In product-driven organizations, the engineering team tasked with developing the product often has a different reporting structure than the product team. Engineers fall into a vertical structure reporting to a technology leader. However, they are assigned to develop products envisioned by a product leader who relies heavily on customer feedback, market demand, and industry trends to shape and define their vision for the final product. With their laser-sharp focus on solving customer problems, these product leaders set their product goals and typically align them with their leadership’s Objectives & Key Results (OKRs).
While engineers are asked to focus on product development and work toward meeting the goals and OKRs laid out by product leadership, they may have additional targets defined by their respective technology leaders. These technology-focused objectives could be addressing upgrades needed for achieving scalability, availability, and performance. In addition, there could be benchmarks to improve the maintenance and quality of software products or pay down technical debt.
Engineering teams are tasked with competing leadership goals and priorities
In a desperate attempt to satisfy both ‘verticals’, the engineering team finds itself pulled by these two priorities – should they focus solely on new product development to meet the product leadership OKRs or should they concentrate on addressing technology initiatives? If they devote their capacity to product-related OKRs — as these usually take the priority in product-driven organizations — technology upgrades are delayed and the effort of technical debt reduction to improve software quality is deprioritized. However, the constant pressure to meet both priorities is not taken off engineers’ shoulders and the team gets caught in the crossfire of competing leadership goals and priorities. As product and technology leadership contend to have their viewpoints, business cases and priorities heard, the inevitable result is confusion, frustration and work overload for the engineering team.
Collaboration between Product and Engineering leadership is critical for success
How can product-driven organizations address both the need to deliver solutions to their customers and keep software performing at a high level without driving their engineering teams to madness? Collaboration and communication between product and engineering leadership is essential. While it is not feasible to have a single set of goals for both, it is possible to set aside agendas and develop engineering team OKRs that reflect both priorities. Collaborative discussions can happen prior to finalizing product-focused goals where input from engineers is considered by the product manager.. The engineering leader milestones that have a direct or indirect impact on the product can be blended within product-related OKRs. Subsequent team discussions can be held to arrive at a consensus where the entire team agrees and commits to the blended OKRs drafted for the period.
A balanced team workload addresses the need to deliver products that are technically sound
The need and desire to deliver better products that are both valuable to customers and technically sound is constant and the engineering talent and capacity to build both is finite. Closer collaboration between product and technology leadership is critical to ensure both sets of objectives are considered, addressed and properly prioritized. This creates a balanced team workload with attention given to product enhancement and customer problem solving while allowing teams to keep software scalable, responsive and dependable. Your organization’s engineers will thank you for the clarity and collaboration.
What is your experience with balancing product and technical OKRs? Has your organization found a successful approach to address collaboration between product and technical leadership? How are your engineering teams balancing the needs to deliver product solutions to customers while keeping software technically sound? Please share your thoughts!