Aligning Product and Engineering can sometimes feel like bringing together two superpowers. Different capabilities, accountabilities, metrics for success and often a completely different language. Like all things though, if we focus on the differences then that’s all we’ll see. I’ve been reminded recently through some white knuckle moments on the importance of returning to common ground, celebrating what unites and nurturing the links that bind. After all, there is huge overlap in achieving a common objective of delighting customers.
As head of product and leader of agile delivery teams, I’ve experienced first hand the frustrations entrenched cultural behaviours that can reinforce the siloed walls between these two functions. Creative tension is good and healthy. But unless these walls are tackled head on and there’s a shared intent to collaborate, you’re pushing the proverbial S%#$ up hill. And your customers will experience it in what you serve up! Is that really the mark of success we want to be leaving on the world?
Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way that have helped go a long way toward building one team, one dream 😉
1. Build Empathy and Understanding
The foundations for any strong partnership is to begin by understanding your peer’s world view. What is success to them and how can you help them achieve it? Create opportunities to better understand their perspective and put yourself in their shoes when trying to empathise with their response to a decision made or action taken.
Here are some (gross) generalizations to illustrate my point about different world views.
I’m being deliberately provocative here, but you get my gist. So what steps are you taking to find common ground and identify areas of overlap? Are you also making an effort to understand each other’s craft? Ask who your peer respects in their field as a thought leader. Here are a couple of examples that I’ve picked up along the way:
2. Rally around your purpose
In Dan Pink’s Drive, motivation is the magic created when a collective of individuals have clear autonomy, mastery and purpose. In addition to having clear accountabilities (autonomy) and the skill proficiency (mastery) required to execute, purpose is where deep meaning is created to unite.
Craft your Product Vision
Ideally, this is a statement of 2-3 sentences max. Ensure it includes the following components:
- Customer Goal
- Your Contribution
- Your Product
- Your point of differentiation
Connect the dots for Engineering team members so they know how their work contributes.
- Objectives & Results/ KPIs
Customer Driven Innovation
Also connect any customer driven innovation back to the strategy:
Good Product Managers will make the Product Vision, Strategy and Customer Innovation public. They’ll join the dots so that every team member’s work is aligned and connected. It is explained to the team, and revisited when planning commences for the next cycle. Communicate the product vision endlessly. Start meetings and demos by reciting it! Outside of Umano I’m on the Board of an all girls school. At the commencement of every Board meeting, the mission statement is read out. There is nothing like a statement of why we exist to get focussed on framing and shaping the conversation about what we’re here to do, together.
In case you’ve done all of this and you’re still wondering, there’s only one purpose to rally around and unite: delighting your customers!
3. Get Crystal Clear on Accountabilities
Recently I wrote on individual and collective accountabilities of agile delivery teams. In this blog, I unpacked the difference in accountabilities for Engineering Team Leads and Product Leads (as well as Scrum Masters). If you’re not already in synch on who does what, brush up! This is really important sign of respect to know when to agree to disagree, knowing that the decision isn’t yours because you’re not ultimately going to be held accountable for it.
4. Create a single Identity
Do you run under ‘X’ Product Manager and ‘X’ Engineering Manager titles? Perhaps it’s time to run as an ‘X’ tribe, even if it’s not officially sanctioned within the organisation (…why not?).
Using common language is also super important. Not to point out the obvious, but I’m not going to be my most effective in navigating a new country if I don’t speak the language or understand the idioms. Same goes for the application of different crafts in a multidisciplinary delivery team. Assume nothing. If you’re unclear, get clear.
5. Define your shared cultural norms, rituals and agile practices
‘Families that eat together stay together’. OK, your delivery team might not be family but investing in defining shared team rituals and practices are the glue that builds the social capital to withstand the transactional interactions of building great products. I’ve seen great teams also break bread together by taking a collective lunch at least a day a week.
You can’t just be on the take. How are you going to contribute, give and lean in to building the social capital that underpins a psychologically safe and trust filled team?
“Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project”.
– Agile Manifesto
What Agile ceremonies are you sharing together? I’ve seen great tribes come together for planning and retrospectives. Perhaps a weekly tribe stand-up where you review the whole board, not just the development tasks? Is your approach to delivery unified by a single product pipeline? I’ve seen product managers invited as guests to engineering daily stand-ups. Sometimes there’s nothing added by product managers in attendance. At others there are crucial points to interjecting that unblock and support engineers on the day’s tickets.
How do you celebrate and affirm one another? I’ve seen a great example where team’s build a (physical or virtual) wall of ‘post-its’ capturing the small day to day moments of acknowledgement, breakthroughs and joy. Watch with pride as it grows to consume the total allotted space!
What ever tribe rituals you decide to adopt, #1. Commit and 2. #Have the discipline to stick with it for a nominated period of time. Like all things, when that timeframe is up, review, iterate and launch ahead with what’s serving you and ditch what’s creating drag.
When in the office, are you sitting together? When working remotely, is there a combined tribe channel you can interact on, or alternatively does everyone have access to all channels that support the delivery process?
I’m not suggesting all team members need to be besties, or hold hands and sing Kumbya around the campfire. I am however advocating for mutual respect, contribution and commitment to the mission at hand.
6. Be intentional about behaviours that align
I get it. There are times when you’re both struggling to align. Sometimes the differences can act as huge blocker and the silos start to go back up. Just because it’s easier, resist it. You’ve worked hard at building shared objectives, language and culture. Get over your ego, show vulnerability, go for coffee and breath. “Our life is what our thoughts make it” says Marcus Aurelius, and couldn’t have put it better myself.
Some of my favourite quotes from Ray Dalio’s Principles resonate:
- Get over “blame” and “credit” and get on with “accurate” and “inaccurate”
- Meaningful relationships and meaningful work are mutually reinforcing, especially when supported by radical truth and transparency.
- Give and receive feedback transparently and constantly
- Evaluate accurately, not kindly. In the end, accuracy and kindness are the same thing.
- Recognise that conflicts are essential for great relationships because they are how people determine whether their principles are aligned and resolve their differences
Embrace Servant leadership. As Product and Engineering Leads, you’re setting the operational tone of your tribe. By serving the tribe first (before yourselves), you’re both sharing the power, putting the needs of the tribe first to unblock the collective team and lift them to perform as highly as possible.
Adopt a Growth mindset and remove fixed ways of thinking. A willingness to learn on both sides, to better understand each other’s craft, and acknowledge that change is required on both sides to make your tribe truly sing.
7. Build Trust through Transparency
When going through the motions of planning for an iteration, it is pretty clear what the engineering team is responsible for delivering, by when. It’s not always the case for a Product Manager given the breadth of tasks on their plate. It’s crucial Product Managers share through the agile ceremonies, be it planning, stand-up or retro what they plan to undertake and any progress made.
8. Share Common Metrics
If you’re sharing outcomes, there will naturally be a set of shared metrics that can act as guardrails to keep you focussed and on track. No doubt, Product and Engineering will be tracking factors that are unique to their own progress and areas of accountability. Rally around those that you have in common. They’ll act to be mutually reinforcing of each other’s work.
Here’s some examples of specific and shared metrics to Product and Engineering:
- Do you go through these with your counterparts and team members?
- Do they understand them?
- Do you explain why they matter?
- How are you evolving them, and what impact do they have on your team members?
Automate your reporting so you can focus on what matters
I’ve seen teams successfully automate their data dashboards, visualising shared metrics on a daily basis. Save time and focus on your core tasks by selecting what metrics matter and automate the process to collect and visualise them for the team. Use them in retros so you’re adopting a practice of data-informed decision making, and can align on what matters most and more powerfully manage stakeholders. In this way you’re building best practice around continuously improving and iterating on your own practices to perform at your best.
Run as One Unstoppable Team
Product and Engineering are at the heart of creating the value that delights your customers. It’s imperative for success that these functions unite to create an unstoppable product delivery machine. Put in the effort, role model it and embrace the essence of servant leadership as you undertake both your independent and shared tasks. When aligned, engaged and motivated to deliver your best work together, you’ll deliver the best work of your lives. And by the way, your customers will spot it too.
Umano is on a mission to support agile delivery teams perform at their best through automated metrics, reporting and insights.
Sign up here to access your complimentary Umano account and see how your team’s agile sprint practices are tracking.