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Five signs that product and engineering friction is slowing your company’s growth

Five signs that product and
engineering friction is slowing
your company’s growth

A solid working partnership between product and engineering is critical to a scaleup’s success by both improving the quality of the product and its time to market. And yet it’s common to find that in growing scaleups, there can be a divide between these two groups. Conflicting mindsets and lack of collaboration between these two teams can create discord and become a bottleneck to overall growth. 


Although it may seem easier to work within isolated silos, only joining forces to deliver releases, we believe that aligning product and engineering into cohesive teams is the ideal way to speed up time to value, and help companies meet their growth goals.

The origins of friction


Typically in a small company, product and engineering don’t start out as two isolated groups. Startups begin as one small cohesive group with a common goal. Rarely is there a defined product manager role or a separate product team. But as startups mature, the makeup of the founding group changes, and larger teams start to develop around their particular function. During hypergrowth, while different skill-based teams organically form to meet growth demands, maintaining real working collaboration between functions often gets overlooked.


Tension can develop between any two groups as every part of the organization starts being responsible for their own goals and outcomes. Each team has to align those goals to focus on their own OKRs. Different teams naturally have their own ideas about what success looks like and there can be less collaboration across teams. Without re-focusing, silos start to evolve around these functions, and the lack of collaboration has become routine. 


When the tension is between product and engineering, the company feels the effects of slowing growth. For example, it’s common to find engineering has developed its own engineering-led roadmap while product has a product-led roadmap, and the two aren’t necessarily aligned.

Indicators of a product/ engineering divide


Though product/ engineering friction is normal, it is a bottleneck that needs to be solved, so first it’s key to recognize that it exists. There are indicators that we’ve seen repeatedly that can be used to identify that these teams aren’t collaborating as they should. Once you’ve identified this, you can work toward solutions that reduce communication barriers, and restore healthy collaboration among teams.

1. “Us” vs. “Them” mindset


When employees start to identify with their functional leadership as their primary group, they can lose sight of customer experience and overall business outcomes. At its worst, this creates an “us” vs “them” mindset. As a result, conflict and negative dynamics arise.


We see this when product leaders tend to throw requirements over the wall, as they view the development process through their own functional understanding. Engineering is seen as a feature factory instead of contributors to the overall success of the product organization. Respect can degrade, and then engineers may be unapologetic about missing deadlines. When these traits are present in a culture, it erodes trust and leads to poor collaborations.



2. Engineering hits roadblocks


Another telltale sign of a divide is when engineers are always stuck because they lack product context. Instead of being empowered to make decisions, they have to constantly track down the product manager for questions during the development process. Or, they may be asked to make changes after they’ve built a solution that was based on an incorrect assumption about the product. This is a sign of poor communication between groups.



3. Missed dependencies in the product


How many times has your engineering team been asked to go back and fix a problem after the product was deployed to production because they missed an important dependency? Or maybe last minute change requests have become routine, which repeatedly slows down business. 


If this happens frequently, it can be because the engineering team wasn’t involved enough in the process, and don’t have a complete understanding. Requirements or user stories lack depth without context and it’s easy for technical details to be missed. This is another clear sign of a lack of collaboration among teams.



4. Work slipping between the cracks


Tasks slipping between the cracks, team members thinking someone else will be responsible for an activity, team members nudging each other out of the way because they think the other team member is operating in their space, or worse, team members saying “that’s not my job” – these are all signs of unclear roles and responsibilities, poor communication and collaboration, and friction.



5. Tech debt out of balance


When product and engineering organizations aren’t communicating or collaborating effectively, there tends to be an imbalance between resolving technical debt and developing new features. Engineers get frustrated because they’re expected to develop new features that may or may not be adopted by customers. Meanwhile they don’t have sufficient time to address technical debt. This is a clear indicator that the two teams aren’t in the routine of working together and negotiating priorities.



Solutions to the product/ engineering divide


If these indicators sound familiar, it might be time to take a close look at the working relationship between your product and engineering teams. As part of the Bottlenecks of Scaleups Series, we give a more in-depth view of how this friction slows growth, and more importantly, what are effective solutions to restore trust, establish collaboration and develop teams that deliver value.

Looking to resolve the product and engineering divide?