Why Yin Needs Yang: Product Managers and Engineers

by Iris Guerra and Lorin Pace

The principles that apply to well-developed product manager – engineer relationships are also applicable to early-stage exploration.  Fred Wilson talks about this dichotomy in The Yin and Yang of Product and Engineering, characterizing the relationship as follows: “the product person sets the overall requirements, specs them, focuses on the UI and UX and manages the process. The engineering person builds the product or manages the team that builds the product, or both.” In a venture that is exploring an idea and looking for proof of concept, this relationship translated into the product person making the engineer think about the product features and value proposition by posing questions that testers or first adopters would likely ask, such as: What is this? How does it work? Why is this useful? Why should I try it? How do I use it?  

Responding to these questions allows the team not only to test the concept, but also to frame the idea in a way that makes it easier to explain and sell to potential customers, partners, employees and investors. On the other hand, not having a clear answer for any of these inquiries indicates the team needs to focus on refining the vision in that particular dimension. In either case, it’s critical to ask such questions at the ideation phase. Having a yin – yang balance of product and engineer roles is a way to ensure these issues are well-developed and addressed at an early stage, avoiding problems later in the process.