The Battles between Product Management and Engineering

Topics: Organization

It is not unusual for us to enter an organization where we did not experience some battle/disagreement between product management (a.k.a. upstream marketing/marketing) and engineering. The degree of coexistence can vary from yelling to polite backstabbing.


We worked on a project with a turnover of three product managers and was 50% over budget (millions of dollars), resulting in customer requirements that changed with each new product manager. This meant three entirely different products (new technology or markets) during the lifetime of this one project. It translated to wasted dollars and resources and added to a caustic culture that continued to drive a wedge between product management and engineering.

Engineering perspective: Product Management can’t be trusted

The turnover of product management personnel on a project made it difficult to build a strong team that understands the product, competition, market, strategy, and process.

Marketing perspective: Engineering can’t be trusted

The engineers think they know customer requirements better than marketing, or the product is over-engineered. Also, engineering lacks urgency and is slow to market.

Why is this battle occurring? Lack of trust results from different goals and measures of success, training, and experiences, to name a few.

The Solution:

A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article (April 2016) indicated that there are better solutions than the goal of changing the culture. Instead, when the company’s business practices/ processes are changed, the culture changes with it. We are in fierce agreement with this perspective, we are commonly asked to change the negative culture between product management and engineering, and there isn’t a silver bullet. It takes real work, and you must start addressing business practices.

Here are a few tasks to start with:

1) Start early with integrating the product management and engineering team. Have a unified deliverable of product strategies and product roadmaps, resulting in a common goal. Engineering has a vital role in developing strategies and roadmaps, do not rely on product management to do this independently.

2) Design a product development process where engineering and product management (including other disciplines) are integrated throughout the process.

3) Ensure that your team has common goals and measures of success across the disciplines.

4) Stop the churn. Consider a professional product management track that is similar to a technology track. If you’re finding it challenging to keep your product managers because of external opportunities, consider changing the hiring profile of this position. There is an excellent pool of older workers and an excellent WSJ article on hiring women to reenter the workforce (April 10, 2016).

The Result: Less Tension

We commonly see better relationships and culture when product management and engineering team members start working with each other on important product strategies and roadmaps. This sets a clear and agreed-upon direction for the team. Also, having a product development process that integrates team members throughout the process is instrumental in ensuring a cross-functional agreement. Having a professional product management track can also result in less churn. These tasks are a great way to start and can significantly change your organization’s culture.

Read our recently published book, Learn & Adapt: ExPD an Adaptive Product Development Process for Rapid Innovation and Risk Reduction, for some of the latest thinking on culture and team dynamics.

Link to the book on Amazon below:

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For more information, contact:

Mary Drotar, Partner

Strategy 2 Market, Inc.


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