I’ve been a product development consultant for a number of years, and I don’t remember a time that we have ever entered an organization where we did not experience some type of battle or disagreement between marketing (a.k.a. upstream marketing/product management) and engineering. Unfortunately, the degree of coexistence between marketing and engineering varies from yelling and swearing at each other to polite backstabbing.

Marketing and Engineering Perspectives

The Engineering Perspective: Marketing Can’t Be Trusted

On one of our consulting engagements we were told that there were five different marketing people assigned to one project over a three-year period. Constant turnover of marketing personnel makes it difficult to build a strong marketing team that understands the product, competition, market, strategy, process, etc.

The Marketing Perspective: Engineering Can’t Be Trusted

The engineers think they know customer requirements better than marketing. In some instances, solutions are not solved for the customer and don’t sell in the marketplace or are over engineered. One more thing: engineering is commonly blamed for having a lack of urgency and being slow to market.

The Cost Is High

The project described above, with a turnover of five marketing managers, was 50% over budget (translating to millions of dollars). In this particular instance, customer requirements changed with each new marketing person and the corresponding technology had to change with it. This meant five entirely different products during the lifetime of one project. The consequences of scope changes are far reaching within an organization, and it translates to not only wasted dollars and resources, but it adds to a caustic culture that continues to drive a wedge between marketing and engineering.

Why is this battle occurring? Lack of trust is a result of different goals and measures of success, different training and experiences, and the downstream effects of executive management dysfunction, to name a few.

The Solution for Both Marketing and Engineering

A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article (April 2016) indicated the goal of changing the culture is not the solution to problem. Instead, when the company’s business practices and processes are changed, the culture changes with it. We are in fierce agreement with this perspective and are commonly asked to change the negative culture between marketing and engineering.

There isn’t a silver bullet. It takes real work, and you have to start with addressing the business practices.

Here are a few ideas to start with to bring marketing and engineering closer together:

  • Design clearly stated product development processes with assigned roles and responsibilities and better integration of marketing and engineering.
  • Ensure that your project team members have common goals and measures of success.
  • Stop the churn. Consider a professional product management track that is similar to a technology track. If you’re finding it difficult to keep your product managers because of external opportunities, consider changing the hiring profile of this position. There is an excellent pool of older workers, and there was an excellent WSJ article on hiring women that are reentering the workforce (April 10, 2016).

The Result: Less Tension, Better Products, More Sales

We commonly see better relationships when employees have a clearly stated product development process with corresponding roles and responsibilities. Employees are more confident on what they need to execute within the process. In addition, more respect and trust is also restored with less churn within the marketing role. Marketers can now master their category and speak with confidence.