login


Google Sign inLinkedIn Sign in

Don't have an account? 

Prioritizing Tech Work vs. Product Work: The Incomplete Story

Collaboration
Internal Communication

30 June, 2020

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.

Related stories

Skip-Level One-On-Ones: Skip Them of Keep Them?
2 August

Peter Fedorocko, Director of Engineering at Workday, discusses if a manager should keep his skip-level one-on-ones and describes how he introduced the Open Doors instead.

Large Number of Reports
Leadership
Micromanagement
Internal Communication
Peter Fedoročko

Peter Fedoročko

Director of Engineering at Workday

The Power of Documentation Seen Through the Lens of a Manager
2 August

Lloyd Holman, Head of Engineering at By Miles, explains why documentation is essential for any company to achieve excellence, particularly underlining its importance in onboarding new engineers.

Onboarding
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Lloyd Holman

Lloyd Holman

Head Of Engineering at By Miles

How to Prevent a Single Point of Failure
28 July

Arun Krishnaswamy, Director of Data Science at Workday, elaborates on how he approached a single point of failure problem while sharing three key tips (or guardrails) on how to prevent it.

Different Skillsets
Legitimacy
Firing
Internal Communication
Ownership
Arun Krishnaswamy

Arun Krishnaswamy

Director at Workday

How to Spark Innovation in Your Team
17 July

Shyam Prabhakar, Engineering Manager at Stitch Fix, recalls how only one experience sharing a session with peers from another company profoundly transformed his team and led them to the path of innovation.

Collaboration
Motivation
Shyam Prabhakar

Shyam Prabhakar

Engineering Manager at Stitch Fix

How to Effectively Communicate on Slack
6 July

Shridharan Muthu, VP of Engineering at Zoosk, discusses effective communication using Slack including a recommended framework that entails three simple tips to make the most of the tool.

Internal Communication
Remote
Productivity
Shridharan Muthu

Shridharan Muthu

VP of Engineering, Backend Applications at Zoosk

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.