Connecting devs & product: Key lessons learned
In early 2020 we decided to kick off a series of events bringing insights from engineering leaders at Czech tech scaleups (as we like to call companies already past the initial startup phase). Up to now, we have organized three TechUncovered panel discussions. The previous two events focused on scaling tech teams and leading tech teams from home.
At the beginning there was a blog post written by our VP of Engineering Marián Kamenišťák on how to build trust with engineering teams with a simple step-by-step guide on how to implement real-time team health boards. Moreover, Marián's mission at Mews incorporates connecting devs and product—improving team balance, performance, psychological safety, teamwork, all sorts of reviews, culture, personal relationships, and more, to be more specific.
As a follow-up to that topic and Marián's mission, we invited representatives of three companies to bring their unique combination of experience and background to a panel discussion on connecting developers and product. Apart from our VP of Engineering Marián Kamenišťák we were joined by:
Michal Ličko - Director of Engineering at Productboard, product management system development company,
Dominik Veselý - founder & CTO at Ackee, app development agency, and
Lukáš Putna* - CTO at Heureka, online shopping guide platform.
*in the role of the moderator
What were the key lessons learned?
Communication is all about building bridges, it's the key to success and relationships, like oxygen to life. A lot has been said about communication, transparency, and trust, and a lot more will be said, so let's skip it this time. Instead, let's focus on other aspects (or pillars, if you want) of developer and product manager coexistence: effective cooperation, engagement, recognition, and partnership.
There's no doubt the collaboration between developers and product management teams is crucial no matter the business, product, or team structure.
“For us, being an agency, it is really beneficial that our PMs are on a high technical level to have reasonable arguments for both sides, developers and clients.”
--Dominik Veselý (Ackee)
There used to be a widespread belief that product managers should cover the “what” part of the product or feature and developers the “how.” Such strict responsibility separation is not viable anymore. As for the outcome, the whole team is in charge, regardless of the role. From our experience, even developers themselves, especially the more senior ones, want to be part of the exploration and solution phases. The same applies to product managers as many of them have some kind of technical background or have educated themselves in that direction. As always, it's all about balance and communication — the main goal should be to find a solution somewhere in the middle: to enable developers to remain developers and product managers to break through as product managers.
With effective cooperation, a great way to start is having product managers sit directly with their delivery teams. It sounds like a trifle but, in fact, really makes a difference— many crucial discussions start quite suddenly and naturally. At Mews, this simple trick proved successful in the past, so we took it into consideration later while rebuilding our new office and devising its seating plan. Involving developers in the process as soon as possible brings a lot of benefits to both sides. As previously mentioned, and above all, in-depth discussions between developers and product managers result in agreements with no need to rework those features later.
Trust and transparency
Trust and transparency are key values for successful cooperation and the relationship between developers and product managers should be no different. To get more motivated and engaged, developers assign ownership of certain complex tasks, or even features, to specific members of the team and then rotate ownership. It's a natural and easy way to develop soft skills as, in this role, it's necessary to formulate, present, communicate, and coordinate all the ideas and discussions of all the stakeholders, the product manager, other developers, designers, etc., in the team, and also includes asking for feedback and processing it.
“We see rotating ownership a great way to support the soft skill development of our tech team.”
--Michal Ličko (productboard)
The best-case scenario is full engagement of the team, when every member adopts their tasks and the mission of the whole team, so you don't need to be a bad cop constantly chasing people to deliver. But being aligned with the mission and vision is not the only driver of engagement. There's much more to it, such as getting the proper feedback or knowing the added value of your feature (usage or revenue earned).
“It’s much easier if you have people being engaged as opposed to chasing them to accomplish something.”
--Marián Kamenišťák (Mews)
Also, always make sure people on your team have enough focus. How to achieve that? Communicate, be transparent, and prioritize! Provide a report, an overview of the process, expected deadline, and share what the next big things are. In order to help teams achieve their goals, make sure you plan smart: check that your roadmap contribution for the upcoming sprint is around 50-75%, depending on product maturity. It's pretty easy to measure the roadmap contribution ratio and to provide such metrics to your team; they will be thankful to get this information on the way to accomplishing their goals. Read how to familiarize with such reporting and how to build the real-time health boards in three months!
Recognition is also an inseparable part of engagement and motivation and doesn't always have to be about money. Use recognition wisely, but don't spare it when it's well-deserved. At Mews we have devoted, company-wide Slack channels for kudos and positive messages about individual or team achievements, new features, feedback from our clients, etc. In addition to that, and at the tech department level, there's also time during each weekly tech retro meeting called “Kudos, bloopers, shame” for everyone to express themselves and recognize their teammates. It always has a lot of contributions, both positive and negative. It's important to mention that people usually report their own failures in a funny way which seems to be part of our tech team culture.
The best thing you can do is to lead by example, creating highly cooperative relationships at the top level, meaning CTO, VP of Engineering, and CPO, because quite often this pattern gets copied, which results in developers and product managers cooperating easily.
“For me, such a partnership is all about understanding each other and having the same goal. It also really helps when you can cooperate on a friendly note.”
--Lukáš Putna (Heureka)
Regular catchups at this level should be a natural thing, as well as at tech or team lead and product manager level, spending some time after every standup together discussing the common goal and aligning on what the product manager wants to achieve.
Marián Kamenišťák (Mews):
Who to follow:
Michal Ličko (productboard):
What to read:
- Marty Cagan's book Inspired
- Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well
Dominik Veselý (Ackee):
What to do:
Network, connect with people on similar positions & listen.
For more engineering insights shared by Mews tech team: