Plato Elevate Winter Summit has been announced (Dec 7th-8th)

🔥

Back to resources

Prioritizing Tech Work vs. Product Work: The Incomplete Story

Internal Communication
Collaboration

30 June, 2020

Jose Pettoruti
Jose Pettoruti

Director of Engineering at Currency Cloud

Jose Pettoruti, Director of Engineering at CurrencyCloud, shares some tips on how to prioritize and balance tech work with ever-emerging new features by working closely with the product team.

Problem

Tech teams often grumble about not doing enough tech work and having to do only feature work. Meanwhile, tech debt keeps piling up, the platform becomes unstable because of scalability issues, maintenance is hard and hugely time-consuming, and cycle time increases. Tech teams blame product teams for not prioritizing enough tech work to what they reply by complaining about not having enough time as the business wants to keep new features flowing. As a consequence, increased pressure makes tech people tend to less enjoy their work, and increasingly start to leave the org -- poor retention additionally adds to a bad atmosphere, and soon the whole organization is trapped in a vicious circle of dissatisfaction.

Actions taken

As a leader, identify and document tech work that needs to be done. Use any tool of your liking -- text document, Jira tickets, Trello cards, a spreadsheet, anything you are comfortable with.

Classify the work as planned or unplanned, following the Four Types of Work framework (https://www.visionate.co.nz/the-devops-four-work-types) from the Phoenix Project.

Align with your product team on criteria for prioritization; the RICE framework would be a useful tool to start with. (https://www.intercom.com/blog/rice-simple-prioritization-for-product-managers/)

Product usually will assign a monetary value to the investment of building a feature that might be hard to specify for tech work, but nevertheless you should elaborate on why you want to do it, what it brings to the table and how it helps to progress the state of the platform -- if it contributes to improving scalability, improving cycle time, improving system performance or UX, addressing architectural debt, etc. Don’t hesitate to ask your product person for help, after all, they are not only experts but partners in crime.

After everything is compiled and listed down, assign some very rough estimates, using T-Shirt sizing (S, M, L, XL; defining more specifically what this means). Put this together with your product backlog, after which you can have an objective and factual discussion on what should be prioritized, how, and when.

Lessons learned

  • Product and tech are two sides of the same coin and are intrinsically entwined together. A Tech Lead or Engineering Manager needs to be tightly aligned with the product and not acting as their opposites. It is the same team and we happen to be in the same boat.
  • Oftentimes, tech people complain that the product side of the business is reluctant to consider their proposals, but in all truth, product people have a unique set of competencies needed to build the whole story, unlike their technical counterparts. Also, with a solid story behind your initiatives, it will be hard for the business to dismiss them.
  • At a minimum, you should provide enough context and get enough context about product priorities. By providing this context, everyone will become more aware of the challenges you’re up against and would be in a better position to help you.
  • If you are not able to handle the tech-product tensions by yourself, don’t be afraid to escalate to your superiors and ask for help.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Preparing Your Team for the Remote Workplace

29 November

Vadim Antonov, Engineering Manager at Meta, dictates how he brought a brand new team into the remote learning process by ramping up onboarding and creating a mentor system.

Alignment
Remote
Internal Communication
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Data Team
Cross-Functional Collaboration
Vadim Antonov

Vadim Antonov

Engineering Manager at Facebook

Specialization vs. Wearing Many Hats

23 November

William Bajzek, Director of Engineering at Sapphire Digital, compares and contrasts a team structure that utilized siloed skill sets and one where everybody’s duties overlap at the edges.

Internal Communication
Collaboration
William Bajzek

William Bajzek

Director of Engineering at Sapphire Digital

Mergers and Acquisitions: Collaboration tools hold a key to bringing cultures together

23 November

Neelima Annam, Sr Director Information Technology at Outmatch, shares how something as minor as collaboration tools can be a BIG issue during mergers and acquisitions.

Acquisition / Integration
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Neelima Annam

Neelima Annam

Sr. Director Information Technology at Outmatch HCM

The art of managing up

19 November

James Engelbert, Head of Product at BT, shares how managing up is all about being an excellent manager to bring the best out of a team.

Mission / Vision / Charter
Managing Up
Internal Communication
Strategy
Stakeholders
Cross-Functional Collaboration
James Engelbert

James Engelbert

Head of Product at BT

How to Build Rapport With an Introverted Manager

17 November

Piyush Dubey, Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft, shares his journey of climbing up the career ladder through awkward times dealing with an introverted manager.

Managing Expectations
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Juniors
Piyush Dubey

Piyush Dubey

Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.