How to Grow Product-Minded Engineering Teams
Actionable Tips on How to Grow Teams that Care about Products
I grew up in an era where developers and sys-admins were all seen as hackers.
Actually, not just hackers, but more like shamans!
I don’t want to sound nostalgic (I admit, I'm), but these times are gone.
We've transitioned from the low-level era, where only a few individuals had access to the knowledge required to understand technology, to the high-level era, where understanding technology is not needed anymore, at least to use it. Here, no-code, AI, and other advancements have brought technology within everyone’s reach.
Technology products today are no longer a privilege; they have become consumables. That's why it's crucial to develop products with end users in mind.
However, how can introverted tech gurus, who spend their days coding at their desks, create tech products for the average user? And as EMs or Tech Leaders, how can we bridge the gap between those who develop technology and those who use it?
The short answer is: Product-Minded Engineers.
But it's a complex topic, which is why, in today's newsletter, I'm going to delve deeper into it.
In particular we will explore:
What is a Product-Minded Engineer
🧠 Why Product-Minded Engineers are so important
🌱 How to grow teams with a great product mindset
While this guide will be primarily focused on the Engineering Manager's perspective, I believe it is a valuable starting point also for engineers who wish to grow their product mindset.
So let’s begin!
Identikit of a Product-Minded Engineer
When you ask EMs or even PMs to describe a Product-Minded Engineer, they’ll probably tell you that it's a good engineer who cares about the product.
For sure, this is one aspect, but there’s much more, and that’s why I did the exercise of trying to build a true identikit of a Product-Minded Engineer.
Here’s what I came up with:
🎯 Strategic Thinker: understands the company's broader goals and aligns their work with these objectives.
🌉 Communication Bridge: excellent at communicating technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders, fostering understanding across different teams.
🛠️ Tech Expert: has strong technical skills and is able to implement efficient and innovative solutions.
📊 Data-Driven: makes informed decisions based on data, mixing analytical skills with creative problem-solving.
🚀 Entrepreneurial Soul: has an entrepreneurial mindset, actively seeking out and creating new solutions to real-world problems.
🤝 Collaborative: works effectively with product managers, designers, and other team members, contributing to a healthy team dynamic.
🔍 User-Centric: prioritizes user happiness and focuses on solving real user problems, ensuring the product meets market demands.
📈 Business Oriented: understands and contributes to the business side of the product, aiming to achieve strategic business goals.
💡 Problem Solver: skilled at identifying issues and implementing efficient solutions, often foreseeing potential problems before they arise.
🌍 Big Picture Perspective: keeps an eye on industry trends and the competitive landscape, understanding where the product fits in the market.
I recognize that finding someone with all these skills/traits would be like finding a gold mine, but I believe this profile serves as a good reference for the traits and skills you'll need to look for in Product-Minded Engineers.
🧠 The Importance Of Product-Minded Engineers
Growing engineers with a product mindset, can significantly enhance the engineering team's ability to deliver high-value products efficiently.
This kind of engineers, not only focus on the technical aspects but also deeply understand and contribute to the overall product vision.
Here are some key benefits of having Product-Minded Engineers as part of your team:
🌟 Innovative Solutions: they bring creative problem-solving approaches that mix technical and product perspectives.
⏱️ Efficient Development: they reduce wasted effort on features that don't align with the product strategy.
⚙️ Avoid Over-Engineering: they understand the trade-offs of building solid products without delivering technology just for the sake of it.
💡 Strategic Insight: they provide valuable insights into the product strategy based on their technical expertise.
🌐 Holistic Understanding: they develop a broader understanding of the business, enhancing overall team versatility.
Do you Really Need Product-Minded Engineers?
The short answer to this question is “yes.”
That's why it becomes crucial to have engineers on your team who will ask themselves questions like:
How can we make customers happy?
How can we build products that customers love?
Why should we implement this feature?
How can we speed up the go-to-market to validate our product?
Ideally, all these questions should arise before even opening code IDEs.
To clarify, this doesn't mean that we want to build crappy architectures with beautiful interfaces just to be quick and please our customers. It means putting our technical expertise at the service of our end-users and finding convenient trade-offs.
🌱 Growing Product-Minded Engineers
After understanding how to identify engineers with a product-oriented mindset and recognizing their importance, let's find out how to grow teams that genuinely prioritize and understand product.
There are four main pillars you want to focus on:
👓 Collective Vision
🗺️ Team Topology
Let’s delve into them.