<span id=Notes from a Product Manager: 6 Tips and Tools for Empowering Engineering Teams" />

Like most engineers, I love solving problems and optimizing for efficiency. Throughout my years on engineering, QA, and product teams, I’ve found that there’s one critical component of product strategy that’s often overlooked when it comes to running smoothly and minimizing bugs: the engineering team. 

When teams have the benefit of a clear vision and are empowered to solve problems creatively and autonomously, you can all but guarantee that better products get delivered faster. As a product manager, I’ve grown passionate about empowering teams, and it’s an aspect of my job I’m excited to deliver at Pinpoint as I continue to hone the skill set, with help from experts in the field like Marty Cagan, Mike Cohn and Roman Pichler

These are some of the most useful principles for empowering engineering teams that I’ve discovered at Pinpoint and throughout my career in product management: 

1. Create a shortcut to shared language and understanding to facilitate accurate planning

Having a common understanding of language, milestones and ceremonies, and operating procedures is critical for team efficiency. This takes a long time to build across team members; and it can be especially challenging for a newly-formed or inexperienced engineering team. One of my favorite things about Pinpoint is that its forecasting tool can help you skip the adjustment period and get to accurate answers around capacity and planning. 

Sprint plans are almost never accurate, but we’re putting data, and therefore some level of certainty, behind planning. As a team, we’ll open the product during our standups and can visualize any issues in progress, where we’ve been blocked or diverted energy to something unplanned, and even if vacation days are affecting the sprint; it gives us accurate real-time projections for delivery. Being able to see if the sprint is at risk early helps us make better decisions and stay on track. 

When team members can clearly see how their work fits into the big picture, sprints run smoothly, because we’re all running the same direction at the right pace.

2. Communicate the vision clearly, but offer flexibility on how to get there

One of the most important parts of my job is galvanizing teams to execute on the product vision. I’ve learned the best hope for accomplishing that goal is empowering teams and individuals to operate autonomously, self-organize to troubleshoot, even experiment and fail on the course to find the right answer. 

This freedom not only builds trust between product and engineering functions, but it gets engineers excited about their work – and often drives a more elegant or innovative solution than what a manager would prescribe. Occasionally, this will mean trying something and failing, but ultimately, it catalyzes learning that improves thinking, solutions, and products in the future.

3. Transparency within teams and across stakeholder groups lets everyone do their job better

Transparency is a major driver for efficiency and autonomy in engineering. When our engineers go into the Pinpoint app and can view everything associated with an issue over time, they don’t have to guess where to pick up where someone left off or question why decisions were made because all the moving pieces happening across different tools are aggregated in the app. 

This idea of a single source of truth is very powerful in communicating progress and problems with stakeholders. Not only do individual engineers need transparency behind each line of code, but managers and executives need real-time aggregate reports that tell the right story around the work being produced. When decisions are tied to data, everyone feels like they’re on a common playing field and know the rules of the game. 

4. Encourage your team to build a product they would use themselves 

Inspired work happens when engineers are excited to build products. Beyond autonomy and transparency, empowerment can come from the excitement of personalizing the engineering experience. Luckily, we actually use our own product at Pinpoint, so we are our users. We always ask ourselves, “Are we adding value to ourselves?” “Is this a feature I’m stoked to try?” 

You may find that having your engineers personalize their work in some way drives more excitement and creativity in their work. Is there opportunity for your team to use the product you’re building to your own advantage? 

5. User insights can drive excitement and innovation in your team

Regardless of whether you’re in a position to conduct research on yourselves, you can use customer insights to spark your team’s best work. The process of discovery alongside your users inevitably leads to “Aha!” moments that will improve your products. 

At Pinpoint, we spend a lot of time gathering user feedback on calls to get a first-hand understanding of problems and needs. One of the first things we learned through this process was pretty obvious in hindsight: engineers don’t want to talk to salespeople. We set a goal to expedite the process for engaging with the app, and now you can sign up for our free version when you visit the website in under five minutes, before even thinking about choosing a paid plan. 

Tools like Pendo and FullStory can also help you understand user behavior while providing product analytics that allow you to make better roadmap decisions.  

6. Only use metrics that drive value and efficiency, not busy work

There’s nothing more disempowering than being held to meaningless metrics. I’ve seen teams manipulate numbers and their behavior to hit goals that don’t add any value to their work product. On the other hand, there’s a way to use metrics to drive value and efficiency – and that can be extremely gratifying and motivating for your team.

Rather than performance scores and rankings, we’re interested in what data engineers naturally need and use, and then we create ways to consolidate that information and trickle it up for meaningful communication. One of our goals for Pinpoint is to provide tools to make ceremonies more valuable and effective – which can save a lot of time day-to-day. After all, everyone needs that occasional ping pong break to hit refresh.


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