The Two Layer Problem

Often in business, we create bizarre organizations where sales we insulate stakeholders from the makers.  Most of the time, it’s protecting the engineers from customers. Other times, it’s protecting sales or management from an in-house sausage factory where things just are a little more messy and little more scary than we would like them to be. Still other times, it’s making sure that management doesn’t get scared or concerned and micromanage creatives.

What results is a layer of people who talk to the customer so creative types / engineer types don’t have to.

And the customer creates a layer of people to insulate their people from your layer of people.

Now all communication flows through two layers of translators, and lots gets lost in the translation.

Structures that insulate makers from stakeholders are a giant mistake with two exceptions:

  • Integrated support teams where the creative team is tightly integrated with the support team.
  • Situations where the scale of interacting with customers is simply too large. In this case, support should be considered part of the product and owned by the product team.

Outside of these situations, the result of insulating makers from stakeholders is comically tragic:

  • Added layers of translation change the meaning of what the customer is asking for.
  • The people making the product don’t understand their customers or how customers actually use the product, leading to irrelevant new features.
  • Invisible features (migrations, refactoring, and internal operations features) may get prioritized over issues that affect large numbers of customers.
  • Features that few customers wants are pushed through to the product team resulting in product development building a white elephant instead of a feature that can expand the product’s market or increase it’s value.

All of this leads to two different, and awful outcomes:

  • The product stagnates as development is focused on invisible features or building features that a tiny number of customers want.
  • The product becomes irrelevant as competitors evolve features that matter, and your product team builds non-essential features.

Think long and hard before you introduce a layer between your makers and the customer. When you do, make sure you do it right.



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