Bottleneck #03: Product v Engineering

The important thing to any profitable startup is shut collaboration between product
and engineering. This sounds simple, however may be extremely troublesome. Each
teams might have conflicting targets and completely different definitions of success that
should be reconciled. Engineering would possibly need to construct a product that’s
completely scalable for the long run with the very best developer expertise.
Product would possibly need to shortly validate their concepts, and put options out
that can entice prospects to pay for the product. One other instance that’s
widespread to see is an engineering-led “engineering roadmap” and a product-led
“product roadmap” and for the 2 to be utterly impartial of every
different, resulting in confusion for product engineering. These two mindsets
put two components of your group at odds. The simple path is to skip the
troublesome conversations and function inside silos, coming collectively
sometimes to ship a launch. We consider that aligning these two
disparate organizations into cohesive staff models removes organizational
friction and improves time to worth.

How did you get into the bottleneck?

At the start of a startup’s journey, aligning is pure as a result of
you’re a small staff working intently collectively, and certain the product and
tech leaders had shut private relationships earlier than the corporate was
based. The preliminary startup thought could be very sturdy and because it shortly features
traction, what to work on subsequent is clear to all teams. As the corporate
grows, nevertheless, skill-based verticals start to seem with extra layers of
administration, and these managers don’t at all times put the trouble in to create
an efficient working relationship with their friends. As an alternative, they concentrate on
pressing duties, like preserving the applying operating or getting ready for a
funding spherical. On the similar time, the startup faces a important juncture the place the corporate must
to resolve methods to finest put money into the product, and desires a holistic
technique for doing so.

Nicely-run startups are already working in cross-functional product
groups. Some capabilities will naturally work nicely collectively as a result of they fall
beneath the identical vertical hierarchy. An instance could be growth and
testing — nicely built-in in startups, however typically siloed in conventional
enterprise IT. Nonetheless, within the scaleups we work with, we discover that product
and technical groups are fairly separated. This occurs when staff align
extra with their perform in an Exercise Oriented
group quite than with an Final result Oriented staff, and it
occurs at each stage: Product managers will not be aligned with tech leads
and engineering managers; administrators not aligned with administrators; VPs not
aligned with VPs; CTOs not aligned with CPOs.

In the end, the bottleneck will probably be felt by decreased organizational
efficiency because it chokes the creation of buyer and enterprise worth.
Startups will see it manifest in organizational rigidity, disruptive
exceptions, unchecked technical debt, and velocity loss. Happily,
there are some key indicators to search for that point out friction between your
product and engineering organizations. On this article we’ll describe
these indicators, in addition to options to decrease the communication boundaries,
construct a balanced funding portfolio, maximize return on funding, and
reduce threat over the long run.

Indicators you’re approaching a scaling bottleneck

Finger pointing throughout capabilities

Determine 1: Friction throughout a typical
hierarchical construction

Crew members align themselves with their administration construction or
purposeful management as their main id, as a substitute of their
enterprise or buyer worth stream, making it simpler for groups to imagine
an “us” versus “them” posture.

At its worst the “us vs them” posture can grow to be really poisonous, with little respect for one another. Now we have seen this manifest when product leaders throw necessities over the wall, and deal with the engineering staff as a characteristic manufacturing facility. They may abruptly cancel tasks when the undertaking doesn’t hit its outcomes, with none prior indication the undertaking wasn’t assembly its KPIs. Or conversely, the engineering staff regularly lets down the product staff by lacking supply dates, with out warning that this would possibly occur. The tip final result is either side dropping belief in one another.

Engineers typically caught as a result of lack of product context

When product managers move off options and necessities with out reviewing them with the
engineers (normally inside the constructs of a software like Jira), important enterprise and buyer context may be misplaced. If
engineers function with out context, then when design or
growth choices have to be made, they have to pause and monitor down the product
supervisor, quite than make knowledgeable choices themselves. Or worse, they made the choice anyway and
construct software program primarily based on an incorrect understanding of the product
imaginative and prescient, inflicting time delays or unused software program. This friction disrupts
circulate and introduces undue waste in your supply worth stream.

Missed dependencies

When engineers and designers function with minimal context, the total
scope of a change may be neglected or misunderstood. Necessities or
consumer tales lack depth with out context. Buyer personas may be
ignored, enterprise guidelines not considered, technical
integration factors or cross-functional necessities missed. This
typically results in final minute additions or unintended disruptions to the
enterprise or buyer expertise.

Work slipping between the cracks

Duties slipping between the cracks, staff members considering another person
will probably be accountable for an exercise, staff members nudging one another out
of the way in which as a result of they suppose the opposite staff member is working in
their house, or worse, staff members saying “that’s not my job” – these
are all indicators of unclear roles and obligations, poor communication
and collaboration, and friction.

Technical debt negotiation breakdown

Technical debt is a standard byproduct of contemporary software program growth
with many root causes that we have now
mentioned beforehand. When product and engineering organizations
aren’t speaking or collaborating successfully throughout product
planning, we are inclined to see an imbalanced funding combine. This may imply the
product backlog leans extra closely in direction of new characteristic growth and
not sufficient consideration is directed towards paying down technical debt.

Examples embrace:

  • Larger frequency of incidents and better manufacturing assist prices
  • Developer burnout by attempting to churn out options whereas working
    round friction
  • An in depth characteristic checklist of low high quality options that prospects shortly

Groups speaking however not collaborating

Groups that meet frequently to debate their work are speaking.
Groups that overtly search and supply enter whereas actively working are
collaborating. Having common standing conferences the place groups give updates
on completely different elements doesn’t imply a staff is collaborative.
Collaboration occurs when groups actively attempt to perceive one another
and overtly search and supply enter whereas working.

How do you get out of the bottleneck?

Eliminating the wall between Product and Engineering is important to
establishing excessive performing product groups. Cross-functional groups should
talk and collaborate successfully and so they should have the ability to negotiate
amongst themselves on how finest to achieve their targets. These are methods
Thoughtworks has utilized to beat this bottleneck when working with our
scaleup shoppers.

Establish and reinforce your “First Crew”

At its most elementary, a product staff is a gaggle of people who come
collectively in a joint motion round a standard aim to create enterprise and
buyer worth. Every staff contributes to that worth creation in their very own
distinctive approach or with their distinctive scope. As leaders, it’s essential to determine
and reinforce a staff dynamic across the creation of worth quite than an
organizational reporting construction. This cross-functional product staff turns into
a staff member’s “first staff”. As a pacesetter, whenever you outline your staff as your
group of direct reviews, you’re enabling a tribal idea that contributes to
an “us vs. them” dynamic.

The First Crew mindset was outlined by
Patrick Lencioni
and referenced in a lot of his works together with
The Advantage and The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team: A Leadership
, and whereas it’s sometimes utilized in relation with the
institution of cross-functional management groups as the first
accountability staff quite than organizational reviews, the identical idea
is relevant right here for product groups.

Merely altering your group’s language, with out altering its
behaviors isn’t going to have a measurable affect in your scaling woes. Nonetheless,
it is a easy place to begin and it addresses the organizational friction and
bigger cultural points that lie on the root of your efficiency points.

Altering the language

The extra hands-on a company is keen to be in breaking
silos, the extra possible it’s they are going to be successfully be breaking some
of the implicit ‘versus’ states which have enabled them.

Duena Blomstrom

Taking a hands-on method to moderating the language
utilized in your group is an easy first step to breaking down
boundaries and decreasing friction.

  • Referring to your organizational group of practitioners as something different
    than “staff” – resembling squad, pod, or no matter time period matches your group’s
    tradition is a small change that may have a robust affect.
  • Naming your cross-functional product supply groups,
    ideally with the identify of their product or worth stream, is one other easy change that helps
    these multi-disciplined people undertake a brand new staff id separate from
    their organizational reporting context.
  • Drop “us” and “them” from the skilled vocabulary. Arising with
    various phrases however preserving the identical context of ‘that group over there – which
    isn’t this group’ is dishonest. We filter ourselves and our language in a
    skilled atmosphere frequently and this language must be added to the
    ‘not allowed’ checklist.

Change the habits

These of us attempting to
change our organizations’ tradition have to outline the issues we need to
do, the methods we need to behave and need one another to behave, to supply
coaching after which to do what is critical to bolster these behaviors.
The tradition will change consequently.

John Shook

Altering a company’s tradition when it isn’t delivering the specified
outcomes is difficult. Many books have been written on the topic. By
defining and speaking the anticipated behaviors of your groups and
their respective staff members up entrance, you set the underlying tone for
the tradition you’re striving to create.

  • Leaders ought to set a precept and expectation of a innocent tradition. When
    one thing goes mistaken, it’s a beautiful studying alternative, to be studied and
    used to repeatedly enhance. An instance of that is the idea of
    a innocent autopsy.
  • Set expectations and frequently examine adoption of desired behaviors. Maintain
    staff members accountable to those behaviors and refuse to tolerate
  • Orient “staff” constructs round worth streams as a substitute of capabilities.
    Differentiate “groups” as teams who ship widespread worth from Communities of
    Practices or Facilities of Excellence that are sometimes fashioned to deepen or
    ship particular competencies resembling Product Administration or High quality
  • Acknowledge that some character varieties are much less suitable than others.
    Shift proficient individuals round to seek out the optimum staff synergy.

Outline and talk how your scaleup delivers worth

An organization is, in some ways, only one massive staff with one shared aim
— the success of the group. When product and engineering don’t
have a shared understanding of that aim, it’s arduous for them to return to
a collaborative settlement on methods to obtain it. To keep away from this supply of
friction, executives should clearly articulate and disseminate the general
worth their group supplies to its prospects, traders, and
society. Leaders are accountable for describing how every product and
service in your portfolio contributes to delivering that worth.
Administration should make sure that each staff member understands how the work
that they do day in and day trip creates worth to the group and
its prospects.

The aim is to create a shared psychological mannequin of how the enterprise
creates worth. One of the simplest ways to do that is extremely depending on the character
of what you are promoting. Now we have discovered sure sorts of belongings to be each
widespread and helpful throughout our scaleup shoppers:

Belongings that describe buyer and consumer worth

These ought to describe the worth your product and companies create, who
they create it for, and the methods you measure that worth. Examples

  • Enterprise Mannequin Canvas/Lean Canvas
  • Person Journeys
  • Service blueprints
  • Personas
  • Empathy maps
  • Storyboards
  • Job forces diagrams
  • Product overviews (one-pagers, and so forth)

Belongings that describe your financial mannequin

These ought to describe the worth your organization receives from prospects,
the price of creating that worth, and the methods during which you measure that
worth. Examples embrace:

  • Enterprise flywheels
  • Worth stream maps
  • Wardley maps
  • Retention/churn fashions
  • Buyer acquisition fashions
  • Buyer lifetime worth fashions
  • Projected steadiness sheets and revenue

Belongings that describe your technique

These ought to describe why you’ve chosen to serve these prospects in
this fashion, the proof you used to make that call, and the very best
leverage methods you may improve the worth you create and the worth you
obtain in return.

  • Goal buyer profiles
  • Concern timber
  • Influence maps
  • Alternative/answer timber
  • Hierarchy diagrams
  • Causal loop diagrams
  • Different bespoke frameworks and fashions

After getting these belongings, it’s essential to continually check with
them in shows, in conferences, when making decsions, and most significantly,
when there may be battle. Talk whenever you change them,
and what made you make these adjustments. Solicit updates from the
group. Briefly, make them a part of your regular operations and
don’t allow them to grow to be wallpaper or one other cubicle pinup.

A easy heuristic that we’ve discovered to know how profitable
you’ve been on this communication is to select a random particular person
contributor and ask them to reply the questions answered by these
belongings. The higher they’ll do that with out referring to the belongings, the
higher they are going to be at incorporating this considering into their work. If
they don’t even know that the belongings exist, you then nonetheless have an excellent
deal of labor to do.

The alignment and focus these belongings create permit for higher
deployment of organizational sources, which permits scaling.
Moreover, they redirect the pure rigidity between product and
engineering. As an alternative of unproductive interpersonal friction, you should use
creating and updating these belongings as a venue for true collaboration and
wholesome disagreement about concepts that strengthen the corporate.

Create multidisciplinary stream-aligned groups

When an organization is simply beginning out, it typically solely has one worth
stream. However as soon as it grows, it wants to interrupt aside its merchandise and
companies into a number of worth streams in order that particular person groups can
assume full possession of varied merchandise or items of merchandise. The
finest approach to do that decomposition is past the scope of this text
(we personally are large followers of Team Topologies as a option to suppose
by it), however some key issues to think about are:

  • Might this worth stream and the services and products it includes exist as
    a separate firm (even when it wouldn’t be a extremely profitable one)?
  • Are you able to align your worth streams to a particular approach that your organization creates
    worth, or to a particular buyer or consumer that the corporate creates worth
  • How do your completely different worth streams work together with one another?

After defining your worth streams, it’s time to convey
multi-disciplined staff members collectively round them — as a result of worth creation is a staff sport. Ask the leaders
of those worth streams to create related however extra detailed variations of
the belongings we mentioned above, after which decide what abilities and
capabilities are routinely wanted to ship and evolve the worth of
the product(s) and/or service(s) within the worth streams from begin to

Pool these people collectively into an Final result Oriented staff, quite
than coordinating work throughout Exercise Oriented or purposeful groups. In
Agile IT Organization Design, Sriram Narayam
states, “The extra course of and indirection there may be, the better the
friction for efficient collaboration. In contrast, individuals inside a staff
don’t should schedule conferences to collaborate with one another. They
collaborate repeatedly and get into huddles (casual, advert hoc
conferences—digital or head to head) on demand.” Whereas this mannequin helps
scale back latency inside outcome-oriented staff, it additionally reduces the
friction amongst multidisciplinary staff members.

Understand that as your organization grows, it’s possible you’ll have to have
“groups of groups”, with a number of groups aligned round one worth stream
and a staff of cross-functional leaders for that worth stream as nicely.
Because the complexity of your worth creation will increase, so too does the
criticality of sustaining widespread goal throughout your product supply

Product managers and software program engineers have a shared
duty to know the wants of the client in order that they
can outline and prioritize the work. There isn’t a perfect mixture of
product individuals to engineers; each product goes to have a
completely different ratio. The essential half is to know that each are
accountable for understanding, prioritizing and creating worth.

Because the product evolves, the wants of the staff will evolve as nicely.
Take common stock of the staff’s capabilities and empower the
stream-aligned groups to advocate for their very own wants. Make sure that the
groups are absolutely resourced with the employees, abilities, info, and
authority to ship effectively with out pointless dependencies on
exterior sources. Totally sourced, empowered and autonomous product
groups working as a single entity, no matter every particular person’s
reporting construction, dramatically decreasing cross-discipline

Set up staff working agreements in any respect ranges

Guarantee each staff member is aware of what position they’re enjoying

The most effective groups are those who have negotiated the very best methods of working for
themselves. It’s essential for organizations to have established smart
defaults to information much less mature groups on methods to work successfully as a staff. Even
with established defaults, it is essential that groups have autonomy to resolve
which member will tackle which obligations. This measure of autonomy
results in better accountability and a better stage of intrinsic motivation. As
new groups type, codify this working settlement within the staff’s widespread data
repository. Throughout retrospectives, revisit this staff working settlement because the
staff learns extra about every staff member’s strengths and weaknesses and
reassign the obligations accordingly. This staff working settlement turns into
each the social contract of the staff, and likewise a novel “duty
fingerprint” that no different staff has. As new staff members be a part of or rotate
by the staff, having a referenceable staff working settlement accelerates
integration and reduces time to worth throughout onboarding.

Crew working agreements often include:

  • Crew Identify: What’s the distinctive identifier for the staff?
  • Crew Mission: Why does this particular staff exist? What worth is it anticipated
    to ship?
  • Crew Metrics: How will the staff measure success? Embody worth creation
    metrics, not simply exercise metrics.
  • Crew Obligations: What work must be finished to make sure success and
    which staff members are agreeing to personal these work objects? Organizations can seed
    this work with typical actions and suggestions for staff duty
    allocations, however staff members are free to renegotiate amongst themselves.
  • Crew Abilities: What abilities are wanted on this explicit staff to make sure
  • Crew Norms: Tips, ideas, ceremonies, and/or smart defaults for
    staff members to align on how staff members are anticipated to behave, work together, and
    make choices.

Leaders type their very own groups

Determine 2: Cross-functional collaboration in any respect ranges

Working agreements are a great tool for cross purposeful groups,
however they’re additionally a fantastic software for aligning cross purposeful

These three holistic view leaders—the pinnacle of product, the pinnacle
of design, and the pinnacle of expertise—are clearly very invaluable
individually, however together you may see their actual energy.

Marty Cagan

Govt leaders have a duty at a macro stage to align
on company and product methods and the following measures of
success. If executives will not be aligned on such measures as “desired
funding combine throughout merchandise”, groups anticipated to ship to those
measures will not be being arrange for fulfillment.

Purposeful line managers in a digital product group might no
longer direct the day after day efforts of the stream-aligned staff – that
duty falls to the staff and the product supervisor on that staff
– however they nonetheless have great worth. Purposeful managers are
accountable for making certain that they’re offering a wholesome bench of
expert gamers to employees these groups. It’s important that these direct
managers are aligned on the roles and obligations of product staff
members to keep away from battle inside the product groups.

…staff members should prioritize the outcomes of the staff over
their particular person or departmental wants

Patrick M. Lencioni

Negotiate a balanced product funding combine

Determine 3: A balanced funding combine candy spot

The diagram above explains the candy spot of a balanced funding
combine, the place we have now traded off technical vs product funding. Over
investing with a product characteristic heavy backlog possible signifies an
underinvestment in technical debt and runway, resulting in under-engineered
options, whereas over investing with a expertise heavy backlog possible
signifies an underinvestment in buyer valued options and
over-engineered options. It’s very arduous to know when the steadiness is
good. It’s more likely to change over time as your organization grows and

An instance of under-engineering we regularly encounter is when a product
has issues with availability. This challenge means the event staff
has to spend time combating fires, which reduces focus and impacts their
productiveness. Whereas this may be sustainable if you find yourself small, if
your buyer utilization spikes (in hypergrowth), the staff turns into
overloaded, and buyer expertise is affected. That debt compensation
will at all times come due when what you are promoting can least afford it.

A distinct imbalance outcomes if the technical staff does an excessive amount of
early optimization, and so they find yourself over-engineering. An instance of this
is overfitted architectures which are constructed to deal with tons of of
hundreds of customers when the corporate solely has ten. When the startup
pivots, quite a lot of that work finally ends up being thrown away. There’s at all times a
steadiness to strike between constructing the product to be scalable within the
future vs constructing what you want proper now to outlive.

The essential factor is to have the ability to spot when this combine is
imbalanced, and have the ability to appropriate it. A steady enchancment course of
is extremely essential. If a staff (at product staff stage or a
administration staff) is conscious of their shared aim, then a cross-functional
group can assess the steadiness frequently, and use knowledge as a information. Some
knowledge will probably be quantifiable, and a few will probably be extra subjective. Data
you should use to information you consists of:

  • Gathering particular person opinions – does an engineer really feel productive and
    motivated? Does a product supervisor suppose the staff is environment friendly?
  • Productiveness metrics – How briskly can we take a look at and construct a brand new characteristic?
  • View of present state and near-term future state – Are we overcomplicating
    construct out for the sake of future scalability?
  • Product development – Do we all know how we’re progressing in direction of a product’s aim?
    Are there sufficient analytics, consumer testing and buyer suggestions to substantiate that
    our product investments are paying off?
  • Developments – As we construct extra options or improve customers, how are metrics
    trending? For instance, take a look at metrics just like the construct time, the lead tiime to deploy
    to manufacturing, and the quantity of incidents. As complexity will increase, technical
    funding ought to convey them beneath management, and scale back toil for builders.

An skilled technologist that has scaled a technical platform is
extremely invaluable. They’ll interpret the info, utilizing their instinct to
spot potential future issues, whereas taking a realistic level of

Account for cross-functional necessities

product is not only a product with the newest options.

  • It should be constructed to be performant, dependable and secure.
  • It needs to be value environment friendly – the price of working the product shouldn’t
    exceed the income that the product generates.
  • The underlying structure of the product ought to allow future characteristic
    growth to happen shortly and effectively.
  • It ought to bear in mind shopper enlargement and have the ability to scale, with out too
    a lot rework.
  • It shouldn’t put non-public buyer or enterprise knowledge in danger.

These and lots of different qualities of a product fall beneath the umbrella
of cross-functional necessities. Failing to account for these
necessities within the curiosity of getting new options out the door
creates compounding issues.

Some issues are extra apparent as a result of you may observe them. They’re
noticeable when a buyer complains. Others are solely going to be
noticeable over the long run. Martin Fowler talks concerning the significance of preserving inside high quality
excessive – doing refactoring, creating automated checks, decoupling your
structure. Early stage firms are inclined to skip this, for brief time period
productiveness will increase. This may be the correct determination, however as soon as they
take into consideration including extra groups inside high quality needs to be addressed, or
long run worth creation is forfeited.

Balancing the backlog

Making a balanced backlog begins with belief, because it’s basically
a negotiation between product and engineering. We really useful that each
product chief works to construct a detailed, collaborative relationship with
their technical counterparts, and vice-versa. There’ll and needs to be
many troublesome discussions as you’re employed to seek out steadiness. A startup has
very restricted sources, and sometimes has to make arduous trade-offs between
bettering the developer expertise and constructing new options.

Productive negotiation will depend on transparency, the power to share
detailed info, and the need to see the state of affairs from the opposite
individual’s perspective. If a product supervisor understands the technical
structure and technique, they’ll counsel concepts which are simpler to
construct. If a technical individual understands the reasoning and analysis
behind a product technique, they’ll counsel various options that
the product individual hasn’t considered, e.g. using ML/AI to resolve a

When negotiating a backlog, startups typically discover it difficult to
perceive the relative affect between potential investments — and
as a result of utilization and income metrics are simple to acquire and nicely
understood, work that can affect these is commonly prioritized, which
pulls the funding combine out of steadiness. To counteract this, we
suggest discovering metrics that will let you measure the affect of
technical funding as nicely. Every state of affairs is completely different, however there are
quite a few research-supported, de facto requirements proven to enhance
long-term productiveness that you should use as a place to begin.

  • Give attention to DevOps and DX outcome-driven metrics. Studying maximizing developer effectiveness
    is an efficient place to begin.
  • Within the Thoughtworks Scaleup Studio, we have a number of sensible

    that come from a examine of what practices and applied sciences that profitable
    scaleups are utilizing. This consists of steady supply, domain-oriented
    microservices, prudent use of technical debt, constructing experimentation processes
    and infrastructure.
  • Set a non-negotiable high quality bar and preserving to it. For instance, every
    language has a set of excellent practices that we will simply test our work towards, mechanically.

Product vs Engineering collaboration method as you develop

Part 1


The startup itself is one staff.

Preliminary working aggreements and belongings to explain mission assertion.

Funding combine is closely oriented in direction of product funding. Usually constructing to enhance data and never a
working product (e.g. throwaway prototypes).

Experiments with completely different financial fashions.

Part 2

Getting Traction

The corporate begins to separate off into sub-teams, nonetheless
thinks of itself as “one large staff.”

Working agreements grow to be extra concrete

Buyer worth belongings are refined and utilized in onboarding and
orientation. Financial mannequin turns into clearer, however nonetheless versatile.

Rent your first non-founder product and engineering leaders.

Funding combine continues to be closely product-oriented, centered on
making a sturdy product — key foundational investments to assist

Part 3

(Hyper) Progress

Too massive to function as “one large staff”, decomposes into
stream-aligned groups.

Cross-functional groups of leaders are created for center
administration. First platform engineering groups created.

Now not trying to find new markets. Funding combine doubles down
on the worth your merchandise create.

Buyer worth, enterprise technique and financial mannequin belongings are
now fairly concrete, very sluggish to vary, and designed for

Every product and sub-product creates its personal worth statements and belongings as wanted.

Part 4


Leaders should actively work towards changing into siloed alongside
purposeful traces.

Crew construction begins to vary to optimize for max autonomy
and company.

Constructions to assist talent growth and consistency throughout
purposeful teams emerge.

A number of groups created to make work on stream aligned groups extra
environment friendly (platform engineering, product ops, design ops, and so forth).

Funding combine in core merchandise turns into extra centered on technical funding,
together with an funding in developer expertise.