any immediate business value, but in the due course this will pay off by lesser maintenance cost and faster implementation of new features. Again, identification of the right “technical debt” to solve is a challenging task which the product manager must engage the Architect and other senior technical specialists of the product.
  • Take your developers to the customers: Some organizations have institutionalized customer visits by all members of the team, while some restrict it to the product managers and sales. This is a great time to take the development folks to meet customers in a “no agenda” fashion to know how they use the product and elicit “pain points”. These visits give a great insight into the customer, which usually results in greater sense of commitment and involvement for the participants, having known what their creation does to lives of people.

Use lean periods wisely.

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