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Craig Kerstiens

The Engineering Manager/Product Manager Marriage

I’ve worked as a PM at a number of size companies for a few years now. At a startup and then as a part of a larger company once startups were acquired. I’ve been the first PM for a team as well as first for a company. I’ve written at times about product management, and today I’d like to drill into one aspect that doesn’t seem to get talked about enough and that is the pairing of product manager and engineering manager.

Mom vs. Dad

As parents my partner and I have learned very quickly that we need to have a consistent voice and unified view of things. I care that our son watches less power rangers otherwise he’s going to use his megazord powers on our TV and we’ll be watching a lot more of nothing. My partner cares that when we’re visiting family in the south they drink enough water so they don’t get dehydrated.

Meanwhile my kids are experts at leveraging us to get what they want. My daughter came to me last night asking if she could play on her iPad some. Not knowing if she had or if she’d already given an answer my safest question was have you asked your mom? In the absense of knowing my default isn’t a yes or no, it’s a “let me learn more.” and then potentially discuss it.

EM vs. PM

As a PM I want us to build a rich and powerful product, but there is a strong balance to doing too little vs. too much. It isn’t always a question of doing more, we need to make sure the product is well built. In order to do that we need to say no at times. Saying no, as well as yes, needs to come from a unified front, both engineering and product. If one side is agreeing without being aligned with the other half you’re going to wind up with a confused and frustrated team.

There are a number of ways engineering managers and product managers can stay aligned. The first starts with being explicit with each other, so if you’re struggling with one side communicating things the other don’t agree with… sit down and have a conversation about it. From an ongoing perspective you can get to a better aligned position to not have to discuss every question before you give an answer. My partner knows to make sure we don’t watch more than 2 episodes of power rangers and when we’re too amped up on it we shorten that.

  • Are you having regularly 1:1s with your counterpart?
  • Do you review emails out to the team ahead of time to capture feedback?
  • Do you have conversations where you’re not on the same page in an offline fashion as opposed to in team meetings?
  • Are you treating your EM/PM just like your partner at home? (I guess that does assume you treat your partner well, but that’s a whole other blog post)