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A healthy tension between Product Managers and Engineers* is a good thing

Some level of tension is good between departments. If we respect each other, care about what we do, and work towards the same goal of delivering great products while generating revenue for our organizations, then tension is a good thing. However, PMs and Engineers cannot stay within the boundaries of their roles then point fingers when something goes wrong. If we truly care, we need to reach past the boundaries of our roles and challenge each other.

Product Managers and Engineers have different job responsibilities. Product Managers translate the customers’ needs into stories and business requirements. Engineers use the business requirements to develop technical features and deliver a functioning product. The hand-off of requirements is a critical point where PMs have the opportunity to explain the requirements and answer questions before the Engineers build the code. A few days or weeks later, functioning code is tested and some surprises may come up. That is when tension is most likely to come up.

The tension arises when functioning code is not what was expected. There can be many reasons for this such as, a requirement was not understood, there are limitations in the system making it impossible to deliver what was asked, or the Engineers used some creativity to produce a slightly different solution than required.

It’s important for Engineers to challenge PMs early on about confusing requirements and to make them aware of system limitations. It is also important for PMs to challenge Engineering on fixing the systems’ limitations and PMs should not accept a creative Engineering solution that does not meet customers’ needs.

This tension is healthy and needs to exist so that in the end, the customer wins.

*In this blog I refer to engineers as the technical people who use the requirements provided to them by product management to deliver a solution. These technical people might not necessarily be engineers by trade.