Product Breakfast Recap: How Product Managers Build Trust with Engineers

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Each month, a group of Boston’s brightest product minds gathers over coffee and pastries to chat about the world of product management. For attendees, it’s not only a welcomed break from the monotonous beer-and-pizza-and-a-panel-discussion meetups, it's an invaluable resource for ideas, advice and mentorship. We had the pleasure of hosting the group’s latest gathering here in HubSpot’s Cambridge office.

Product Breakfast usually kicks off with an anecdote or question posed to the group on topics ranging from how to hire a good product manager, to how to get good feedback on your product. The format is casual and everyone participates, newbies and seasoned pros alike. I’m always impressed how everyone just dives in to these interesting questions, sharing advice and stories from their own experience. One of the most valuable parts of these gatherings is that the group includes product professionals from companies of varying size and stage, which creates the opportunity for some serious knowledge sharing. As a PM with a few years under my belt, I find it fascinating and inspiring to hear from folks who’ve had long and successful careers in product.

The focus of conversation for the April Product Breakfast centered on how a PM establishes rapport with engineering teams. How can PMs set themselves up for success with an engineering team? What communication styles make for great team cohesion? This is something I’ve thought a lot about as I’ve been diving into my new role with the HubSpot product team, but I wasn’t surprised to hear that this topic is top of mind even for seasoned professionals. Whether your company has been around for 10 years or 10 months, has 2 employees or 2000, culture and communication are important.

Here at HubSpot, we know that a truly excellent product team culture hinges on the team’s ability to have full ownership of the product and process. We organize our product team into small autonomous teams consisting of engineers, a designer and a PM, each of which own their respective part of the larger product. A product manager at HubSpot “owns the problem” and helps guide the team of engineers and designers that build solutions. This setup works for us because managers and product leaders put a lot of trust in their teams, a theme that came up a bunch during our discussion.

Rose of Invaluable pointed out that a PM has to advocate for her engineering team in order to build trust - be transparent about the vision of the product, show a real business case for what’s being built, and protect the team from unfocused distractions of a feature backlog. Liz of Constant Contact agreed, and explained how she includes her teams on customer calls so that engineers can listen in and hear feedback directly from customers. We all shared this notion that stories from real users are a powerful tool to rally teams around a product vision.

But don’t some of these approaches have potential to get pretty distracting for engineers? Maybe, but that’s an important part of the product manager’s role on the team - to keep the team focused on the goal, the vision for the product you’re building. HubSpot’s own Jeremy Crane summarized the morning’s main takeaway when he likened a PM’s role to being a skipper on a sailing rig. It's our job to steer the crew in the right direction. I hear Jeremy's writing a post on this so I'll let him set sail on how to do that. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Boston Product for letting us host, and to all the attendees. Check out what else @BosProduct is up to, and hope to see you at the next breakfast!
Anna Perko

Written by Anna Perko

Anna is a product manager at HubSpot.

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