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Discussion on: Devs Shouldn't Report to PMs

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Lucas Gonze

I'm a product manager coming from an engineering background. In small companies, I often have devs reporting to me, even though I don't write code anymore. So I have extensive experience in why devs reporting to PMs is a bad idea. :)

The issue is that an engineering manager has different deliverables than a product manager. As a product person, I can succeed (in the short term) even with fairly miserable code. I usually report to executives who could hardly care less about engineering quality. What they want from me is all about the market. That would not be the case if my title was about engineering.

I do make time for refactoring and for investing in infrastructure, but I can't make a winning argument for that from a product POV. Usually, I have to just take a hit on perceptions of my job performance and hope to earn it back in other ways.

bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author • Edited on

The massive hurdle to "investing in infrastructure" will probably be a topic of a future article. Anytime someone on my team pipes up about wanting to improve architecture, I always invoke my plumbing example.

Imagine you're a master plumber and you take a look at a homeowner's pipes and realize that they're absolutely atrocious. So you tell the homeowner. And you tell them that it comes with a massive bill. The homeowner walks to the faucet and turns it on. They can't discern any current problem with how the pipes are working. And even if they could, they could hardly stomach the bill that you're proposing.

So they ignore your advice to re-pipe the whole house. And they'll keep ignoring it until something goes catastrophically wrong.

frankszendzielarz profile image
Frank Szendzielarz • Edited on

This is very interesting.

I would fully agree if the following sentence was slightly rephrased, or with just a little extra qualification:

"The issue is that an engineering manager has different deliverables than a product manager"

W.Edwards Deming has been credited with transforming Japanese manufacturing to such an extent that Japan itself became an economic powerhouse as a result of those changes. His influence was a mere philosophical change: that quality should be the focus, and that when quality is the focus, quantity of deliveries improves.

How right he was.

So in an environment like Deming's Japanese manufacturing plants, the engineering manager's deliverable and the product manager's deliverable are in perfect alignment. Not only that but their goals are too.

The issue is not, as your sentence suggests, that these two managerial roles have different deliverables, but that some organisations make the profound error of defining those roles as having different goals.

bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

Yes, I absolutely agree. There is no theoretical reason why the PM's goals and the devs' goals need to be (or even should be) different. That's what Deming was getting to with regard to things like mission statements and vision statements - the idea that every person in the org, from the janitor to the CEO, should all be rowing in the same direction. But in practice, this is too often not the case. In practice, I've seen too many times where the PM is hellbent on delivering whatever the client asked for - to the letter - even if it means delivering a crappy, brittle, bug-ridden project.