A healthy relationship between Product people and engineers is critical to building successful products. But take a look at any Product community—from r/ProductManagement to any Product conference—and you’ll see that this is still one of the most requested, debated, asked-about topics. This tells us it’s a problem for a lot of Product people.
What I, as Product Manager, have been finding useful, is having formal 1:1 meetings with our engineers. Over time, I’ve observed that these conversations help me be a better Product person, and at the same, keep them closer to the business.
This guide isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution—it’s just where I am right now. It’s a living process, one that evolves along with my team. Hope you find some inspiration.
Why to do 1:1 meetings with engineers
I’m the Product Manager, so they don’t report to me directly. But what I research, write in PRDs, design, deconstruct, prioritise, has a significant impact on their day-to-day. And the way they approach the work, the questions they ask, the solutions they find and propose, affect our product and therefore the number one thing I’m accountable for.
For both parties, 1:1 meetings make sure that I and engineers influence each other thinking when it comes to team & process. For engineers, it’s a productive way to make sure they stay aligned towards our business goals. For me, it’s how I keep myself engaged with them, have a formal chance to listen to them, and act when needed.
Before the 1:1
I normally structure the meeting in four sections: you, me, the team, the product. I’ve got a list of questions but I like having unscripted conversations rather than interviews. For each engineers, CTO included, I’ve a Trello card on my Trello personal board, and before getting the 1:1 started I create a new comment in the engineer’s card, write the date, and paste the questions. So as we’re talking I just write what that they say under the right question.
It’s important to review the notes from the previous 1:1, and if there’s any concern that was expressed, I make sure I follow up on that.
“First of all, in our last 1:1 you raised your concern about _____. How do you see that now?” can be my first question, after a casual icebreaker.
Protip: whatever concern they raise, put it in your to-do list as an action, even just as a “think about _____”, then flesh it out in other personal or team actions if needed.
Then I proceed with the four sections.
This is a chance for me to know what their priorities are at the moment, whether they’re finding the work they’re doing stimulating and related to their interests, and whether there are skills they want to develop.
I almost always know what their priorities are, but it’s great to hear their perspective on those. And the reason why I want to know about what they want to learn next or whether their work fits their interests is that in my experience and engaged, happy engineer is a better engineer—this can be said about any job to be honest, but if I can help an engineer work on things that they find exciting I normally try and do my best to facilitate that.
This is the trickiest part of the conversation, the part where I feel more vulnerable, and usually revolves around what I should consider changing or start doing, how I can make their life easier, and if there’s anything I can do to unblock them.
This is also the part of the conversation that I normally recap in a separate document, to make sure I have all the feedback I receive in one place—structured or unstructured.
Protip: have a “feel good” folder on your machine, and make sure you include any good feedback you receive from your engineers. I think all Product Managers have occasionally suffered from imposter syndrome or low self-esteem for whatever reason at some point, and I guarantee this will be useful.
What should we start/stop doing to work better as a team? Is there any red tape you’d like to get rid of?
These are some of the questions I try to get answers from. As I’m accountable for product processes I’m always on the lookout for ways to make things easier and leaner for everyone. This is their chance to help me see process problems and how to fix them.
Like I said above, whatever they raise, log it as an official to-do for yourself.
As a Product Manager I’m responsible of the “what” and “why”, but this is our space to talk customer problems that can be solved in a better way, things to improve or modernise, or any low-hanging fruit we may be missing.
After the 1:1
Once the 1:1 is done, if I don’t have back-to-back meetings, I usually replay the conversation in my head very quickly, and capture any note I’ve missed. The list of questions is helpful because I can scan those, and see which questions were answered during the meeting.
I don’t stress too much on having all questions answered. The list is there as a guide, nothing on it is truly mandatory.
As I stated a couple of times, anything that can be come a to-do will become a to-do. This is crucial for follow-ups.
Length and frequency
30 minutes every month is what works for us. Chances are your engineers already have weekly or bi-weekly meetings with their CTO, EM, etc., so there’s no need to take more space in their diary. Plus, we already communicate enough so I personally wouldn’t feel the point of more frequent 1:1s.
How about you?
If you are a Product Manager, Head of Product, etc., I’d love to hear how you maintain a great relationship with your Engineering team. Let me know if you plan to implement any of the above ideas into your routine, and if you have any question or request for advice, don’t hesitate to hit the comment section below.