Marketing takes over Engineering

What happens when Marketing takes over the Engineering function?

One of my current clients has a very strong VP/founder who knows a lot about engineering things.

As a startup, the company successfully introduced novel products because everyone worked on everything — the usual startup mode for a technology company. As products are turned (they are on their 8th product now), Engineering needs to get some predictability to its schedules and commitments. But Marketing continues to drive a lot of the Engineering operation simply by paying more attention to the detail than the Engineering VP does.

The situation doesn’t look bad from a technology point of view — there are good decisions made, even if they continue to be made (product features added) throughout the development cycle. But the recently hired senior managers in Engineering are going crazy, because they have two masters — the Engineering VP and the Marketing VP. Which one should they listen to?

My advice to them for now is to get their operations in order — write functional specs (or at least a prioritized list of features), meet schedules by biting off incremental pieces of the implementation at a time, report on exactly when changes were made to the requirements and how long it took to accomodate the change. Then press the two VPs to settle the issue of how Engineering is to be managed. It can’t be settled by the next level of management, so long as it is unsettled at the top.

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    About John Levy

    John Levy works with senior managers in mid-sized organizations who are responsible for development and delivery of major software or hardware/software products. He helps them gain confidence that their projects will succeed.

    Development projects can fail in many ways. You need a guide who speaks the language of business and is knowledgeable about technology. John aligns Development with the organization's strategy so it will contribute efficiently to the success of the enterprise.

    John has been consulting for over 20 years. His book on managing high-tech teams, Get Out of the Way, was published in 2010.

    For more information, email him at, or call 415 663-1818.
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