Product vs Engineering

21 Jul 2019

A divorce that needs to be resolved

It is common understanding that in my world of software that Product Management and Engineering need to be separated; when you design your organization the Product Manager cannot report within the Engineering section of the tree.

Engineering is a bad omen that Product Management must be protected from. Product puts the user first. Engineering puts technology first. The evidence we have speaks to this truth. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

It wasn’t always this way. Xerox Parc had zero product managers. Hell, you could argue it didn’t have any users. It was pure engineering research. It took other companies decades to bring their accomplishments to the masses. What the engineers at Xerox Parc did pushed the user experience of computing forward unlike anything we have seen since. Not simply technology, but the actual experience of using it.

We absolutely need Product Managers. But the reasons for this divorce lays squarely at the feet of the Engineering departments. Business have created separate Product departments as an organizational immune response to defend the value of their users.

There are a number of pathologies at play. Often engineers chase technology in the form of “resume driven development,” or point to certain technology as the reason they cannot improve the user experience. Sometimes it is simply choosing to solve a technology problem with minimal value to a user, while ignoring higher value problems for users.

Engineering departments needs to remember what this is all about. Creating value for the users of our software by solving their problems—both the ones they can clearly identify, and especially the ones they cannot. I worry that we won’t have any more breathtaking advances in technology because we are only solving intricate problems that we suffer from. This work is necessary, and helpful, but a far cry from the world-changing inventions we tend to promise the world.

We are riding high right now, being compensated very well for our work. Are we overpromising and under-delivering? That is a recipe for irrelevancy.

#Product Management  #Software Engineering