Part 2: How engineering leads can work well with product management leads

This is the second part of a 3-part talk given to the CTO School. Part 1 covered good vs bad product management. Here I want to share ten ways an engineering leader can best partner with their product management counterpart.

1. Think strategically about the pressures on the business, not just the pressures on engineering

2. Be a creative partner fascinated by customer needs; be willing to gather direct research on those needs

3. Inspire your engineers to be creative partners, not just in engineering problems, but product problems

4. Don’t sandbag

5. Accept tech debt, but don’t hesitate to challenge it

I believe that you should include infrastructure-related OKRs/KPIs in your heartbeat reports so that you can spot the creeping/growing impact of tech debt.

In the early stage, you should refactor as you can but it usually happens less while you hunt for some semblance of product-market fit. Plan for periodic infrastructure-focused iterations. And make sure everyone knows that they can ring the alarm bells if they think it is getting out of control (I think of it like letting anyone pull the stop cord on the Toyota production line).

For later stage teams, I think it is generally best to have a rotating team(s) that is dedicated to infrastructure and refactoring.

6. Engineering, product and design all report to the CEO

7. Create a team working agreement for leadership, not just the cross-functional teams

In terms of dividing things up, I roughly think of it like this:

  • PM is point on the outcomes and priorities
  • Design is point on the user experience, voice and visual identity
  • Engineering is point on how something is built
  • Everyone is a creative partner and gets a say in the above

A product business requires constant compromise because quality is a relative thing. Sometimes you will deeply disagree with a decision. Democracy does not always pick the best answer given inevitable uncertainty. Build an appeals structure into your team working agreement for when one leader seriously disagrees with the decision. The appeal goes to the CEO. If all three leaders know that this is an accepted option for everyone, then you can preserve a transparent process not an invisible, political one.

If appeals are constantly happening, however, then obviously you have a non-functioning leadership team and something needs to change.

7. Do retros together to spot problems early

8. Sit together

9. Be generous

10. And the blunt truth…

(Part 3 is on interviewing PMs)



entrepreneur and author of Talking to Humans and Testing with Humans; side project at I blog at

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Giff Constable

entrepreneur and author of Talking to Humans and Testing with Humans; side project at I blog at