Shehab Beram A purpose-driven technologist, product manager, and consultant. I write essays that help you get smarter at your product management game.

How top product managers work with engineers

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How Top Product Managers Work With Engineers

Product management is one of the most cross-functional positions in the tech industry. Product managers are the center of a company’s efforts to build and monetize products. They usually work with multiple stakeholders at once, and one of the most important stakeholders they work with is engineers.

Software (and hardware) engineers are the real builders and executors. They turn mock-ups and plans into usable, functional products. Without engineers, the whole company would fail.

So how can PMs work effectively with engineers and utilize them the most? This article will be the only guide you need as a PM to understand engineers’ responsibilities and how to collaborate with them for product success.


Table of contents


Product managers vs. engineering managers

So what’s the difference between a product manager and an engineering manager?

Well, first and foremost, a product manager most often works on one product at a time. However, engineering managers can manage the engineering resources for one or more products. Below is the difference between the roles:

Product manager Engineering manager
Answers and expounds the “what” and the “why” of what needs to be built Defines the “how” of implementing planned work
Comprehends the product objective from leadership and plans the product vision and strategy to achieve that objective Plans the technical strategy for work and the long-term technical design
Acts as a connection between the business and technical team to provide support for building the product Determines and manages the resources needed to build the product
Creates and owns the product roadmap, which contains the major initiatives and features that need to be built over a specific set of time Creates and owns the technical/technology roadmap, which communicates the technology strategy and any future technology initiatives, like database redesign, improving security, refactoring a set of codes, and hiring more resources
Aligns and keeps engineers on track with what is being built and what cases they’re covering Keeps engineers on track with what method they are using to build the product and the process behind the execution
Answers any business or UX concerns Answers any technical concerns raised by engineers or testers
Most probably work on one product at once Manages the engineering resources for one or more products

Product managers and engineering managers: Working together

Now, you might think that PMs and engineering managers are completely separate roles, so why would they collaborate? Well, they work closely together more often than any other two roles on a product team.

To that point, it’s extremely common. So much so that one user posted a Reddit thread asking how other PMs and engineering managers work together.

The product manager provides a clear description of what needs to be built. The description should be aligned with the engineering manager and include all possible use cases. This is to ensure that the engineering manager can plan and allocate the needed resources for all of the execution phases.

They also both align on the timeline. The engineering manager understands the scope of what is needed, plans the resources, and estimates the time needed. The product manager negotiates the timeline with the business team and keeps them updated.

Both the product manager and the engineering manager work on establishing the best process that helps them build features faster and solve problems at an expedited pace.

They also both prioritize technical debt together and allocate time to solve it. This ensures that in the future, they can steadily produce high-quality code..

Engineers’ expectations of the product manager

Now that you know the differences between a product manager and an engineering manager, you should also note that product managers interact often with the engineers themselves. Most of that interaction happens during the execution stage. Here is what your engineering team expects you to do:

Involve them more

Engineers don’t want to feel like coding machines. Most engineers nowadays want to be involved more and help in strategy workshops, customer interviews, identifying all cases of the features, and even prioritizing features and technical debt.

Engineers tend to be one of the most creative assets you have on your team, so make sure to include them often.

Don’t over-engineer the process

Engineers want to get to coding and building as soon as possible. Don’t overcomplicate the process and add too many meetings and checklists. Engineers only want a clear user story and an organized sprint backlog to start the implementation right away.

Have clear requirements

Whether you work with user stories or PRDs, engineers don’t care. The only thing engineers care about is the big picture of the feature and the small details. It’s important to have clear requirements for this reason.

Make sure to explain the big picture of the feature with the aid of tools, like the user flow and maybe some class diagrams. Also, make sure to identify all small cases with their flows by working with a designer and tester. Find them all before the engineers start working on the implementation.

Be available

During the sprint, many unexpected questions and concerns will arise. The job of the product manager is to empower the engineers and be with them during the execution journey. So you have to be available with them, answering their questions and concerns in a detailed manner, and going above and beyond the expected answer to ensure that the big picture is well-understood.

Product manager’s expectations of engineers

As an engineer, you should know that the product manager has two goals: to make the product successful and to make the product team successful. Thus, the product manager is there to support you and help you succeed. Here is what the product manager is expecting from you:

Keep them informed

The product manager wants to know every single concern or blocker you come across. The product manager will help unblock the impediment and bottlenecks, and help you proceed with your work immediately.

However, the key to enjoying this privilege is keeping the product manager informed in a continuous manner.

Challenge their thinking

This might not seem right for every engineer, but an effective product manager would want their engineers to challenge their problem statement, thought process, and proposed solution. In this manner, the product manager will improve their future work significantly and engineers will contribute more to the strategic success of the product.

Conclusion

The product manager and engineer relationship is often the most fruitful when it comes to building a successful product. Product managers are drivers who push the product to market with the guidance of the vision and strategy, landing it successfully on the users.

Engineers are product builders who turn product ideas into usable products that can be shipped to the users.

Without close collaboration between both parties, the product won’t see the light. If it does anyway, it won’t be as successful as other products built cross-functionally.

Featured image source: IconScout

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Shehab Beram A purpose-driven technologist, product manager, and consultant. I write essays that help you get smarter at your product management game.

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