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An Open Letter To Product Management


Hey, product managers!

I’m an engineer. We need to talk! (I promise not to spout technical jargon at you.)

Let’s be honest: our two groups don’t see eye to eye as much as we should. Perhaps now is a chance to change that!

To start, we (as engineers) understand that your job is to take the product’s vision (informed by customer desire) and bring it into reality. We get that it can be high-pressure and time-sensitive and you’re trying to make the best decisions possible. We also see that you’re ultimately responsible for the business outcomes. A lot rides on you!

Sometimes, the focus on business outcomes and time-to-value is prioritized over collaboration with your engineering team. Yes, we engineers don’t appreciate the high-level concerns for the product as you do. However, we are very good at understanding the conditions in the field, which is vital for you when planning the roadmap. Let me explain why.

Sure, we often discuss whether or not we can build a specific thing by a certain time (or at all), but sometimes we want to talk about the overhead required in building new features in general. We could also see increasing discomfort or time spent responding to alerts, fixing broken tests, or performing a release. That might sound like engineering issues, but trust me when I say: they are product issues also.

Why? Several reasons:

  • They affect profitability.
  • They affect our ability to ship features or quickly fix bugs.
  • They affect scalability, which in the long run will kill future sales.

We don’t like spending effort on those things, either! We hate it when a good chunk of our time is taken up by that type of work, especially when it interrupts our nights and weekends. We want to build features and solve the interesting problems you give us!

I think there’s a better way. Let’s make a deal: if we engineers give you data on how the day-to-day work for the product is becoming painful and costly in terms of time and money, we ask that you use that data and work with us on prioritizing the backlog together. Yes, we can’t just scrap the roadmap entirely and focus only on quality-of-life issues for us engineers. However, a steady and deliberate investment towards improvements would mean a lot.

I leave you with this: a healthy partnership with an efficient and engaged engineering team enables feature delivery and creative solutions to real business problems.

If you don’t invest in that, understand that your competition will.

Thanks for reading!

(Image credit: Joshua Worowiecki)