“The Business” is BS

A bit of a rant from Threads:

“The Business” – this is a phrase that should be used sparingly in Product Development, if at all. How does it show up?

“What does the business want?” is one example.
Have you ever heard, “The business wants X” or “The business need Y”?
“The business is insisting that it needs to have Z”

Of course, this shorthand hides some really important complexity. It’s also quite damaging to your culture. Let me try to explain a little what I mean by each of these.

Order taker, coming right up…

Firstly, when we say “the business” we’re putting some other part of the organisation on a level where they are deemed more important than the folks in Product Development. I have to constantly remind teams, that if the software we use to run businesses was switched off, then “the business” would cease to function, almost immediately. So is the technology, the software, the digital product, isn’t that a really crucial part of “the business” and how it works?

Tech/Software/Data/Platforms – these are absolutely intertwined and part of “the business”. It’s not that we are Tech or Digital or Product and those people over there are “the business”. We are “the business” too. And even more so in 2024 than we’ve ever been.

If you want to be treated like an Order Taker by Marketing or Operations or Sales or Finance or whoever, then sure, go ahead, keep referring to those other parts of your organisation as “the business”.And once that Order Taker mentality takes root, it’s very sticky. Won’t take long at all. Good luck with that.

The many-headed “Business” Hydra

Secondly, lumping the rest of the organisation into a nebulous whole called “the business” really does hide the fact that so many different parts of your org outside of Tech/Digital/Product really won’t agree on a whole raft of things.

Finance will want us to hit our budgets, both on OpEx and CapEx, as well as Revenue targets, EBITDA, etc.

Marketing will be more focused on Churn and Growth figures, the things that generally link back to the value of the brand and hopefully(?) link back to the marketing activities.

Operations want VERY different things, usually. They want less manual processing, less risk, more automation, more straight-through processing, better user experience so they get fewer calls, more uptime, faster triage of issues. All important stuff, but often quite different to what other parts of the org wants.

I could go on, but my point is that “the business” isn’t a monolith or even a monoculture – they’re rarely aligned and often want conflicting things and have their own set of incentives for wanting those things.

In short: there is no “business” you can reliably refer to. And it’s part of our role on the Product Development side to synthesise all of that complexity and still manage to plot a path through it.

How to respond to these questions? A good starting point is to ask them to be more specific. Who in the business wants X? Which part of the business is suggesting that Y is needed? “Who” is your friend. Even within the same department, you’ll often find very different viewpoints, so ideally you would land at a single name. I’ve found that helps.

And definitely avoid any user stories that start with “As a business…” That’s an anti-pattern from a whole bunch of angles.