How to Improve the Relationship Between Product and Engineering
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Posted by: Lucid Content Team
Getting product and engineering teams to work together harmoniously can be difficult. Although these teams share similar goals (i.e., a successful end-product), the motivation and process for getting there can be distinct for each group.
For instance, product managers typically own the vision for the product. Product teams often dream big and are tasked with understanding and aligning the product with the overall strategy and business case.
Engineers, on the other hand, are the technical crew that translates the vision into a tangible product. They have to balance the big dreams for the product with the realities of time, resources, and budget constraints. These differences naturally create friction between the two groups as they focus on competing priorities.
So what can you do about it?
Fortunately, just because it doesn’t come easily doesn’t mean you can’t create a more collaborative and respectful relationship between product and engineering. Here’s how both sides can work together to build a stronger, more productive working relationship.
Understanding the challenges
Before you can build a good relationship between your product and engineering teams, you need to understand what obstacles are creating friction in the first place.
Sometimes assumptions and misconceptions get in the way of building a productive and mutually respectful relationship. Here are a few misconceptions (and sometimes real challenges) of working with product managers and engineers.
Misconceptions of working with product managers
- PMs focus too much on process and meetings, wasting engineering time and slowing development.
- PMs enforce tedious amounts of documentation and testing, making engineers spend more time on paperwork than on actual development.
- PMs measure everything or nothing, making it difficult to know where to focus, what to prioritize, and how to determine the value added by the products.
Misconceptions of working with engineers
- Engineers only care about technical specifications and coding—they don’t care why they are building a product, just what it is and how to build it.
- Engineers aren’t social. They prefer to be left alone to do their work and aren’t worried about the “big picture.”
- Engineers aren’t “idea” people. They don’t need to be included in strategy and planning—they are best used for implementation.
The sad truth is that these misconceptions are widely held (and occasionally even true). As a result, mistrust, lack of respect, and misunderstanding prevent many organizations from taking advantage of the full potential of their teams.
Instead, product and engineering remain separate entities with little overlap besides product managers lobbing new requests to the engineers and engineers hustling to meet requirements on deadline.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, and frankly shouldn’t be either.
How to improve the relationship between PMs and engineers
Achieving a more respectful, collaborative environment will require work from both teams. Review potential steps that your product managers and engineers can take now.
Tips for product managers
1. Develop a product strategy together
If you want to build a more cooperative relationship between the two teams, you must create that foundation from the beginning of the development process.
Bring the engineering team into your roadmap planning conversations and align both teams with a shared vision and business strategy.
This isn’t just a symbolic gesture of goodwill. Incorporating the engineering team into your planning and strategy sessions will give you a different perspective on your product and development choices.
Engineers can provide important insight on usability, feasibility, and timelines for specific features, and offer suggestions and ideas for the product that you may not have considered. Plus, seeing your plans and the direction for the product helps engineers develop and design technology more efficiently because they know what’s ahead.
Additionally, by collaborating on the product strategy and roadmap, both teams will understand why the product is being developed. This keeps engineering on the same page as the product team and helps them see the purpose behind what they’re doing and the decisions the PM makes along the way.
Use Lucidchart to streamline the planning process using a product roadmap. A visual product roadmap makes it easy to see exactly what steps you need to take, who is involved, and how the plan aligns with your strategy. Plus, it’s easy to share with your team members and stakeholders so everyone is on the same page.
Ready to make a product roadmap to share with your team?
2. Clarify roles
One potential source of friction between the two groups is a lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
As an organization, make sure the product management and engineering teams have clear purposes and roles (e.g., PMs identify and define problems and engineers provide solutions).
But roles should also be clear on an individual level. Make sure each person understands what they’re responsible for. A flowchart or team org chart can help you document and clarify everyone’s responsibilities so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
Lucidchart makes it easy to track roles with org chart templates and simple customizable flowcharts. You can tag team members, make notes directly on the document, and share the information with anyone in your organization.
3. Share credit
A common complaint among engineers, in particular, is a lack of credit for their contributions to the product. As a PM, it is an easy trap to fall into. You are the product owner, which can often translate to being the face of the entire project.
As a result, you may end up taking (or being given) most or all of the credit for the ideas, solutions, and results of the product—sowing frustration among everyone else who put in the work to make those successes possible.
Luckily, this is a pretty easy fix.
Look for opportunities to share and spread leadership across the teams. For example, ask the lead engineer to present a progress report on technical developments to the executives. Additionally, express gratitude and acknowledge individual contributions often, both publicly (like in team meetings) and in private (such as in-person or via email).
Sharing credit, spreading leadership, and acknowledging people go a long way towards building a relationship of trust and respect.
Tips for engineers
Although PMs have a lot of power and responsibility for bridging the product and engineering team gap, engineers can also take steps to strengthen the relationship.
One of the best ways to do this is through improved communication. Here are three ways engineers can improve communication with the product team.
1. Provide detailed implementation schedules
The PM will have an ideal deadline in mind for the deliverables, but the engineers will have a better understanding of exactly how long each component will take. Often, that timeline is longer than the PM hopes for.
Instead of simply telling the PM your expected deadline, present a more detailed implementation schedule. Be specific about your projected timelines and explain any potential risks to the project milestones.
Breaking down your implementation plan and clearly communicating your reasoning behind those decisions will help the PM understand the project better and make better decisions and build trust in the engineering team.
2. Explain implementation tradeoffs
Another simple but effective way to improve communication with the PM is to clearly explain the implementation tradeoffs. For instance, within your implementation plan, there will be tradeoffs between the timeline and desired features.
When you present your implementation plan, address the tradeoffs you’ve embedded into the plan.
For example, some features could be deferred to a later release in order to meet a more aggressive deadline. Or, you may include specific testing that could push back the deadline but is recommended in order to provide a better end product.
Outlining these tradeoffs will help the PM team understand your timetable and make more informed decisions about which tradeoffs are worth it and which should be adjusted. Doing so will keep everyone on the same page and make the development process more efficient in the long run.
3. Use visuals to present and clarify your product plans
Finally, use visuals to present and clarify your plans. Visualizing your product timelines and implementation plans makes it easier for each team member to quickly understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and who’s responsible for each part. Visuals can be especially useful when presenting technical ideas and processes to a non-technical audience (like PMs).
Lucidchart has a library of customizable templates and flowcharts you can use to outline your plans and processes, all from a central location.
The intersection of product and engineering can often be messy. But it doesn’t have to be.
Instead of siloing your product and engineering teams, leverage the talent and creativity of both groups. When your product managers and engineers work together to plan, develop, and implement a product, they will be better equipped to prevent and mitigate problems, reduce costly delays (and wasted time), and deliver successful products.
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