The relationship between a skilled product manager and their technical team is like the tracks to a train. Product managers provide direction and purpose. They guide engineers so they can do what they do best — write code and implement features that customers care about.
But despite their best intentions, some product managers are ineffective or lax in supplying key information. The result is that engineers become frustrated and feel that they are left to manage the product by themselves.
One specific example comes to mind: A friend of mine used to work with a product manager who thought she was being helpful by passing along unadulterated customer feedback.
Unfortunately, customer requests are frequently vague and not contextualized within the overall product strategy.
It is not the customer’s fault — they don’t have the bird’s-eye view that the product manager does. And product managers who are slow to share feedback or relay vague requests hold back progress.
However, there are specific tactics that can make the relationship between PM and engineering strong. And if the relationship is strong, it can bring — dare I say — happiness. So, here a few ways that product managers can make engineers happy:
Be prompt with feedback
Engineers hate waiting for weeks to have new features reviewed. Especially in an agile environment, lagging code changes become more difficult to integrate with the rest of the codebase (which also may have changed in the interim). And yet, rapid feedback is frustrating if it is not specific. “Let’s improve the usability” or “we should align it better to the existing screens” will elicit little more than a frustrated sigh and another shot in the dark.
After reading a story or ticket, an engineer should be clear about what the feature should look like or how it should behave. Ambiguity results in frustration on both ends, as the product manager does not receive a desirable change and the engineer has to redo work. Explicit and thorough descriptions of desired behavior, accompanied with annotated screenshots when appropriate, will go a long way towards positive relations on both ends.
Make time for praise
There is nothing more disappointing than spending a solid week implementing a smart and efficient solution, only to have it greeted with a curt response: “Approved.” Product managers don’t need to lavish praise for every small accomplishment. But if you appreciate the speed with which your engineer turned around a feature, or if you think their solution is particularly nice to use — say so! Timely praise will go a long way towards motivating engineers to do their best work.
Building successful products requires collaboration between product managers and engineering teams. Product managers who go the extra mile will make those engineers happy.
Prompt and detailed feedback is indispensable to engineers who are trying to polish and ship features. Showing gratitude builds confidence and camaraderie. These may seem like minor details, but they are far from trivial — a small amount of effort can pay great dividends towards your relationship with your development team.
And happy engineers are more productive, more thorough, and more likely to stick around for the long-term life of the product.
In your experience, what else do great product managers do to make engineers happy?