6 Stories About Engineers and Product Managers

Our teams working closely together at an Aha! onsite | Photo by Aha!

November 17, 2022

6 Stories About Engineers and Product Managers

by Brian de Haaff

You cannot control how other people behave. Not your friends, not your family, and definitely not your coworkers. You can only control your own reaction. I think we can all conjure a few situations, especially in a professional setting, where others behaved in ways we did not anticipate. No workplace or team is perfect. But the best ones are interested in genuine partnerships.

Sustainable happiness leads to healthier teams and healthier teams achieve more together. It is a virtuous loop.

Every team is at its core a group of people and people are fallible. Most of us want to do well and contribute in a meaningful way. But realistically, we will all stumble at times. Those of us working in tech know the balance is hard to find because product development is inherently dynamic and complex. Even the best ideas fall apart when you do not have cohesion in key areas, especially between product management and engineering.

When I asked folks on LinkedIn what they think the secret is to getting that relationship right, the answers ranged from trust to communication to accountability. I am fortunate to witness all of that and more with our own team at Aha!— the level of talent and effort is beyond any I have experienced in my career. But the true strength lies in how we work together.

It takes more than skill and labor to develop breakthrough products. You need alignment, structure, and the flexibility to grow as you go.

I think that part of the challenge is that software products are never really finished. This eternal nature can lead to a “feed the beast” mentality, especially in organizations where time, people, and structure are scarce. Some groups end up feeling like mindless feature factories. But others are able to channel that perpetual state into the excitement of building. The adventure is partly what you make it.

The learnings below are part of what led us to launch an agile tool that puts technical work in strategic context. Now that our team has been fully enmeshed in Aha! Develop for more than a year (yes, we really do use our own software), I asked the engineering team to share what they find most empowering about our approach:

Clarify the “why” early

Teammates may not understand the "why" behind what they are being asked to build. It is not because they do not care — often the reverse is true. Everyone deserves clarity about customer and business needs. Give folks access to those details throughout development and encourage questions.

“One of the things I value most is continuous communication that begins early in a feature's development. We speak openly about how the work aligns with business goals and customer needs. Ultimately this keeps me focused on delivering something that provides real value.” — Louis Fiddy, Senior Software Engineer

Prevent fire drills

There is always pressure to deliver new features, faster. This is true for anyone who works on a technology product. But it is worth slowing down so you can go fast when it counts. Product managers can help by anticipating questions ahead of time and thinking through scenarios before sharing with engineers.

"What I appreciate the most is that by the time a feature reaches engineering, it is fully fleshed out and most (if not all) of the different behaviors, nuances, and edge cases are already accounted for in the feature description. This saves so much time, removes guesswork, and cuts down on chaos." — Karina Li, Software Engineer

Automate with intention

Automating helps ensure consistency and quality. Think guardrails but not a cage. Finding ways to streamline parts of your workflow (such as templates for meeting agendas or feature descriptions) will enable you to spend less time on administrative work and more time engaging the team on deeper issues.

"I love how many of our workflows are automated. For example, the note for our recurring meetings is a template with pre-filled sections, so the agenda is always ready. We have sections in the template that are populated with Aha! reports — so the team’s progress is up-to-date every week and ready for us to view and discuss." Nicolás Hock-Isaza, Engineering Lead

Evolve together

Process can be problematic. A lot of time is spent obsessing over how the work will get done. But too much of it can be unmanageable and demotivating. Are you spending an equal amount of time discussing ways to make the partnership better?

"Right now we are experimenting with expanding our default templates to include really detailed breakdowns. I think it helps make the development process significantly smoother. Working on these together gives us the opportunity to continually improve and really makes it feel like a collaborative process." — Michael Shiel, Senior Software Engineer

Honor reality

New features are exciting. Solving problems and delivering gifts to customers is why we got into product development. But working software requires more than shiny new functionality. Product managers and engineers who can honor that reality create more value for everyone.

“Sometimes it is hard to get engineering work in front of product managers and to 'sell' the value of the work when it does not affect customers in an obvious way. Having one prioritized backlog for product-related work and engineering tasks helps keep us honest — it also makes planning my next sprint much easier." — Matt Williams, Software Engineer

Celebrate impact

It can also be tempting to focus on velocity and the number of features shipped during retrospectives. Yet these do not reveal the impact of what was built and the value it delivered (or did not). And it will not help the team improve over time. You need a clear way to showcase when the team is performing well or how what they build creates value.

“We have reports that show the team's progress. This helps us see where we are on track and where we could do better next time. After a feature ships, we talk about how to improve the process. But what really motivates the team is seeing how our work results in value delivered to our customers.” — Percy Hanna, Engineering Lead

Healthy teams want to be better — to solve challenges faster and achieve more predictably. Daring to deliver and being recognized for it leads to ultimate joy.

Every day brings an opportunity to do something meaningful. Or, to encounter a hurdle that you did not see coming. The difference in how we react often comes down to the health of the team's relationship.

The Aha! team is 100 percent remote, productive, and hiring now. Ready to achieve together?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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