Product Managers: 5 ways you can make an engineer’s job easier

BY KIRSTY LEE ON MARCH 31, 2014

Bringing the pizza... and lots of other things, to make your engineers lives easier
Bringing the pizza… and lots of other things, to make your engineers lives easier

As a Product Manager, demands are placed on you from many different areas – from engineering and design, to marketing and business development. However, software engineers tend to be the ones who work closest with Product Managers on a day-to-day basis – and they usually have a pretty clear idea of the things which make his or her job a little (or a lot) easier.

Here are a few ways which you can make your engineering team smile.

1. Make data-driven decisions

Engineers like to know they are in safe hands – they rely on you to know the product you’re building, and they need you to understand your customers, their feedback, your competitors, the market and the industry you’re operating in.

They want to know that the decision about what they are going to build has been based on data collected in a reliable way – from real customers and real experiments. And data-driven decision making doesn’t have to be limited to product features. An engineer’s confidence in a Product Manager will also be boosted when she uses data and previous experience to back up other important decisions (e.g. analysing sprint reports to estimate a team’s capacity).

Don’t simply tell your development team what needs building – show them.

2. Present problems, not solutions

As a Product Manager, it’s your job to edit and prioritise solving problems – but it’s not your job to come up with the final solution. Good Product Managers approach engineers with obstacles and questions, and listen to the solutions and trade-offs proposed by them.

You can help a developer out by respecting his or her ability to think about the problem and deliver a watertight solution.

3. Communicate clearly and often

Effective communication is perhaps the most best gift you can bestow upon engineers in order to help them do a good job. This means including them in the planning process, ensuring that they understand why you need a specific feature, and clearly defining requirements and priorities. Creating simple yet comprehensive specifications increases the chance of the engineer delivering on time and on spec, and as a result, allows you to ship according to plan.

As a Product Manager you should have a underlying sense for what information your team needs from you at different points in time; try to anticipate their needs before they arise in order to make the development process as smooth as possible.

4. Know when to say no

Remember: you are the gatekeeper of great user experience. A good Product Manager will strive to ship as quickly as possible, but is acutely aware when something just isn’t ready for production.

Your engineers count on you to be disciplined – to kill features if they don’t perform as expected, and to adapt the approach when data indicates that reality doesn’t match the hypothesis. They rely on you to make sure they are building something customers actually want and need. Engineers are appreciative of Product Managers that aren’t afraid to say no.

5. Remove roadblocks

Another vital role of a Product Manager is to negotiate – with management, marketing, design and other departments. Shield your engineers from unnecessary meetings and other daily interruptions – if it’s important that they attend a meeting, it’s your responsibility to consider the effect it will have on productivity and make that call.

Do your best to empower your development team by making sure they have everything they need in order to get the job done. This could be anything from overhauling the product development process in order to make the team more efficient, to the little things such as ensuring that design assets are prepared prior to implementation, or making sure that concepts are validated with prototypes. This can be difficult in agile teams, but practice makes perfect!

 

At the end of the day, engineers have to be able to trust their Product Managers. And part of earning that trust is proving that you are all fighting your way towards one and the same goal – together. Whether that means going out to fetch pizza for everyone at midnight during a critical night shift, or fending off impromptu feature requests from other teams, Product Managers sit in the trenches with the engineers. Be ready to fight for and with them, and to get your hands dirty doing so.

Your engineers will thank you for it.

 

About KIRSTY LEE

Kirsty has a background in product management and marketing for early to mid stage technology startups. She has experience managing agile product teams for both web and mobile projects. Currently based in Berlin, she has worked for several startups across Europe including EyeEm, 6Wunderkinder, Jolicloud.

  • Great article! Question though – is there a bit of a count addiction between coming with problems, not solutions and giving very detailed specs?

    • The detail comes in defining the problem clearly rather than the solution. In this case thing of specs as the problem definition rather than the solution definition. Bearing in mind that the problem specs will detail expected end behaviour (without dictating how that behaviour is achieved).

      • Would love if you could share a personal example? I’m not sure where the line is drawn exactly – for example, what about UX? To me, I think that’s something that has to come with specs (ideally jointly discussed with engineering beforehand)

  • Thanks for posting such a difficult post – Is this solution completely relevant or difficult.

  • Great Article!!!! Thanks for posting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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