Best relationship between product and engineering manager
If you are the Engineering Manager in the team and have Product Manager partner to pair with, you should consider yourself lucky! That’s the best situation you can be in if you are leading the team. Your partnership can have one of three results on your team:
- create a virtuous circle that will really accelerate your product and team members;
- be good but not great and thus help resolve Product decisions but not necessarily the performance of the team;
- be a continuous source of confusion and distraction when both of you are sending clashing messages.
Having two conductors for the orchestra means that they really need to sync perfectly! How to achieve that?
Same goals for each time frame - short, mid and long term
Two of you need to make sure that you are aligned and have the same goals in mind, for each time frame. Such a conversation will help us trust each other. It won’t be uncommon when you disagree fundamentally on what to do next and how to execute a project. You might push towards spending some time on tackling this technical debt that was always slowing the team down while your PM might optimise for speed and just wants to learn early if the feature can get expected traction. Aligning that you two have the same goals will make you both more bought in to understand each other rationales and trade-offs.
Be genuinely interested in each other work
You both need to be genuinely interested in each other work. This will make sure that you talk and bounce off ideas on what to do next in your areas of expertise and you will better grow as partners. Engineering Manager needs to understand all the work that her PM partner is doing and try to dive deeper from time to time. Similarly, it should work the other way.
There is also a huge benefit of better resiliency in the team. You don’t have to worry so much about holidays, personal distractions or temporary swamp of other responsibilities if you know you can replace each other to some extent.
Shared values and principles.
Usually, PM and EM have different managers (Director of Product and Director of Engineering respectively). It’s important to make sure that both of these organisations are sharing similar values and principles on how they work. You can take it for granted, but I would definitely talk about it with my PM partner and make sure that you are behaving the same way.
What would EM expect from PM?
I am skipping core PM responsibilities, like making sure that we ultimately build the right product for our users. The following list is more unconventional than a job spec.
- Do your best research before shaping the problem. Pull in engineers and me to make sure that we all believe in both the problem and solution we build. Keep your business close to engineers.
- Genuinely care about team health and everyone’s growth and careers. It’s EM responsibility, but PM needs to care too.
- Invest in understanding the technology we build, it’s limitations, challenges and vision where we want to get.
- Don’t underestimate non-tangible outcomes, especially tackling technical debt to allow us to move faster, building developer tooling but also everything team health related.
- Deliberately grow every engineer and myself in Product management. We want to provide the best value to customers and to do that, engineers need not only to know how to build product right, but also continuously make sure that we are building the right product. Even if the Product Manager is not available.
What would PM expect from EM?
Similarly, skipping the classic EM job specs and focusing on what’s most important in a relationship between PM and EM.
- Carve time and collaborate on shaping product direction with your PM. Understand the problem from first principles so you can guide your team to make smart technical decisions, not just follow a spec.
- Be involved in sharpening requirements of the feature early and be supportive. Often Engineering Manager and Engineers will have a better understanding and nose for limitations of the existing system that might be missed by PM.
- Don’t prioritise work to keep your team busy when challenged with ambiguous backlog or direction. There is usually plenty of high impact things to do across your organisation and prioritising current, ambiguous work might not be a good idea. Invest time in shaping the direction with your PM instead.
- Don’t be a single bottleneck for project management. Empower every engineer to be great project managers of their work and, with experience, their peers. You can find more about strengthening ownership in your team here.
- Spend time with customers. Not in same amount as PM, but know who you build for.
How much do you invest in your relationship with your directs? A lot - plenty of us will say that the relationship with our directs is one of the most important proxies of our success. However, you should invest much, much more in your relationship with PM.
This is critical for your team and will:
- Enable you to do better decisions on both Product and Engineering side
- Increase the resiliency of your team and ease the harder periods
- Have the best feedback loop - your PM/EM partner will give you great, just-in-time feedback to improve