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Harmony between product and engineering is simpler than you think  

Matt Merrill
Matt Merrill
Director of Engineering
4 min read
16 March 2023

In the most recent episode of our Ship It! Podcast, we interviewed Jonah Jolley, Director of Engineering, and Stephanie Bressan, PSM, CSPO of DEPT®, about the relationship between product and engineering teams.  

What makes a good partnership? What doesn’t make a good partnership? We also talk about the importance of empathy, trust, keeping priorities visible, and how you must come prepared with snacks! We wrap up with thoughts on Agile: Does it help or hurt? Do velocity metrics matter? Are standups even helpful? 

Listen to the full episode and read our top takeaways below. 

How engineering can help product 

Stephanie Bressan: The most meaningful engagements happen when engineers are ready and willing to explain concepts somewhere between layman and technical speak. 

Productive and pleasant collaboration happens when they know how to walk that line and explain proposed features, their ideas, and the gap between the two. They’ll also share helpful information about the engineering team e.g., who the best team member is to work on a particular feature. These small pieces of information are things product can take into account, and help them understand the work and its challenges. 

While these meetings can be exhausting, they can also be fun because they can start great conversations and increases everyone’s ownership of the product roadmap. It also creates an environment where everyone knows what everyone else is working on which results in transparency, fewer meetings, and more meaningful work. I always say, “bring snacks!” It helps get people in the right mindset for long, hard conversations. 

How product can help engineering 

Jonah Jolley: It’s crucial for engineers to understand the prioritization of product features, and ideally, the why behind them. 

Engineers often get committed to what they’re working on. When sudden changes happen, they can be jarring. So when decisions change mid-project, it’s all about communicating accurately and honestly. And always, repeat priorities on a regular basis. This focus builds the team’s confidence in what they are working on. 

Both sides seek empathy and agency 

Across all walks of product and engineering, there are insecurities. 

Stephanie: Product people can be fearful of sounding not “technical enough.” They can feel immense pressure to deliver on their product roadmap within tight timeframes. In the podcast, Stephanie shared, “I want to be seen as reliable. If I don’t routinely deliver what I said, that reliability slips.” 

Jonah: Devs are no different, and it sometimes plays out in estimations. But often, estimations are declared in front of colleagues, who they seek respect from. They say things that aren’t actually feasible because there is an element of peer pressure. 

Matt: And no matter which department you sit in, no one wants to be handed tasks or commands. That’s the definition of a terrible job. Give your team agency and they’ll return it. 

Want to hear the full conversation? Listen to the podcast here.

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