Imgur’s VP of product and engineering shares ways to keep development teams on track to bring product visions to life.
•Updated: Sep 27, 2021
•Published: Apr 20, 2021
Likely one of your company’s most valuable resources, your engineering team works hard to bring your product vision to life by building new features, adding crucial functionality, improving UX/UI, and more.
Understanding, respecting, and prioritizing your engineers’ time is paramount to keeping your product progressing. But it can be challenging to juggle your team, map your product roadmap, present your strategy to executives and board members, and make sure your company’s engineers are meeting their key goals within a finite period.
Muts Inayama, VP of product and engineering at Imgur, understands such challenges first hand. Imgur is a user-generated content entertainment destination based around an active community that posts memes, funny videos, GIFs, and more. Among his many responsibilities, Inayama is tasked with managing the company’s product and engineering teams to improve Imgur’s functionality and community experience.
Here, Inayama shares his top tips to ensure engineers stay on track, understand their priorities, and remain motivated to create the best product possible.
1. Align Your Leadership Team
Whether it be meeting with an unhappy customer or reacting to an urgent feature update, “firefighting” problems that matter to your stakeholders comes with the territory of being a product manager. However, responding to every immediate issue or product request isn’t sustainable.
To shift your mindset from a reactive state to a proactive one, seek product roadmap alignment with leadership. “If you don’t have executive alignment, every day someone new is going to come to you with a problem they’ll expect you to fix,” explains Inayama, who adds that it’s difficult to think big when you’re constantly in the weeds. “Get face time with your organization’s leadership, either at the beginning of the year or the beginning of the quarter, to agree on what to focus on.”
For example, Inayama notes that Imgur’s user happiness rating (scored using the net promoter tool, Delighted), declined over the past year. So Imgur’s Q1 product strategy was centered around improving the site’s community experience. “As a company, we were able to align around this initiative, which made it easier to say, ‘Yes, but later,’ to other projects.”
2. Leverage Immovable Dates
Keeping your lean development team on track is difficult — especially if there are multiple product updates or projects in the pipeline. One way Inayama keeps his engineers on track is to take advantage of deadlines that cannot change. “Immovable dates are a good forcing function,” he says. “The whole world isn’t going to wait for your team to finish up a project that is late.”
For example, April Fools Day is a big event at Imgur, and the organization’s community looks forward to and expects funny pranks. (One year, Imgur added a “catification” feature, which hilariously allowed users to add cats to images with one click.)
Coordinating project deadlines with calendar dates that don’t move is one way to keep engineers on schedule. But Inayama says product managers can also use end-of-quarter dates as deadlines. Whatever your project due date, make sure that your whole team commits to finishing the task on time.
3. Prioritize Focused Work
Focused work is quality work, and product managers can help their developers work optimally by equipping them with the right tools. “Everyone works differently,” says Inayama. “While some people can do five tasks at once, others may need to sit down and focus. I try to create an environment where engineers can thrive.”
At Imgur, this manifests as a flexible schedule and remote work policy. A core value at the company is “Work the way that’s best for you” (or what Inayama refers to as “you do you”). Many engineers are remote employees, and the company heavily uses video conferencing tools, such as Zoom.
4. Mindfully Grow Your Team
Knowing when it’s time to grow your development team is an essential factor in helping engineers be successful. But increasing your headcount is a tricky balance: If you hire too many engineers too soon, you have the potential to create work that’s either not needed or counterproductive.
However, says Inayama, burnout is real. “You never want to get to the point where your engineering team is so busy, they can’t even find the time to interview new team members,” he explains. “You don’t want the wheels to be falling off.” Mindful hiring takes a balanced approach.
5. Lead By Example
Manage your own time well to lead by example. In today’s fast-paced product management environment, much emphasis is placed on execution and launching new features. But Inayama says it’s important for product managers to complete responsibilities such as mapping your long-term product vision, connecting with customers, or brainstorming ideas with your PM team, too.
“Make sure you balance doing the tasks that are urgent with the tasks that are important,” says Inayama. “Things aren’t going to catch fire if you set aside time to complete bigger-picture initiatives.”