Better Engineering Management: Top 3 Things Product Managers Dislike About Engineering Managers

Written by Divine Odazie

September 10, 2021

Product managers and engineering managers have a lot in common. They’re both parts of the product life cycle, and they work closely together to build a successful product. Yet, engineering managers and product managers often struggle to come to a good working relationship.

This article will share the top three things that product managers dislike about engineering managers. This article is not to criticize engineering managers but rather to help them improve. The relationship between an engineering and product manager truly sets the tone for the entire engineering team. 

An engineering manager being intentional about approaching challenges with product managers can help knit a strong partnership. And this article will also share what engineering managers can do to better their relationship with product managers.

We will cover:

Why do product managers and engineering managers have such a strained relationship?

Product managers and engineering managers will rarely have a truly harmonious relationship from the get-go, where they both felt that everything was going well. And this is to be expected as there is a natural tension between deciding “why” and “what” to do (product) and how to do things (engineering).

Top 3 things that product managers dislike about engineering managers

The following are not blanket statements about all engineering managers, just those who believe that technology should drive the product instead of user pain points driving product decisions. 

We talked to a few product managers across different industries, and here are a few things engineering managers do that affect their relationship with product managers. 

Product managers don’t like when engineering managers:

1. Make unilateral decisions and commitments

Product managers are in charge of the product strategy, roadmap, and tactical parts to have a template for what engineering should build — often referred to as PRD (Product Requirement Document). Engineering managers will then execute on the PRD and ensure that the team stays healthy. 

When executing on the PRD, product managers have shared that some engineering managers they’ve worked with tend to:

  • Make decisions not aligned with the PRD when creating technical roadmaps without keeping them in the loop. 
  • Try to push engineering priorities onto the product roadmap or dictate which features should be in an upcoming release.

Also, engineering managers make unilateral delivery commitments to stakeholders without updating the product manager, which affects decision-making and product success. 

2. Neglect the need of the users

Product managers have shared that sometimes engineering managers neglect the needs of users. 

  • Not being agile enough: Sometimes, engineering managers define the best system (technically) to build the product ideas. And phase the execution of the PRD in a way that delivers nothing in between. This will lead to the product not delivering enough value for the user or waiting too long for the barest minimum. 
  • Struggle with adapting to change, whether that’s users demand, product vision, or strategy change which will affect the users.

Also, as we mentioned earlier, engineering managers believing that technology should drive product decisions and not user pain points.

3. Do not set up the right engineering culture

Building the right engineering culture is key to the happiness, productivity, and overall output of engineers. We discussed in our article 4 Things Engineering Managers of Effective Team do how the major challenges engineering managers face aren’t technical but personal — as engineering managers work to cater to the needs of each team member.

Product managers have shared those engineering managers who don’t  set up the right culture have engineers in their team that:

  • Lack clarity on the team charter (a document developed in a group setting that clarifies team direction while establishing boundaries) or overall purpose.
  • Lack clear bar for quality or operational excellence.
  • Have low morale and motivation.
  • Suffer from whiplash because of constant pivots and priorities that change daily.
  • And above all, engineering managers do not have their team’s back and throw them under the bus at review time to save their job.

All these will lead to a high turnover of engineers. And an overall drop in quality of the engineering team’s input and output will affect the product.

What can engineering managers do to better their relationship with product managers?

An engineering manager needs to learn how to collaborate with their product managers — working together to move the product forward. The question is, what can engineering managers do to better their relationship with product managers?

Understand what they do – and where they need to lean on them.

The work of product managers and engineering managers is very different. It’s challenging in different ways. Though different, there will always be some level of overlap between the roles. 

However, many product and engineering managers do not talk about what they expect from one another. This non-communication then leads to frustration. When an engineering manager expects the product manager to do something they never agreed on or vice versa.

Also, because the roles are challenging in different ways, engineering managers need to build empathy towards the demands of the product manager’s job. For example, the fact that product managers are always juggling “theory” and real-world practice. See this link for further reading on facts engineering managers should know about product managers.

Align in the same strategic direction

Misalignment is one of the major issues that affect an engineering manager’s relationship with product managers. The worst thing is to have a product—vision, strategy, and features misaligned with its engineering manager. 

If an engineering manager disagrees with the product manager, they should agree on one decision. Any arguments should happen privately if possible and not in front of the teams or senior leadership — as they both should put a united front.

An engineering manager should effectively communicate the technical direction to meet the business and customer needs to align with the product manager.

Give inputs and updates 

Engineering a product is complex. In an organization where an engineering manager doesn’t give input and updates on issues that arise when building the product, the product manager may have a different idea of what is going on, which might not be the case.

An engineering manager should:

  • Give inputs backed with data as to why some things should change to build the product better.
  • Changes to delivery of the product or features
  • Update on decisions and commitments so the product managers will be in the loop.
  • Updates on why some engineers may be underperforming as the PM doesn’t have one-on-ones with the engineers. Etc.

Conclusion

This article covered the top 3 things product managers dislike about engineering managers. Also, the article highlights what engineering managers can do to better their relationships with product managers.

How have you built a great relationship with the product manager? Let other 200+ engineering managers know in the Zumvie Slack Community for Engineering Managers.

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