Effective Cross-Functional Collaboration Between Technical and Product Leaders
4 January, 2022
Getting into Uncharted Territories
We had to pivot our product into a new area for growth and relevance in the market. In this case, our product owners did not precisely know what to build to enter the new product area, while keeping the existing flywheel spinning. Fortunately, I had a principal engineer on my team with strong business acumen and was very collaborative with the product owners. Although we had well-defined roles for various levels of product owners, engineers, engineering managers, etc., it was still a grey area on how a principal engineer and product leadership would collaborate successfully. We needed to create that template.
Define a repeatable M.O.
I worked with the principal engineer and the product leadership to first collectively define “what needs to be built”, if we did not have time or capacity constraints. Since neither of us knew what the full scope of the new initiative was, the principal engineer blocked off their time for a couple of days and got to researching and defining the problem space.
This research and dedication gave the product owners an in-depth knowledge and understanding of full scope, how to approach it from an MVP perspective, helped them to overlay with a customer perspective, gave a few options to play with, and also have an idea on future iterations. New initiatives typically take months to get off the ground with huge amounts of uncertainty, and this engineer’s holistic research gave us a condensed view from both product and technical perspective in a short time. Knowing the risks, feasibility and viability ahead of time helped me to structure our teams accordingly, and options on how to roll out the product to our customers. This essentially became our modus operandi on how to productize and operationalize new ideas to market, which we successfully applied to several other new features thereafter.
Using this relationship between the engineer and the product team, I also created a Venn diagram to help my team understand the difference between a good and a great engineer. The diagram had three simple circles: Product, Technology, and Mentorship.
A good engineer is excellent with technical depth and breadth. When given a problem, they can develop a solid engineering solution, and mentor others on the team as well. The third dimension that makes them great engineers is their understanding of the product, business and operations side as well - essentially their ability to define the problem holistically. An engineer who can assess things from a technical, product and business perspective can influence a much wider surface area of the product, than just technology.
Define “the What” before “How”, “When” or “Who”
- Always have your senior-most engineers pair effectively with Product leadership so that you can define the problem effectively before attempting to solve it. This way, the feasibility and viability of new initiatives are addressed upfront, risks are minimized, you have more options with trade-offs, and the probability of success increases.
- Building a “We win together, we lose together” mindset across both Engineering and Product organizations will help set the stage for effective collaboration, and let the best ideas and approaches shine, irrespective of where they come from.
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