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The product manager's guide to proactive risk management

How to mitigate risk from building the wrong thing, poor technical planning, and bad process

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Block product development failures

We have a saying in product development, “If everything is fine, you just don’t know what’s wrong.” Technology alone can introduce a heavy burden of ambiguity. Combined with a fragile market, shifting sponsor priorities, and the proverbial need for ducks in a row quickly extend beyond what human planning can easily encompass. Risk can’t completely be avoided (and the rewards wouldn’t be as sweet), but we’ve worked to systemically define and track a set of metrics that will help you avoid fatal failures. Offense is the best defense when it comes to risk management in product development.

How to mitigate product risk

A dominant theme of iterative product development is course correction based on integrated learning. In other words, a product team expects to fine-tune their assumptions based on data collected from a partially finished product during the development life cycle. Additional needs usually manifest through user testing sessions, job shadowing, research, and product analytics. Assumptions and requirements are rapidly refined as soon as working software is in front of the target audience, avoiding massive rework efforts at later stages.

This same iterative learning process is applied while scanning for underwater obstacles across the following three risk categories:

Product viability: Stakeholder bias may be detrimentally affecting the product roadmap. The product built may be what the customer wants, but not be what the customer needs. The perceived market opportunity may be smaller or less impactful.

Technical feasibility and quality: Technical design and architecture may not scale. Unforeseen dependencies and integrations may delay production beyond target dates. Emerging technology capabilities may fall short of predictions.

Evergreen delivery: Funding, planning, and execution are performed using a linear, waterfall model. Misleading progress reports exhausted funding, leading to termination of effort stemming from the drastic deviation experienced from the planned budget. Product maintainability decreases with time.

These risks are not exclusive to new product development or greenfield work. The same challenges surface in brownfield (i.e., modernization, evolution) efforts, and in-flight recovery projects. In this white paper, I’ll share a comprehensive framework to help your product team monitor, intercept, and resolve risks for all types of product development work.

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