These notes come from my preparation for a panel on technology and product to which I was invited (https://lu.ma/tech-sherpas-madrid). I am publishing them here in case they contribute or help to initiate some conversation. Of course, the panel was great, and it included responses from Isaura Fontcuberta and Rebeca Francisco Najarro that contributed more than my own, but for obvious reasons this post only includes mine since they are the ones I have notes on. The panel was very well conducted by Pedro Pablo Aparicio
Let's start, should a product company have two Product and Technology Roadmaps, or should it have a single roadmap?
Ideally a single balanced roadmap. The problem is that in my experience this has many implications. Assuming that there are two different reporting lines (something that we should be able to question), there tends to be an imbalance. By instilling product sensitivity within engineering, this imbalance can be mitigated, making engineering attuned to these sensitivities without seeing them as antagonistic. On a small scale, what has worked best for me is that this division does not exist at all. :) If, out of necessity, there are two roadmaps, there must be clear rules for prioritizing (percentages, for example). (See: https://www.eferro.net/2021/10/it-depends-development-mix-product.html)
Continuing with the topic, taking advantage of the fact that we are talking about RoadMap, who is responsible in the case that there is 1 or 2 roadmaps….
If two reporting lines exist, it becomes a matter of negotiation, although I question the necessity for dual lines in all situations. The final responsibility can vary depending on several factors such as the nature of the product (be it business digitalization, information systems, or deep tech), the business domain's complexity, or our strategic approach. More often than not, Product assumes the final responsibility. Regardless, my fundamental belief is that product development is a cooperative team endeavor. Thus, if two lines exist, the process mandates not just continuous negotiation but, even more importantly, continuous collaboration.
Do these product minded engineers exist? Is it a creation, what would be its definition?
They exist, and I know quite a few. I would also consider myself in that group. Actually, seeing software as a means to achieve an impact (product) is one of my fundamental premises of this profession. Obviously you need to recruit with this mindset in mind, fostering and developing this orientation among your team members. My experience at Alea Solutions and The Motion has been like this, and then at Nextail and ClarityAI. I strive to ensure that my teams adopt this mentality, and my hiring practices reflect it. (See: https://productdeveloper.net/from-software-engineer-to-product-engineer/ https://svpg.com/empowered-product-teams/ )
Do all engineers have to have this predisposition or what would be the percentage within the team or squad to carry it out?
At least the senior people on the team. In any case, I think this mindset can be generated and trained. In some cases where the product is very technical or deep tech, perhaps there wouldn't be as much difference between people who have this predisposition and people who don't.
Do you think it is good that there are two people as leaders of product and technology? Does it depend on the type of product or company?
I believe that it's not necessary and that it's a problem that has arisen due to the speed of innovation and the immense amount of technologies and the cognitive load that this generates.
Nonetheless, I firmly believe we need to actively address this issue. It is essential to guide engineers towards understanding that their work's ultimate goal is creating impact, while also helping Product people to grasp the necessity of sustainable engineering processes and practices. From my perspective, the solution is intimately linked with lean methodologies, specifically Lean Software Development and Lean Product Development.
The alignment between Product Manager (PM) and Tech Lead (TL), what is in your experience the best way to achieve this alignment?
Promote cooperation understanding that the result and impact is always at the team level. In that context, the PM, has to learn about sustainable software development and the TL must learn about product/impact and how to work with customers. Both must also learn techniques to maximize impact and develop product in very small steps, with continuous feedback, postponing decisions until the last responsible moment, minimizing as much as possible the Basal Cost of the solution. (See: https://www.eferro.net/2021/02/basal-cost-of-software.html )
Closing / Conclusions
As a closing, can you give your 2-3 tips, based on your experience, on how to have a great relationship between Product and Technology?
- 1 Hire/grow product (minded) engineers. It's easier to learn about product/business as a developer than the other way around (plus it's necessary).
- 2 Many of the tensions are alleviated by using the same language (centered on business), defining product boundaries, clear acceptance criteria and clearly defining what is a prototype, an MVP, and a normal product (so that it's defined how to make each one).
- 3 If performance is incentivized and evaluated at the team level with common objectives, I think it's much easier to align. Of course this implies that the objectives include sustainability and the ability to continue the evolution of the system."