If you have been in the high tech world for even just a few years, I would venture to say that you have had at least one experience where an engagement between marketing and engineering left something to be desired. While in most companies, the general collaboration and teamwork between the marketing and engineering organizations allows the job to get done, tremendous gains are realized when that relationship is nurtured to its fullest. In this blog, I will discuss a few simple steps that individuals and/or organizations can take to improve their strategic (and tactical) planning by building a real partnership between the marketing and engineering teams.
How many of you in an engineering role have ever used or heard the following quote by David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett Packard, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”? How many of you in a marketing role have ever used or heard the following quote from Scott Adams, the Dilbert comic creator, “Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems.”? These quotes are just two examples of the typically good natured jabbing that goes on between marketing and engineering teams. But, behind these barbs there may be real issues or gaps between the respective teams that are inhibiting the organization’s ability to deliver high quality, timely products that truly meet customer requirements. If one accepts that the primary goal of a product company is to deliver timely solutions that provide real value to customers who are willing to pay for that value, then even small schedule delays and/or small feature gaps in the end solution will impact the value.
The impact of a “you do your job and I’ll do my job” marketing/engineering collaboration is that you’ll end up getting product plans that reflect just that. Yes, you’ll feel like you have defined a set of product plans/features and you’ll feel like you’ve done a good enough job to allow the product development to proceed. But, how many times have you experienced a scenario where statements similar to the following are made at some point in the design cycle?
Engineering may say, “Marketing is coming in with a whole bunch of last minute changes”. Marketing may say, “Engineering is so far behind schedule that we have missed our market opportunity and now we must add these new features.”
Or marketing may say, “I can’t believe that it takes engineering so much time and so many resources just to complete such a simple task.” Engineering may say, “Marketing just thinks that we should be able to work miracles – they don’t really understand what it takes.”
Generally, these types of comments enter the hallway or water cooler conversations because the project has indeed not met the real customer demands, or has fallen behind schedule, or has caused some other negative impact to the project. That leads to team members expressing their frustration based upon the role that they are in. These types of comments do not help solve the real issues. But, if you are being honest with yourself, you probably have used them in the past or at least thought about them in your mind. The issue to be resolved is the negative impact to the customer value for the product.
What You Can Do
Frankly, I have always worked with the belief that most people (in any function) truly want to do the best job possible when they come to work. Beyond the fact that their performance ratings, their merit increases and/or bonuses, and their career progression rely upon them doing a good job; more importantly, most people simply have the personal passion to want to do well. If one works with that assumption, then the opportunity exists for both those in engineering and those in marketing to build a relationship that can have significant impact on projects.
So, what can be done? Here are just a few examples. Note that some aspects of the examples are very specific and measurable. But, also note that other aspects are more “soft”, meaning that it requires a mental shift within the respective marketing and engineering team members to go beyond their normal job functions.
Create shared goals between the marketing and engineering teams. The benefit here is obvious as the goals will ensure that the team members will be aligned during the project as there will be a direct personal impact, either positive or negative, depending on the mutually shared results. Of course, the goals should be well written to ensure they are specific and action oriented
Define the project with jointly owned tasks and milestones that require shared work between marketing and engineering.
I would argue that it is most important for the teams to work together in the definition stages of the project. For example, both engineering and marketing need to be actively involved in the market investigation. If engineering cannot effectively challenge marketing’s claims around the market potential or some other aspect of the investigation OR if marketing does not understand the engineering processes and project trade offs that will need to be made in order to meet the project goals, then how can one expect sound decisions to be made?
While “getting it right up front” is critical, similar shared responsibility tasks should also occur at key checkpoints during the development cycle, with an aim to minimize surprises and enhance communication and understanding.
Break down the typical organizational barriers and role definitions.
- Schedule team building/planning meetings that include organizational and knowledge sharing between the team
- Ensure that marketing has a spot at the table for the appropriate engineering staff/status meetings and vice versa.
- Look for other creative ways to create teamwork between marketing and engineering
- Take a personal interest in learning more about your respective peer(s)
- Through regular 1-1 and/or group meetings with your counterparts, ensure that time is allocated for you to learn about the roles, responsibilities, and challenges of your peers. Don’t just focus on project or status updates.
- Get to know your peers on a personal basis: people who know each other typically work better together
When engineering and marketing teams take the extra steps to build a true partnership, the benefits can include improved project planning, enhanced communication, more efficient projects, and products that meet the market requirements. But, the biggest benefit will be satisfied customers who see the value in your products, pay you for that value, and want to do more business with you and your company.