March 4

Dear PM, this is how you declared war against developers

By Chijioke Michael Egbulefu

In software companies, product managers need engineering more than engineering needs product managers. Engineers are perfectly happy to continue building product after product without you. Most product managers cannot write a line of code to save their lives and will need to have engineering on their side. So, if these are evidently clear, why do we keep burning bridges? 

 It’s time for deep introspection and self-examination to fix it. You may not know it but you may be guilty of one of the following. 

Crime #1: You assumed they are dummies and won’t understand product-speak: You think that engineers are only interested in coding and won’t be interested in conversations about product strategy and vision. You also think that they do not know about what the market is saying and the needs of the customer. So, you exclude them from conversations and only give them a brief run-down at the latest possible time and told to implement. Truth is they might want to know what they are building and understand the “Why”. Thinking they are just good for implementation is not helping. 

Start involving them in these conversations as early as possible. Making them a part of roadmapping is a great way to build trust and get great collaborative effort. Anything other than that will just lead to needless repetitions that are bound to set you both against each other.

Crime #2: You are telling them HOW to build it: In product classes, we are taught to figure out the WHAT and WHY and let engineering figure out the HOW. Encroaching on that territory is a major faux-pas and should be avoided as much as possible no matter how long you have been around engineers. Thinking you know one’s job better than them is bound to tick anyone off, even programmers. Thinking you’re doing them a favor by telling them how they will build your product is just a waste of your time and a cause of irritation for them.

Crime #3: You still believe you’re the CEO of the product and all credit should be yours: If you are letting the “CEO” title get to your head because you get called more often to close deals, cajole partners, speak to the customers, come up with all the clever ideas and put out never ending fires, you’re digging a hole for yourself. Don’t forget that great products owe their success to sales, support, marketing, strategy, design and also very importantly, engineering. So, to be a great PM, know that deflecting praise and sharing credit does two things: build trust and inspire loyalty and influence.

Crime #4: You deflect with “It wasn’t me”: You think that when things go wrong, it is typically with the software and yes, we all know who builds the software. Blaming engineers for when things go wrong is a sure way to lose them. When things are going haywire, that’s when you should exhibit leadership. If you love the spotlight when things are rosy then you should own the issues when things are going down the drain. Absorb the problems and articulate any impact and possible solutions as early as possible. Lead. Don’t point fingers.

If you forget all else, note these:

1. Focus on the WHAT and WHY. Leave the HOW to the product engineers.
2. As a PM, you need engineers as much as they need you.
3. Never miss an opportunity to let your engineers shine.
4. When things go wrong, lead, not throw blame.

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