The Danger of Separate Product and Engineering Teams

Lesson from Alex Polyakov, CEO of

Many organizations have adopted a structure with separate product management and engineering departments.

While this division of responsibilities might seem logical on the surface, it often leads to misalignment and conflict that can seriously impede the success of a software project.

In a recent episode of the Startup Hustle podcast, Alex Polyakov, CEO of, and I delved into the pitfalls of this organizational setup.

The Inexperienced Product Manager

One of the main issues with separate product and engineering teams is the potential for inexperienced product managers.

As Alex pointed out, "If you think about product managers, sometimes, you know, anybody straight out of college that has been hired as to manage a product doesn't have enough experience, right?" Without adequate technical background or real-world experience shipping products, these product managers may simply funnel stakeholder requests to the engineering team.

This results in unrealistic expectations and arbitrary deadlines driven by external pressures rather than technical realities.

The Unproductive Engineering Team

On the other hand, engineering teams can sometimes get bogged down in technical debt, code rewrites, and architectural concerns at the expense of delivering user-facing value. As I've observed in my own entrepreneurial journey, "I feel like in a lot of companies, the engineering team or the software development team is kind of in control of the roadmap. They like to work on maintenance projects and technical debt and just rewrite stuff that works."

This leads to the age-old conflict between shipping new features and addressing technical debt, with product pushing for faster delivery to meet sales demands while engineering pushes back to avoid accruing more debt.

The Dysfunction in Larger Organizations

The problems caused by separate product and engineering teams are amplified in larger organizations. Product teams, pressured to demonstrate progress, may advocate for a constant stream of small, superficial improvements while neglecting riskier but potentially more impactful bets. Meanwhile, engineering teams become increasingly frustrated and disconnected from customer needs.

As Alex described it, the two sides "bump heads a lot" and "the conflict between these two roles is pretty significant", adding to the overall chaos.

The Solution: Empathy, Communication, and Shared Responsibility

So, what's the answer to this conundrum? As with most aspects of software development, there's no silver bullet. However, the solution starts with fostering greater empathy, communication, and shared responsibility between product and engineering.

Product managers must strive to understand the technical intricacies, challenges, and trade-offs involved in the development process. They need to advocate for customers while also respecting the expertise and judgment of the engineering team.

Likewise, engineers need to embrace a more product-oriented mindset and be open to making strategic technical compromises to deliver business value. They should work on better understanding and articulating technical priorities in terms of user benefits.

Fostering a Culture of Collaboration

Ultimately, product and engineering teams must view each other as partners, not rivals. Agile practices like stand-ups and retrospectives should be about more than just status updates; they should be opportunities to share perspectives and context.

Product and engineering leaders need to actively model and encourage this collaborative approach.

As Alex emphasized, "It's good to have different perspectives. However, it's important to realize when you're strong arming somebody too hard. And this goes towards the whole culture, managing the culture of the organization."


While organizational structures will always give rise to some inherent tensions, allowing product and engineering to operate as isolated silos is a surefire path to dysfunction. The most successful software organizations recognize the value of healthy conflict between these two functions while maintaining a shared commitment to customer value.

It's an ongoing balancing act, but one with significant rewards.

Despite advancements in tools and methodologies, software projects still frequently go awry. While disconnects between product and engineering are not the sole cause, they are a significant contributing factor.

Dismantling the barriers and tribalism between these two crucial functions is challenging but essential for building high-performing software organizations that can stand the test of time.


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