What is it you do?

When I work with new managers (and some managers who have been around for a while), some of the first questions I ask are:

How does your unit/department/team contribute to generating revenue for the company?

How does the work of your unit contribute to gaining new customers and keeping existing customers?

A surprising (to me) number of managers don’t have clear answers to these questions. (When I ask the people actually building the software, some people know, but more don’t…. which is less surprising, but still problematic.)

If a manager can’t answer these questions, how can he make good decisions about prioritizing work and analyzing trade-offs? How can he decide what not to do?

Here’s another set of questions to ask:

Who is the customer (internal or external) for your product?

Have you talked to your customers lately?

How do they use your product?

How does your product fit into their world?

What challenges do they face?

When employees can answer these questions, they can see how their work fits into the bit picture. Most people find work more satisfying when they can see how their work contributes to something bigger.

When employees can answer these questions, they make better decisions.

Both can affect the bottom line.