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Constant collaboration between Product Management & Engineering

Managing Expectations
Product Team
Conflict Solving
Collaboration
Reorganization

4 April, 2018

Monica Bajaj
Monica Bajaj

VP of Engineering at Okta, Inc.

Monica Bajaj talks about how to avoid and resolve conflict between product management and engineering teams.

Problem

At one of the companies I worked at, there was a problem around the alignment of deliverables, with constant conflict between Product Management and Engineering. Product management wanted everything the customers had asked for, and Engineering was not in the position to deliver. Every organization is likely to face this sort of challenge, especially in terms of what needs to be done versus what can be done and what it feasible. No matter how bad the situation is, both parties should stay calm. While it's important to acknowledge the frustrations that Engineering or Product Management may have when they are in disagreement, it is important to keep your emotions aside while building a product. Instead, keep just two goals in mind - Product Management should focus on revenue, and Engineering should focus on quality and building the product. This should allow you to compromise without compromising quality or customer experience.

Actions taken

As a Director of Engineering. I made sure that we have rules of engagement around ownership and roles across Product Management and Engineering. Product Management's role was to understand market requirements, to gather customer feedback, and to work with marketing and sales to facilitate messages around delivery. Engineering's role was to work closely with Product Management to help them assess the technical feasibility of features, how they blend into the overall architecture, and to help in getting it to the market quickly with a great quality. In addition, we decided to resolve disagreements by cutting projects down into smaller pieces, and then to allocate them to either Product Management or Engineering. Doing this also allowed us to decide on whether a feature needed to be added urgently, or whether it could wait until a later release. This was also called as chunking down and then chunking up model. I also invited Product Managers to Engineering meetings when there were discussions about critical milestones. This helped to avoid conflict, as it kept Product Managers informed about the state of the release, so they can plan any external coordination that may be required. In addition, Product Managers provided the entire engineering team with quarterly feedback from the field, so that engineers could get a feel about how customers were using their products, and what the challenges that customers were facing were around the product that they had built and released.

Lessons learned

Engineering Architects and QA Architects, as well as Product Managers and Dev Managers, need to be in sync so that valid use cases are getting exercised in terms of development and QA. These can be further trickled down to the rest of the team members. Building trust between Project Management and Engineering helps to make the delivery process much smoother, and gives you room to negotiate in a much more positive and effective way.

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