Striving for Optimal Efficiency: How Notion leverages EPD collaboration

March 15, 2023

Michael Manapat

Michael Manapat

Head of Engineering at Notion

Watch the full recording of this Engineering Q&A with Notion's Head of Engineering:

Michael Manapat, Head of Engineering at Notion and former Head of AI/ML Engineering at Stripe, shared his experiences and insights on EPD operating models in a recent webinar titled "Striving for Optimal Efficiency: How Notion leverages EPD collaboration." The interview, conducted by Quang Hoang, co-founder, and CEO at Plato, covered various topics, including the differences between Stripe and Notion's operating models, the challenges Notion has faced in its growth, and the importance of collaboration between engineering and product teams.

In the fast-paced world of technology, having an effective and efficient engineering, product, and design (EPD) operating model is crucial for success. Companies that can cohesively bring their engineering, product, and design functions together can better develop innovative products and respond quickly to market demands.

Manapat discussed the operating model at Stripe, where he managed the group that built Stripe's machine-learning products. Stripe had no engineering managers (EMs) until the early 2010s and no product managers (PMs) in title until late 2015. However, the company's strong business operations team often did product management-like work. When the first PMs were finally added to the team, leadership paired them with EMs in a mind-meld fashion. The operating model at Stripe, where EMs and PMs work together, is effective but relatively rare.

Moving on to Notion, Manapat discussed the company's growth and its challenges. Like Stripe, the first PMs were hired late, having no PMs until 2021, which caused difficulties in coordinating product development with go-to-market teams. This delayed hiring also led to asymmetry within the engineering organization, leading to unbalanced teams and a slower development process.

The Differences between Stripe and Notion's Operating Models

Manapat discussed the differences between the early days of Stripe and Notion. He highlighted the product offerings of the two companies. Stripe sold to startups and had a clear value proposition of using Stripe for payments to avoid bureaucracy and difficulties integrating payments with legacy providers. On the other hand, Notion offered various use cases, catering to consumers, startups, and enterprises.

Another difference highlighted by Manapat was the focus on different personas. Early Stripe was primarily focused on developers, whereas Notion was building for various personas, including individual consumers, power users, and enterprise admins who make buying decisions for companies like Square.

Product Managers != Product-Minded Engineers

Manapat also pointed out that while both Stripe and Notion focused on hiring product-minded engineers early on, they were insufficient to fill the gap that PMs were required to fill early on.

Some engineers are excellent at thinking carefully about UX, design, and product flows. Still, they often spend little time thinking about long-term strategy or roadmap, market segmentation, or different personas' needs. PMs, meanwhile, can provide a unified vision, long-term roadmap, and market segmentation to ensure product development aligns with business goals.

Defining Roles and Responsibilities for EMs and PMs

Defining roles and responsibilities for EMs and PMs to have a successful and effective EPD operating model is essential. According to Manapat, clarifying what is expected from the relationship between EMs and PMs, including their division of roles and responsibilities, is crucial. This clarity can help hire, coach, and align team members toward a common goal.

In some organizations, the roles of EMs and PMs may overlap, while in others, they may be clearly defined. Manapat highlights that each company should determine what makes sense for their organization and be clear about their expectations. Companies must be flexible enough to adjust their operating model as they grow and their needs change.

Joint Ownership of Specific Charter Metrics

Manapat also emphasizes the need for joint ownership of specific charter metrics by EMs and PMs. Charter metrics are critical metrics that drive the success of a product. By having both EMs and PMs share responsibility for these metrics, they can work together to ensure that product development aligns with business goals.

Team Structure

Manapat believes a team structure that identifies more with the product area than the functional team can be highly effective. He suggests that teams should operate as units with a collective desire to move the product or business forward.

For a team that is shipping and building user-facing products, Manapat recommends having an EM and a PM responsible for that team and nothing else if resources allow. The pairing of designers, PMs, and EMs is crucial for achieving mind meld and ensuring the ratio stays one-to-one.

This discussion highlighted the importance of collaboration between engineering and product teams, the need for a product-focused team structure, and the importance of balancing efficiency, speed, and quality.

Companies must define their EMs and PMs' roles and responsibilities to have an effective and efficient EPD operating model. They should also establish joint ownership of specific charter metrics and adopt a team structure that identifies more with the product area than the functional team. Finally, companies must balance efficiency, speed, and quality in their product development process.

An effective and efficient EPD operating model is crucial for success in the fast-paced world of technology. Organizations that prioritize collaboration between their engineering and product teams and find the right balance between efficiency, speed, and quality will be well-positioned for success in the long run.

Watch the full recording of this Engineering Q&A Session now!

Watch the full recording of this session here:

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