Why collaboration between Product Managers and Engineering Managers matters
If you have worked in software development, you know that getting product and engineering teams to work harmoniously together can be difficult.
The premise sounds simple.
Product Managers define “what” needs to be built and “why”.
Engineers define “how” it needs to be built.
But we all know that it is not that simple.
We have seen Product Managers who get lost in defining how things should work instead of focusing on what needs to be built.
We have also seen Engineering Managers who define what their team should be working on, when their role lies in empowering their team to deliver the Vision the Product Manager has set.
But it goes beyond having clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
We have all heard or experienced some of the following:
Engineers complaining that the Product Managers give them too much work.
Product Managers who get frustrated because they find their Engineers to be “too slow” and who feel like the development process is a black box.
What we envision is a world where Product and Engineering Teams are aligned on where the product is going and on the roadmap that have been communicated to stakeholders, and where there is a collaboration based on mutual respect, trust, transparency, and empathy.
If that’s a world you want to live in, the first step in that direction is to improve the relationship between the Product Managers and the Engineering Managers.
So that’s what we will focus on in this article.
Principles for an effective collaboration
As we have mentioned above we believe in a collaboration between Product Managers and Engineering Managers that is based on the following principles:
1. Respect & Trust
A prerequisite for this collaboration is that everyone focuses on their area of responsibility, everyone focuses on what they do best, and how they are meant to drive the team forward to create a product that users will love.
That also means that people trust each other within their domain of expertise. Think empowerment, not micromanagement.
Product Managers focus on the Vision, on defining where the product needs to go to meet users’ needs and business requirements.
Engineering Managers focus on enabling the engineering team with the right tools and resources so they can deliver on time and at a high level of quality.
2. Transparency and Open Communication
Low trust often stems from a lack of communication between both parties. Problems are only uncovered or addressed when it is too late when the delivery is delayed or the feature has been built. That’s why we need more communication and transparency between Product Managers and Engineering Managers.
If as an Engineering Manager you make an effort to share your ⚡constraints and 💥 bottlenecks with the Product Manager, that person will be more inclined to do the same. That will often help to unblock situations much more easily.
A big source of conflict as mentioned above are often deadlines, because Engineers are affected by deadlines set by Product Teams and where they were not involved.
To avoid that, Product Managers need to 🤝 involve Engineering Managers in the definition of their 🧱Product Roadmap. Even if the deadlines are challenging, if the team is involved in the decision-making, they will cope with them more easily.
Once that open communication is in place it is also important to show one another empathy for each other’s challenges and problems.
If a Product Manager is committed to a certain deadline with a stakeholder that cannot be pushed, showing 💛 understanding for that situation and finding solutions to help meet that deadline can go a long way.
If an Engineering Manager highlights that the current infrastructure, tech stack, or processes don’t enable the team to work faster, showing 💛 understanding in adapting deadlines or in prioritizing some technical developments makes a big difference.
Some practical advice
Advice for Product Managers
- 🤝 Involve the Engineering Manager in the definition of your Product Vision and Roadmap.
Deadlines that are communicated with stakeholders should be aligned beforehand with the Engineering Manager, not only to make sure your timeline is realistic. But beyond that your Engineering Manager can be a sounding board, someone who gives you a different perspective.
- 🧠 Take the time to explain the “why”
Often as Product Managers, we focus on the details of what needs to be built, but we forget to share our thinking and why we think this feature will add value to our users’ lives. Sharing that with your Engineering Manager will give them a different appreciation for why their team has to build this, and it will give them an opportunity to offer a better idea of what should be built. I promise there is nothing more beautiful than having an Engineering Manager challenge you on whether this feature will actually add value to your users. Once you speak the same language, life becomes easier.
- 💛 Understand their constraints and challenges to inform your decisions
Take the time to also speak “their” language, to understand “their” world. If you understand the context in which your Engineers operate better you’ll be able to make better decisions not only on deadlines but also on what you should be building.
Advice for Engineering Managers
Be honest about bottlenecks, technical developments, and delays in deadlines.
Product Managers are often unaware of the infrastructure, resources, and tools that are necessary for your team to speed up their delivery. Informing them about it gives them a chance to adapt their deadlines, and to plan for time to improve that infrastructure.
🙌 Present them with trade-offs when it comes to finding the right solutions.
Some of the best discussions we have seen between Product Managers and Engineering Managers are when they come up together with a better solution. If there is an Option A that takes 2 months to build that feature, but there is also a simpler Option B that takes 2 weeks, then share that with them. By discussing trade-offs like that you will come up with better solutions!
🚩 Let them define what the team should be working on.
Your role is to empower your team and make sure they have the right tools to deliver high-quality work. Leave the Vision and Roadmap to the Product Manager. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pitch in your ideas and contribute to this Vision with your own perspective!
Take a step toward one another
👣 In both cases, it is about taking a step toward one another.
🗣 Learning to speak each other’s language.
🧠 Getting to know each other’s worlds.
👂 Listening to them.
🙌 Involving them.
🤝 Working together in this way, as a team, will enable you to create great products, simply because the people working on it are actually 💛collaborating with one another, recognizing each other’s value, respecting it, and making the most of it.