Inspire your Engineering teams
You've done the prep work and you're excited to get rolling. Next you need to focus on inspiring the hearts and minds of the Engineering teams. Here are some tips on achieving alignment around the mission.
Successfully learning how to inspire your Engineering teams and engaging with them is a critical component of Product Management. In order to build the right products that your customers will derive value from, you must take the time to understand the perspective of its architects. They are the masters of your product’s technology stack and have a wealth of domain knowledge that can guide solution exploration. Taking the time to nurture your relationships with these critical teammates will pay dividends for product success and make the product launch journey more enjoyable.
Building Relationships and Camaraderie
The first element is obvious when you think about what it takes to establish and maintain connections. However, it can be easily overlooked in the heat of product development cycles. Make sure to have a firm understanding of your organization’s Engineering structure and how each team contributes to the products and technology stack. This will help to orient your discussions as you meet Engineering team members and work to inspire your Engineering teams. Furthermore, embody a friendly spirit as you greet your teammates to foster authentic and meaningful connections. Keep the dialogue going through coffees, lunches, company events, and birthday celebrations. Take a genuine interest in their backgrounds, career aspirations, and hobbies. Find commonalities and use those as anchors for your conversations and relationships if needed. For example, at my company, we have a group that loves running and we enjoy encouraging each other on our progress.
With those meaningful connections established, you will have a better appreciation for how to keep your teammates engaged by connecting product initiatives to their unique individual interests. Additionally, where possible, you can use these learnings and your relationships with Engineering management to match Engineers with the projects that would most interest them. This can be accomplished through other mediums as well. For example, inviting Engineering teammates to collaborate at hackathons and present at departmental meetings, Engineering demos, and talks.
Maintaining Two Way Communication
Stay in touch with your colleagues even outside of day to day project work. I have enjoyed informal ad hoc conversations and discussions around different areas of the office. Given our current circumstances, it is harder to keep this engagement going, but not impossible. Get creative in order to foster camaraderie beyond just office instant messaging. For example, covertly set up a meeting disguised as a routine team meeting and instead turn it into a surprise birthday celebration! Enjoy a virtual game with your colleagues, such as Jackbox games or virtual escape rooms (e.g., Puzzle Break). Meeting for coffees, lunches and happy hours virtually are also great options to mix in casual social interactions into the workweek.
Company and customer meetings are also amazing forums for shedding light on product initiatives and garnering Engineering interest organically. Cross-functional teams are curious to learn about the latest product developments. It’s always exciting to learn about product experiments and what could potentially be coming down the pike. After presenting one of my own projects at an Engineering talk, I was pleasantly surprised to see colleagues across Engineering disciplines reaching out and expressing interest. That opened a channel for us to collaborate on making the product offering even stronger. Additionally, inviting Engineering teams to sit in on customer calls or design sessions allows them the opportunity to truly empathize with the users they are building for. They will naturally gravitate towards customer-centricity and become inspired to solve their problems.
Engage Early and Often
There will be many opportunities to inspire your Engineering teams, keep them abreast of product priorities, and solicit their feedback. As you present, help teams to connect the dots between the product and broader company objectives. The Spotify Rhythm and DIBB framework, for example, ties company-level objectives to team level priorities through bet boards. This context will be essential to help teams understand the ”why” behind initiatives. It also illustrates how each team’s efforts contribute towards top-level objectives.
Leverage the channels already in place and establish new ones as necessary to ensure that you continue reiterating the “why” and champion initiatives to completion. This might begin at quarterly planning in order to win sponsorship and cross-team engagement for key initiatives. It is also discussed in further detail at kickoff meetings where you review the project brief, discuss concerns, and agree on the path forward. It should also continue at cross-functional team level meetings for all groups involved. Establishing dedicated office instant message channels for day to day communications is critical to continue the discussion.
Celebrate Team Wins
It will be an incredible feeling to see what you are able to produce together through the development process. Don’t forget to take a moment to take a step back and appreciate your collective achievements along the way. Even as the project is ongoing, you can recognize team members for conquering milestones. Additionally, reinforce your excitement for seeing the project reach full fruition. Incorporate your appreciation for the entire team into your presentations as well. Include a thank you slide with their names listed. Emails to Engineering managers highlighting your appreciation are another great way to promote your team’s contributions. When you reach the pinnacle of product launch, celebrate it through company-wide announcements and shout outs to all involved.