Hey Product Manager: Are You Fighting for Engineering Resources?

product management allocation

Three product teams enter. One product team leaves triumphant, two stumble away bruised. Do your resource allocation meetings ever feel like a knock-down, drag-out fight? When there are not clear priorities to guide what needs the most investment, it can feel as though you have to grab anything you can — even if it means another team will have less. This is a zero-sum game.

Remember, this is your own company we are talking about — not some external threat.

The culprit for these nasty resource battles is obvious to spot, but not quick to fix. If you are slugging it out for engineering time, then I can bet your company does not have real clarity around what matters most. Maybe everyone in product has learned to make bold statements about the revenue that will definitely start flowing — only if feature X gets prioritized.

So, you need to reset. Where does your company really want to go and how is it going to get there? Without that level of clarity, the brawl over what gets built will continue. There needs to be a higher-level conversation happening on an annual basis — company leaders need to identify strategic initiatives that help guide where the company will be investing and why.

And if you want to be part of that rational conversation and make decisions that are truly in the best interest of the business, then logically you also need to deeply understand the business. You need to understand all of it — including the parts that the other product managers operate. This does not start and stop with your particular product or offering.

As a product manager, you need to understand every product in the portfolio — not just your own.

Once your company has identified a high-level strategic approach and you understand how each product contributes to that strategy, you are ready to have a conversation with your fellow product managers that does not turn into a shouting match.

Here is how product managers should approach resource allocation squabbles:

Be the biggest company fan
Reorient your thinking from a “me, me, me” perspective and embrace being a team player. This is not to say you will not have disagreements during this process, but you are all working together. The success of the company comes before that of any specific product.

Start with strategy
You are about to have some complicated discussions about where engineering can deliver the most value, so it makes sense to start with everyone on the same page. This does not have to be an in-depth review of corporate strategy, but it is good to open strategic prioritization meetings by reiterating those established initiatives.

Score everything
You need an objective measure of value. Score features using metrics that map to your initiatives. This way you can show that features are measured by the same standard, which ties back to what you are trying to accomplish as a team. It also removes a lot of the emotion from the discussion because it allows your strategy to say “yes” or “no,” versus an individual person.

Honor the tradeoffs
Things are going well… until something has to give. Then it gets real. What is best for your product right now might not be best for the company’s long-term goals. But do not complain. Life is better when the entire portfolio is thriving. Your job is to accept those tradeoffs and focus on bringing overall value to the business. Sometimes you will get the investment you want and sometimes not.

You should always be transparent in how your requests will support business goals and be open to the fact that maybe resources are better applied elsewhere.  

And if you feel like you are getting into a debate over why you need engineering’s help more than someone else, take a step back and ask yourself two key questions: Will getting these resources right now really help achieve our collective long-term vision? Or will another team be able to serve the business more?

Because one thing I know for sure — you will all benefit when the company thrives.

How have you had to fight for resources?

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About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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