Hi, our names are Gavin and Ed, we’ve both worked at OVO for over 5 years in product and technology leadership roles. In that time the team has grown an extraordinary amount. Today we’re 40 cross-functional teams across London, Bristol, Edinburgh and soon to expand to Lisbon.
Throughout our careers we’ve both been struck by the effectiveness of an extremely close technology and product relationship. Whether it be through our own work or observing others it seems to be one of the leading indicators of successful teams. There are other very important relationships too, most notably with design and data. In this post, we aim to dissect the value of the product and technology relationship and discuss how to build it.
The value of the product and engineering alignment
Building products requires constant prioritisation and trade-offs. Successful products involve examining work across a number of key dimensions. Feasibility, viability and desirability are critical to understand. Balancing short term objectives against long term ambitions creates a new level of complexity. Asking a group of experts to work together provides a deeper level of insight, and better outcomes, than a single person simplifying and potentially missing key information.
High performing teams ship early to expedite learning to establish value as quickly as possible. To achieve this teams often need to build solutions that are not appropriate for the later life cycles of your product. This compromise is something that technology teams are often uncomfortable with, through fear that others will not understand the requirement to address technical debt in the future or be criticized for their poor technical solution. These paradigms drive adverse behaviour with teams failing to explore appropriately engineered solutions but instead favouring solutions that take longer to build preparing for a future that may or may not occur.
Getting the balance right requires mutual respect and acknowledgement of what each party brings to the team and the humility that there must always be a balance. Stray too far into building the perfect piece of code and you will likely miss valuable opportunities. Focus too much on building out features for your customer and the technical debt incurred will cripple your product and the ability of a team to add any value.
We both agree that teams that get this right break down the barriers between the two functions. No longer does technology represent the sole voice on technical debt and non-functional requirements. And likewise, Product stops being the gatekeeper of customer and commercial goals. Instead, the team works in harmony, everybody actively engaged and caring for the success of the product.
Some tips on building a close tech and product relationship
- Psychological safety is key. If you don’t trust each other, it fails from the get-go. Psychological safety can be built by supporting each other in public and seeking each other’s critical feedback in private. Including your tech/product partner early when developing new ideas, and co-owning success and failure.
- No X% tech time. Great products are built by understanding the next most important task. It could be a feature or something to do with security or scalability. Avoiding these decisions by applying a dumb dividing mechanic misses the point and highlights a larger issue with your prioritisation process.
- Chewing the fat. These relationships work best when they’re not just confined to team events and meetings. Being there for each other to explore new ideas or challenges outside of formal meetings strengthens the relationship and breeds innovation.
- One roadmap, one backlog - If you have one backlog for engineering and one for product, you are reinforcing the negative exclusivity of tech and product. One roadmap and one backlog drives the right conversations. Bring your expertise together and remove any siloed ownership.
- 2 strategies, 1 product - it’s important to recognise that there will be a tech strategy as well as a product strategy. They aren’t produced in isolation and complement each other in the achievement of the product vision. Making each explicit, allows you to ensure balance in the single backlog.
- North Star. Every decision, whether it be product or technical needs to be assessed and measured against its contributing value to the product vision. Work together to build your North Star. If you get it right, it will bring balance to all of the above.
We would love to hear your views on the above, what have we missed, what you agree with.
Gav & Ed