One of the most important relationships in a technology company is between the product managers and engineers.1 This relationship is the key to successful product development. Each position plays an important role on the product development team to help with the goal of producing the best product possible.
The role of product managers is to be the liaison between customers and the rest of the development team. They see and talk to customers every day. Product managers have a good feel for what the customer’s frustrations are and where the holes in the product may be. That means product managers want to focus on fixing existing customer problems and adding new features to make current customers happy and also attract new ones.
The role of engineers is to build and implement the product that the product managers have outlined. Because they have to deal with the actual implementation of creating and maintaining the product, they have to focus on current technical limitations and resources required to make a new feature a reality. Engineers have to make decisions about the product that won’t prohibit or detract from future additions.
Finding the balance between these two different positions’ incentives is the key to a great product team relationship. To find that balance, the two sides need to better understand each other’s motivations.
Let’s start with the motivations of a product manager. Product managers are judged by the product their team produces. They are motivated to make customers as happy as possible because customers are the ones who provide the signal of the success of a product. This means that product managers have a strong reason for listening to their customers and trying to build all the features they want.
Engineers are also judged by the product they produce but with slightly different criteria. Instead of being judged by the feature set a product contains, engineers are judged by the quality of the implementation of the product. This means things like having a product that is bug-free, fast, and scales is the most important thing for engineers to focus on.
So, while the two positions have a similar goal of producing a quality product, their specific motivations are different. This can cause problems within the development team if they are not understood. It is the responsibility of members in both positions to understand each other. This means communicating with each other about why certain decisions are being made.
When a product manager comes to the engineering team saying they need a feature built, that manager should detail to the engineers why that feature is needed and outline how it will help both current and future customers. And when engineers push back on a new feature, they should have specific reasons why they have hesitations for implementing a new feature and explain to the product manager how it might affect the product in the short and long term.
Making sure that everyone on the product team stays in sync with each other is a key to a successful product. We all have different motivations and incentives in our day to day roles but must understand the bigger picture and work together to build the best product for our customers.
Not to take anything away from designers. Designers have a very important role in the product development process as well. This post, however, will just focus on the relationship between product managers and engineers. But know that designers play an integral role in the product development process as well.↩