The Secret Approach to Working with Your Tech Lead

Questions PMs and Engineering Leads must ask to foster a stronger relationship and a better roadmap

Emily Morter via Unsplash

Don’t Skip Your Tech Lead

Your tech lead is your closest sparring partner and by not leveraging this relationship, you’re at risk of losing much more than just your roadmap.

  • You’ll lose the opportunity to bounce ideas with someone that knows the technical ins-and-outs of your product.
  • Building trust with your engineers will be much harder, as you’re most probably wrong with your estimations and solution candidates, leading to them feeling like code-monkeys. Mutual trust leads to a more committed team.

Start with Preparation

When planning the next features, most of the work is being done before writing a single user story. You want to approach your tech lead after you have mapped initiative candidates and their high-level requirements (step 3 below). Those will be surfaced based on quantitative and qualitative research: user interviews, stakeholders’ feedback, DB queries, productboard, etc.

Cross-functional Product development cycle
  1. What are the alternatives to this approach?
  2. Is there a manual way to do XXX so we can reduce technical scope?
    Consider using no-code solutions. With today’s tools, PMs can go quite far before defaulting to engineering.
  3. Did I consider doing YYY instead of XXX?
    For example, “did I consider using human operations instead of building our own email auto-reply flow?”
  4. How fast should it be? Should it work offline? Do I see this becoming a core component of our product, therefore we should build it in a more robust way, or is it just an experiment?
    Or any other questions affecting the technical architecture.
  5. If experimental, consider excluding over-the-top scope, e.g. over-tracking, pixel-perfect design, language support, etc.

Explore with Your Tech Lead

So you’re ready to bounce with your tech lead, now what?

  1. How confident are we in this estimate?
    High confidence will lead to higher accountability while low confidence might reveal it wasn’t thought through or there’s research required.
  2. What will cut the estimation in half?
    Radical thinking helps you and your tech lead to come up with innovative ideas.
  3. What if we reduce product scope by removing YYY?
    An example can be “what if we only support German?”. Often, ‘Done’ is better than ‘Perfect’, especially in fast-paced startups — don’t be afraid to challenge your initial scope while still bringing value to users.
  4. Is there a way to reduce technical scope?
    For example, by not integrating our solution to our Continuous Deployment flow — when setting up new services you usually need to configure your deployment so it’ll be done automatically every time a new code is being pushed. By going for manual deployment, you might be saving some precious release time in the costs of engineering time.
  5. How much time will it take to address technical debt in the future, if we decide to?
    In cases you’ve intentionally left out a few tasks for the sake of a faster release, don’t forget to check the cost of a context switch. This is usually being overlooked and might slow down your team in the future by leaving a complex architecture or a non-tested code behind.
  6. Did we already build something similar to YYY we can learn from? Is there any engineer in the company that has experience in these areas?
  7. Do we have any dependencies with other engineering teams?
    For example, both teams have a shared codebase.
  8. In which ways can I support you to reduce our estimation?
  9. Will having MORE people help? Will having FEWER people help?
Aleksandar Savic via Dribbble

Final words

Many teams these days treat their PM as a team lead or as a Scrum Master. This sets the wrong expectations and leads to an oversubscribed PM and a disempowered tech lead. By involving your tech counterpart early in the product development process, having an open professional discussion with the abovementioned questions in mind, you’ll be setting your team up for success.

Product @ Kontist. Formerly @ Wundertax. My expertise lies with Fintech, ranging from B2C to freelancers and SMBs. Based in Berlin.