One of the most common complaints I hear when coaching and advising tech executives is about Product. Either about the VP Product or individual product managers, it seems that we tend to criticize their professionalism and approaches quite a lot. They don’t know the product well enough. They don’t understand how software development works. They cave too much to customer demands, and on and on.
We all might enjoy a good rant, but complaining doesn’t get us very far. As much as you might hate to admit it, if you’re leading an engineering organization, then your most important relationship and partnership are with your Product peer. The first step to becoming an exceptional leader—an engineering force multiplier—is to understand this and commit to making them your ally.
The Dynamic Duo
I’ve worked with dozens of companies. I am sure the most successful companies tend to be those where the Engineering-Product relationship is a solid one. You don’t have to be best friends. You do have to accept the fact that only by working together can you maximize your chances to succeed.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an article, podcast, or talk where I don’t mention Product Mastery. Only by deeply understanding your business, product, and customers can your team do their most effective work and come up with novelty that is impactful. Gaining and maintaining Product Mastery without a close relationship with Product is as tricky as it sounds.
It’s Product’s job to define many things about the strategy and your work, but as you position yourself upstream, you will find it easier to influence things if you are partners and not enemies.
Are They Really That Bad?
When I ask coachees what the issues they see with Product are, I usually see the same bias. We expect them to be the greatest and best at what they do, and focus on every imperfection that we observe. They’re not professional. They forget things. They ask the same things over and over.
All of this coming from people who manage groups that routinely miss deadlines, have the same bugs introduced several times, come to meetings unprepared (and continue coding during the meeting). Should I continue?
You give your team more slack than you give the others around you. It’s natural—every parent thinks their kids are the most beautiful—but you should be aware of this bias and countervail it.
Don’t accept ranting from your team. Don’t point fingers. Teach everyone to take ownership and work together. It starts with you and applies to every single IC. If something isn’t working, speak up, and suggest solutions. Involve Product more often in your decisions. Work together, so they learn more about your stack and expertise, and your team learns and gains Product Mastery.
Life’s too short to fight with who should be your closest ally.
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