How do you soften the blow and work around the conversations you must have with you engineers?

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Reporting bugs, asking for the feasibility of building a feature and timelines are conversations we must have with engineers. However, those are topics that engineers dread and can often turn into heated conversations. How do you soften the blow and navigate these discussions?

1. “It didn’t work”

It doesn’t provide any details to help the engineers solve your problem. Which part didn’t work? (The data didn’t get updated after you hit save or the page just keeps loading?) What did you do before that?

Without any “evidence”…

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Know what and how to say intelligently in meetings is a skill product leaders need to master.

Stakeholders turn to us to understand why certain decisions are made. Our teams turn to us for advice on how to solve problems.

To practise giving more thoughtful and constructive answers, I would pretend I’m a panelist and try to craft a response. Even though stage fright is not in the way, I would draw a blank when the questions are vague. Even if I know the answers very well, I struggle to be succinct.

In awe of hearing the inspirational answers, it…

Toddler hugging a dog
Toddler hugging a dog
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A product team’s greatest fear is losing its high performing engineers with institutional knowledge. How to retain your engineers so they don’t get poached even when being offered a bigger salary?

Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” defines the four T’s of autonomy as:

The freedom to pick the task, the technique, the time, and the team.

This article focuses on providing autonomy to choose the first three: task, technique, and time.

Excitement to build things the way they want

New technologies are like shiny new toys to engineers. The ultimate dream of most engineers is to start something new and build a product from scratch. …

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Some individuals don’t respond well with rules. Develop an understanding of why they react that way, you will realize that they do not intend to question or go against you.

People are motivated by one or a combination of:

- Inner expectations stem from themselves — commit to themselves

- Outer expectations come from others, work and society — commit to others

Four types of individuals arise as a result of this, defined by Gretchen Rubin, the author of “The Four Tendencies”.

They have access to users and information to help drive your roadmap forward

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Product Managers are the glue of all the different departments, you can’t do your job until you master this. It comes down to these two rules:

Predict when your stakeholder will be the detractor in changing your plans. Mitigate these risks by involving them or adjust your timeline.

Identify opportunities to make them the promoter in pushing your plan forward. Spell out how your plan can help them do their job better or make them feel good.

As a former Customer Success Manager, I use collaborating with…

Incorporate these phrases to work effectively with Product Managers

This is a follow-up article after writing Say These 4 Phrases to Make Engineers Love You Right Away.

Product Managers are responsible for the what and why behind solving a user problem. We lean on engineers to tell us how to make that happen.

Speak your mind. Don’t hold on to your questions and ideas. We want to hear your perspectives to ship great things.

These phrases are music to the Product Managers’ ears.

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1. “Could you clarify what is the expected behavior when this happens?”

Why do Product Managers love this?

  • Account for scenarios that we have not thought about. Even if the timeline doesn’t allow us to…

It has nothing to do with money and technical experience

Two middle age business working together with smile on face hand giving high five.
Two middle age business working together with smile on face hand giving high five.
Photo by krakenimages from Unsplash

You can train an engineer on technical skills with time, but you cannot teach attitude. I’d rather take a less experienced engineer who is driven and collaborative, than a more technically competent engineer with a huge ego.

Here are the non-technical skills that are invaluable:

1. Humility

Everyone makes mistakes. When their code takes the system down. Do they own it or blame QA for not catching the bug? A person’s true character shows during hardships.

I once had an engineer wrote a long list of lessons learned in a post mortem…

Build trust and rapport is key to working effectively with engineers. Show them you can help them focus on what they love and do best — coding.

I made this clear to my engineers — so they know I’m available to help remove bottlenecks and shield them from distractions. The quote sums it all.

“My job is to play defense — so you can run as quickly as you can”

Person playing soccer on field
Person playing soccer on field
Photo by Donny Cocacola from Unsplash

1. “What can I do to unblock you?”

When you are stuck, it’s comforting to know someone cares to know why and wants to help.

Needless to say, the first step is to identify the blockers. …

Feature creep and unplanned work are the biggest risks that can delay your launch.

person pointing map photo
person pointing map photo
Photo by Element 5 Digital on Unsplash

A map shows you where you are now and plan to go. You don't lose sight of the destination when unanticipated events come up. When shipping your minimal usable product (where you start) and ultimate product (where you want to go), use a release map.

What are release maps?

The release map shows how a minimal usable product will improve over time.

Find a technical buddy you can lean on. It’s more effective than learning how to code.

Boy leaning on a dog
Boy leaning on a dog
Photo by Magdalena Smolnicka on Unsplash

Even if you have zero technical background (like me), your buddy can be your sounding board on anything technical. Not only that, building rapport with this “ring leader” will help you influence other engineers in the team.

What skills should you look for? When and how can you lean on them?

Are you a looking to work more effectively with engineers?I’m currently writing a book to address these pain points. As I’m preparing for the next iteration, get it at any price you want…

Lee Ling Yang

Director of Product @ LionDesk. Author of “How to Work with Engineers”. Ex-Biologist. Biker. Empower Women in Tech 🇨🇦

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