A PM’s Guide to Rethink ‘I need more Engineers’ Mindset

Since time immemorial, when a CEO asks a PM at Product Review, “what do you need to 10X users/revenue?”, “what will make you go faster?”, etc the PM steadfastly responds “We need [N] more engineers”. The Eng Mgr nods approvingly. A story thread, with some hard truths to swallow:
“More engineers” will usually *not* solve your problems. Because the real problem is often a strategy problem, culture problem, interpersonal problem, trust problem, creativity problem, or market problem. More engineers *will* solve your “I don’t have enough engineers” problem.
When you finally manage to get more eng headcount, things will usually get worse before they get better. Management will now expect your team’s *immediate* output to be in proportion with this *new* headcount, not with your *current* staffing. Not fair, but that’s how it goes.
So your “I don’t have enough engineers” problem is now a hiring problem. Thank goodness you’re not the one chiefly responsible for hiring 10 more engineers. But your Eng Mgr counterpart is. This means s/he will be (rightly) focused on that. The team’s output will usually suffer.
Whereas before you had a “I don’t have enough engineers” problem, now you have 3 problems: i) a hiring problem ii) a near-term output & outcomes problem (you have OKRs to hit for goodness’ sakes) iii) you still don’t actually have enough engineers (!)
In the midst of all the exec reviews & hiring activity, your team couldn’t even begin 2 of your high-pri (P0) OKRs (with just 6 weeks left in Q3!) You huddle with your Eng Mgr counterpart and (reluctantly) decide to put that P1 reliability project on pause, to staff those P0 OKRs
So now you have at least one, maybe two more problems: iv) a potential morale problem among the engineers who were reallocated from the reliability project to the P0 OKRs v) an increased product reliability risk (now, or at least in the near future)
It isn’t all terrible though. The Eng Mgr’s & team’s overall recruiting efforts are starting to bear fruit. You have 2 engineers joining in a few weeks, and 2 more offers signed. Everyone wants to make sure these engineers have a great onboarding experience. Enter another problem
vi) an eng onboarding problem The Eng Mgr mentions in your 1:1 that Alice & Bob (2 of the team’s most senior engineers) will be spending 50% of their time for the next 8 weeks on internal docs & training material to make eng onboarding smoother. Right call, but it still stings.
This begets another problem. Your team will now definitely miss its high-pri Q3 OKRs. You dutifully give a heads-up to your manager (usually a Director/ VP Product) in your next 1:1. Your manager says “I get it. It’s the right call. But you’re coming up for a promo next cycle.”
Yikes, you now have a seventh problem vii) an optics problem You wanted to do the right thing for the company, but you decide it isn’t worth the personal risk. You need to strike a balance. So you organize an OKR review with your Eng, Design, Data Science, etc. counterparts.
You say: “We clearly can’t launch some of the feature improvements we had envisioned in Q3. But remember, our OKRs were framed in terms of metrics to move, not in terms of launches (yay us!) So let’s brainstorm on ways to still hit these metrics before EOQ, some quick wins.”
Your Design & Data Science counterparts propose an idea: “Remember that experiment in Q1 that increased sign ups by 18%, but we didn’t launch it because of higher churn in that cohort? We can revive it.” Eng Mgr: “Ah, it can be turned back on with a flag. Can launch next week”
You think to yourself: <“Hmm… we did see a nice bump in sign ups, but I talked to a few of those users and they said that they didn’t actually intend to create an account. That experiment also isn’t aligned with the sign up flow changes we’ve envisioned for next year.”>
But you say: “Great idea! That experiment uncovered some quality issues, but lets launch it now & we will identify & fix those issues in Q4. In fact, I’ll make a note to myself to make sure that we add a few followup quality improvement experiments to our Q4 OKRs” Decision made!
Fast forward to the promo cycle in early Q4, the promotion committee has a rigorous discussion especially about the metrics your team moved in Q3. It’s a metrics-driven culture after all! Not everyone agrees, but your promo packet looked very good overall, so you’re now a Sr. PM.
You are happy about the promo, but now you have another problem. viii) your current product scope is too small for a Sr. PM
So you discuss this with your manager and the decision gets made: you will work on a different product with larger scope because the Sr. PM for that product just left the company. You say goodbye to your old product team. They say they will miss you. You will miss them too.
You diligently ramp up, and after a few more weeks, are nervous (but well prepared) for a Product Review for your new product’s 2022 roadmap with the CEO. You monte-carlo the scenarios, the questions, the pushback. Get pre-aligned with your Eng/Design/…. counterparts, etc.
And then, 35 minutes into this Product Review, the CEO says: “The plan looks really good. Thank you. I have just one question. What will make you go even faster in 2022?”
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