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Building a strong relationship between Product and Engineering

24 March, 2021

Answers to the 3 big “WHATs” from the leaders at Facebook and Dolby (Daphra Holder and Venu Kalluri)

The success of any team is predicated on one key element the relationship its team members have within and with other teams. A great symbiosis between product and engineering management is essential to achieve a roadmap. Before building this great relationship, you need to understand and deal with some common hurdles that block overall productivity.

What creates tension between Product and Engineering?

  1. Asks greater than resources: Product management teams expecting faster capabilities than what Engineering can deliver, can lead to frequent priority changes and context switches for development teams.
  2. Prioritization between new features and tech-debt: Teams that have worked long enough usually have accumulated tech-debt, making it difficult for them to implement new features at a fast pace.
  3. Unexpected delays: Committed schedules sometimes get hit with unexpected delays. This can be dealt with by collectively revisiting the product MPP, trade-offs, and impacts.

Building resilience in teams can help mitigate these tensions. With unexpected situations, like COVID, when roadmaps were turned upside down, handling misalignment, timelines, and figuring out the daily iterations are crucial. These questions can help you unblur your vision:

  • What is the North Star of the team?
  • What is the strategy?
  • How does our daily work connect to our goals?

What is the secret sauce of laying a solid foundation?

Even though it is natural to have some creative tension between the two functions, you can lay the foundation of a good relationship by ensuring:

  1. Mutual accountability ー This should be from tactical to strategic decisions
  2. Shared responsibility ー Make sure that both functions own the decisions for the product and come out as leaders for the broader cross-functional team
  3. Unblocking (each other) ー Remove inefficiencies in the process and carry the cross-functional teams together.
  4. Trust ー invest in building trust over time and with positive results. Processes become fast and smooth when there are some wins on the board, and you have established trust.
  5. Context ー Give each other context as it will empower your teams. Product can provide context on the vision, customer feedback, and competitive landscape, while engineering can do the same on technology roadmap, enhancements, and capabilities.

What is the ultimate goal? - Serving the customer (As a Team)

Product focuses on the what and why, while engineering focuses on the how - Venu Kalluri.

As a Product Leader: Product can give the best visibility to Engineering about the voice of the customer. Being close to customers, Product Leaders can bring both qualitative and quantitative feedback to Engineering.

  • Share actual feedback quotes, frustrations, pain-points, recommendations (the good, the bad, and the ugly) with the development team.
  • Being the champion of usability, Invite the engineering team when usability is taking place.

As an Engineering Leader: Don’t miss the opportunities of joining the product team on customer discussions. The only way of getting qualitative input from customers is through interviews, meetings, and discussions.

  • Choose the right team members to be a part of these sessions, someone who can build a holistic view of the product feedback.
  • Engage early on and try to get broader visibility from the customer standpoint (their issues with the product).
  • Be on support for a week, closely monitor the issues, and understand who should address those.

Conclusion:

Product dreams big on behalf of the customer, and Engineering makes these dreams a reality. A great relationship with engineering and product allows you to maximize and leverage the talent you have on both teams. With mutual understanding and collaboration, both teams will be better equipped to deal with challenges, grow, and deliver great products.

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