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What is Product Engineering?

When I was a Head of Engineering for a SaaS. I was notionally (and nominally) working in Software Product Engineering. My take on this was that it meant that we should focus on the product – which meant in turn, focusing on the customer.

However, it never really felt like we were looking at products at all. We were always in the weeds on backlogs, technical challenges, and process challenges. Other than firefighting and fixing what was wrong right now, we didn’t do much to move the needle for actual customer wants and needs.

Why?

Because I wasn’t in charge of the engineering (the way we built things) – I was only in charge of reporting some numbers back to head office about how much money it was costing to run projects.

And we didn’t even have proper projects, just initiatives created in Jira.

And we spent all of our time arguing about the meaning of these projects and justifying their existence rather than focusing on fixing the software.

But the software still made money and while the customers grumbled, it was profitable.

So, ask yourself. Was this real product engineering? Or was this just bookkeeping? If the software is not perfect, but still profitable, is it justified?

It can work from a business perspective, but it felt lousy.

How did this situation come about? Two words – Agile Transformation. And another word – SAFe. But more than that, a whole ecosystem of tooling (Jira and Confluence) had been created to constrain development into a way of working that was so engrained in the way the company worked, that without strong leadership, it was never going to change.

I tried, but there was no appetite for change. Sometimes you have to admit that you can’t fix things.