The Phenomenal Product Manager: Influencing Engineers – Part 2
Read Part 1 of this article where we discuss Strategy One: Credibility.
Strategy Two: Building Rapport with the Team
It’s absolutely critical to build great rapport with your team. When it comes down to a difficult situation and you find yourself needing to ask for a favor or for the team’s support—you can.
Be genuine about it
The key to building real rapport is sincerity. When was the last time you bought lunch for your whole engineering team? Or, have you ever taken some of your engineers out after work to get to know them better? Do this. You may find attendance shoot up dramatically at your weekly team meetings when you bring donuts. Grab one and sit with your team members to chat for a bit and you’ll find you can develop a better working relationship. This sounds too simple to be true, but you would be amazed at how small things like this can add up.
Give ’em a little somethin’
Small gifts are also a great idea—the latest tech gadget or something cool for their office. Hand out tchotchkes from your latest trade show. Engineers don’t get the chance to go out on the road and attend events. Oftentimes if you can bring them something back that’s a nice freebie, it can go a long way. Learn what your team likes and keep an eye out for opportunities.
Be the “cool” kid
One of the best ways to build rapport is to always have the coolest new gadget. Be sure to ask your team what their opinion is on new technology items. If you talk about games, gadgets, and cool new technology, many of your engineers will start to take more interest in you outside of being just that Product Manager guy or gal.
Don’t cry wolf
You’ve probably seen this before (or done it yourselves). There will be a Product Manager who constantly goes back to the engineering team with frantic new requests. This is often justified by the competitive environment changing, an urgent request from sales, or some variety of other things. If you cry wolf over and over again, there will come a point where your credibility and your ability to influence people is completely shot.
Instead, be very careful about how you approach things. It’s not to say you can’t go back and ask for changes, but you really don’t want to be known as the person who is constantly trying to change priorities every other day.
Play a chip
Now, once you really build great rapport, have gotten to know your team better, and things are going well, play a chip—but only occasionally. You can’t do this constantly, but if done right and sparingly, it can be very effective.
When Brian Lawley worked at Apple as a Product Manager, he had a situation with the printer drivers they were working with. They were causing a significant delay in printing under certain circumstances. There was a vocal minority of customers (though large enough to warrant taking action) who were really upset about it. He knew just the right engineer to talk to about the issue because he had already built rapport with him. Brian relayed his concern about what these customers were going through. The engineer respected his opinion enough that without Brian even having to ask, he worked over the weekend and fixed the problem—the printing now took 3 seconds instead of three and a half minutes.
If he hadn’t built up the rapport, really gotten to know the engineer, and built up the trust that he was the voice of the customer, that engineer might have not been willing to spend his time fixing it.
Building rapport with your engineering team creates a better working relationship and environment to get problems solved quickly and more efficiently. Stay tuned for Part 3 in this chapter where we’ll discuss our next strategy: Assessing Your Team and Adjusting.
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