How Product Managers Build Successful Relationships With Engineers
In her work with engineers, BCG Digital Ventures’ Lead Product Manager Anne Jiao starts with outcomes.
This piece was originally published on Built In Chicago and has been condensed and lightly edited.
In September 2016, one of the fiercest debates of our generation was sparked by an unassuming tweet beseeching the internet to “name a more iconic duo.”
The now-transcendent meme featured an image of Kendall and Kylie Jenner of Kardashian fame, back-to-back in moody black outfits, smizing with smokey eyes and daring the internet to answer. “I’ll wait,” the now-anonymous author of the tweet taunted. Of course, as legend has it, the internet answered in force: Rhapsodies of Calvin and Hobbes, Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart, and Beyonce and Jay-Z rang out across the world wide web.
Savvy anthropologists might add another iconic duo to the record: product managers and engineers.
As tech leaders well know, the relationship between product managers and engineers is the lifeblood of any great product — but the synchronization of the two cohorts requires far more effort than the sisterhood of two lay internet starlets might call for.
The symbiosis between PM and engineer requires intentional planning and mutual effort, and it’s up to shrewd product managers to cultivate empathy, trust and open communication and keep innovation flowing between teams. Built In Chicago connected with seven product managers — including BCG Digital Ventures’ own Anne Jiao — to find out where the two roles intersect, how they include engineers in the conversation, and what makes this indispensable pairing so iconic in the product world.
In her work with engineers, Anne starts with outcomes. “Being focused on customer outcomes also helps you align with the engineering team — to find the common goal that mutually works towards the ultimate excitement of having the product in the hands of real customers,” she said, sharing more insights below.
As a product manager, what are the key ingredients for a successful relationship with your engineering team?
Collaboration, customer outcomes, and communication. Collaboration means making sure that we are setting the right tools and processes for the team to interact effectively. It’s always surprising how a great meeting cadence can help drive better relationships.
Having a good communication style — whether it’s verbal, written, or visual — to align the product vision is crucial to creating effective ownership across the team. As a bonus, it also helps to create trust with the engineering team.
Describe how your product and engineering teams intersect, and how this organizational structure helps build the relationship between the two.
In many ways, I usually see the product, engineering, and design team as one flat organizational structure where one enables the other in that “yes and” fashion. Product and engineering intersect on many fronts — even at the beginning of product discovery.
It is helpful to have the engineers understand the problems that customers face and explore the root of the problem first-hand. In product definition, we work together to come up with impactful, feasible goals that will satisfy our stakeholders and our users.
In product-build, engineering and product intersect in the solutioning and pointing process. Post-build, we work together to QA and deploy a release. Post-launch, we think of ways to optimize the experience going forward. While there are many points of intersection, we must also provide just as much heads-down time for each of us to actually do the job of thinking deeply and producing the work.
What communication strategies do you use to ensure engineers share your product vision?
Starting with a hypothesized data flow and customer journey has always been highly effective in aligning product vision with engineers. Whether this is on the whiteboard or products like Figma and Miro, it’s always helpful to make sure we walk through customer steps and data inputs and outputs.
Having the engineers engage this way helps us understand immediately that the flow is open to revision and that the full team contributes to the final solution. Conveniently, it also makes it easy to tell what the next steps are — including what we might want to research without making things too high-fidelity or written in stone from the start.