Product Q&A: Building strong relationships with engineers

Giff Constable product management

First Round Capital has a wonderful online network, basically a white-labelled quora, for people at their portfolio companies. While I was with their portfolio company Axial, I answered a number of questions. I’m sharing some of the Q’s I have answered over the last year or two:

As a Product Manager or Leader, What tips can you share to build strong relationships with engineers on your team?

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Treat engineers like creative partners, not code monkeys, which means involving engineering early
  • Communicate the why, not just the what, and do so with humility and an openness for ideas
  • Be an effective $hit (or shiny object) umbrella, insulating them from the billions of internal product opinions and senior exec whims
  • Respect “flow” and try to minimize context switching
  • Write clear, concise user stories that don’t presume to tell engineers *how* to implement something
  • You don’t need to be an expert programmer to earn their respect, but you do need to be fluent in how the sausage is made. What is the release process and why? how do you handle QA and why? how is the team investing in devops and what is that enabling? etc.
  • Invest time in spending time with the team outside of work

And the most important one: never ever ever bullshit an engineer