A story about how building alignment with a Product Manager saved a failing project from a disaster

Several years ago, I worked as a Software Engineering Manager in a SaaS company struggling to be profitable. Many people with known-how were let go, and one of my first projects was to deliver a complete redesign of the application. Why a full redesign? The existing UI was built using a Flash-based framework, and browsers announced they'd stop supporting Flash.

The goal was very aggressive, and I had a small team of competent Engineers who did not know the product. My problem? Another team would provide the new UI screens and specifications in another internal organization (I was in the Development Organization, and the Product Manager was in the Product Organization).

In the first several weeks of the project, things were not working. I had a lot of friction with this person. I needed him to provide specs and UI screens in an agile/incremental way, as I had to deliver weekly progress to my stakeholders. Still, the Product Manager analyzed the feature in detail but did not provide the new screens or specs. After a few weeks of friction, it was clear that our relationship was not working.

At some point, I sat down with him and made an exploratory conversation. I discovered that he was not a designer and was tasked with doing the design, but he didn't know how to do it. He also had other goals and dozens of tasks that were not letting him focus on the work he had to deliver to our team.

On the other hand, I told him where I was coming from and how I was being asked to provide weekly incremental progress on the migration.

Together, we made a new plan where we defined who was doing what. I told him that there was a designer in my team who could design the screens. He also aligned In making progress on the specifications on a week-by-week basis. We aligned on how we'll change screens/features as new things are being analyzed.

Thanks to that discovery conversation, we got things running and eventually completed the project. We did not meet our deadlines, but we were lucky enough that the browser's end-of-life was postponed, and we managed to complete the project before they shut Flash down.

It was an epic comeback for both of us! After making that alliance, we unblocked ourselves and got things rolling.

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Matias Lespiau

Matias Lespiau

Madrid, Spain