🚂 Engineering Archetypes
How to navigate product and development teams.
A weekly newsletter that provides practical advice for SEOs on how to work with product and development teams.
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Trying to get your SEO projects implemented by product and development teams can be tough.
If you approach the wrong person with the wrong ask, your request can be ignored, rejected or end up at the bottom of the priority list.
Since working in, and with, product and engineering teams, I’ve noticed that each team member is a key part of the delivery engine.
This unspoken culture of delivery can be hard to understand from the outside looking in, especally for SEOs who have never worked in a dev or product team.
I created the three engineering archetypes mental model to help.
It’s a framework to help SEO professionals navigate product and dev teams.
In this newsletter, we are going to cover the following:
🙊 Unspoken culture of engineering teams
⚙️ The Three Engineering Archetypes
🤜 🤛 How Each Archetype Can Help SEOs
🤏 Small vs Large Teams
🙊 Unspoken culture of engineering teams
It was at DeepCrawl that I first noticed the unspoken culture of engineering teams.
Each team member had a specific role in helping get things done. A responsibility which helped get initiatives and tasks implemented.
🕵️ Developers: They were deeply knowledgeable about the tech stack and worked with PMs to discover and implement tickets from Jira.
🚀 Product Managers: They understood the product squads' direction, scheduled and created tickets in the backlog, and updated the roadmap.
🚚 Delivery managers: They worked with the development team to ensure they had everything they needed to deliver the product.
✅ CTO/CEO/VPs - These team members signed off on projects and gave the whole company a direction or set of goals to hit.
Nobody really mentioned it, but I noticed that the product and engineering team was an engine of delivery that required the right parts to do their job.
It was a subculture that other business teams weren’t part of if they weren’t part of the day-to-day. If you approach the wrong team member and try to get them to implement a task, it will just get rejected.
For example, many business teams tried to message developers to “just make small changes to the product”, but these requests were redirected to the product team.
The product managers were responsible for setting the product squads' vision, strategy and direction. The developer’s work was dictated by this strategy and direction. If the feedback or task doesn’t fit into that prioritised plan, it gets “added to the backlog”.
As an independent SEO PM consultant, I’ve witnessed, discussed, and experienced this unspoken culture. Many organisations’ product and development teams have a subculture comprising varying roles, which can be hard to navigate if you’ve never experienced working in a tech team.
How can SEO professionals navigate this unspoken culture of tech teams to ensure their tasks and initiatives get implemented?
The answer is simple. We must learn to identify three engineering archetypes:
By understanding these three archetypes, you can understand how each plays a key role in the engine of delivery.
⚙️ The Three Engineering Archetypes
As SEO professionals working in a product and engineering team, we must recognise that each team member has a specific role and responsibility.
The three engineering archetypes are a mental model to help identify the right people at the right time in a technical team to get projects executed.
The three engineering archetypes are as follows:
💼 Managers - Senior members of the team signed off on strategies, roadmaps and initiatives for the team to work on.
📅 Schedulers - These team members own a roadmap, manage the backlog and prioritise the week-to-week workflow of the dev team.
👩💻 Owners - These team members can provide deep technical knowledge of the system, execute the work and provide feedback on feasibility.
This might seem obvious to many who have worked in development or product teams. However, I’ve noticed that many SEO professionals mistakenly think that developers are responsible for the whole delivery process.
They are not.
This is what the three engineering archetypes are all about. Helping SEO professionals identify who they need to approach to get projects implemented.
For example, here are a few scenarios I have seen when SEOs mistakenly bother developers:
❌ Sign-off on strategy - If we try to get the developers (owners) to sign off on an SEO strategy, we will be wasting our time. The developer can’t sign off on a large SEO strategy project, but they can provide feedback on its feasibility.
❌ SEO tickets deprioritised - If there is a problem with SEO tickets being deprioritised in the Jira backlog, then again, we shouldn’t be bothering the developers doing the work. Instead, we should be approaching the product manager or project manager (schedulers) to understand the blockage and how we can get tickets prioritised.
❌ Design missing SEO recommendations - If there are missing SEO elements in the design for a page template, we shouldn’t bother the developers (owners) who are simply implementing the design. Instead, we must approach the designer or UX lead (owners) to implement the changes.
🤜 🤛 How Each Archetype Can Help SEOs
Let’s dig deeper into the types of job roles you need to watch out for and how they can help us get things done.
Each archetype can help us solve a specific problem and should be approached in a different way:
💼 Managers - Approach senior management when you need strategies, roadmaps and budgets signed off to get the team to work on your initiatives.
📅 Schedulers - Approach product managers, project managers or product owners when you need to break down your SEO roadmaps into realistic tickets that actually get scheduled to be implemented.
👩💻 Owners - Approach developers to ensure your SEO strategies are feasible, to ensure they understand your tickets and to help you better understand the system they have built.
A manager is a person who signs off on strategies, projects and resources.
These individuals in the company dictate the wider business strategy, goals and priorities of the engineering and product team.
Whenever you hear of teams needing sign-off from senior management, its people with titles like:
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Chief Product Office (CPO)
Chief Technology Office (CTO)
Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
Director or Head of Marketing/Product/Engineering
Interestingly, senior management cannot sign off on recommendations or projects in some organisations. In other companies, team members, such as product managers or heads of engineering, are responsible for the team's strategy, direction and priority.
We need to ensure we’re approaching these stakeholders when we want to get SEO projects, roadmaps, or larger projects signed off.
The managers within an organisation must be bought into the project to allocate dev resources and budget to implement SEO projects. If they are not, then the product and engineering team won’t view your projects as a priority.
If they are not a priority, then they won’t be implemented. It’s that simple.
Example #1 - Senior management need to sign off on SEO projects
The Head of SEO needs to work with the CMO to get a seat at the senior management table. Then the CEO and the rest of the management team sign off on the SEO projects and allocate development resource to the proposed SEO recommendations.
Example #2 - Project management team gatekeeping
An SEO professional needs to create a briefs for proposed SEO recommendations that need to be submitted to the project management team when the company is planning and allocating resources to important projects. If accepted, the SEOs projects are signed off and development resource is allocated.
Example #3 - Product manager responsible for directing the team
The Technical SEO Specalist takes the product manager through their recommendations, and the tech SEO provides clear benefits as to why these recommendations matter. If the product manager understands and accepts the proposal they’ll sign off on the SEO projects.
The schedulers are team members who plan the workload with the dev team.
These individuals work with development teams to break down your SEO work into realistic tickets that are then released into production (live on the website).
These are usually team members with the following roles:
Product Managers (PM)/Product Owners (PO)
The schedulers own and manage the dev and sprint backlog (yes, technically, in some organisations, there are two). If you need to get a ticket implemented by the development team, it needs to be planned, prioritised and broken down by a scheduler.
Even if the managers have signed off on the SEO projects or recommendations, they will rely on schedulers to plan and manage the day-to-day.
A scheduler will work with developers to break down, estimate the effort and break down the ticket into smaller items if needed.
Example #1 - Product manager scheduling workload
If you wanted to solve a particular problem on a page template on a large enterprise platform, you’d need to approach the product manager who is in charge of that particular page template to work with them to prioritise and break down recommendations into realistic tickets in the backlog.
Example #2 - Product owner reprioriorizing dev tickets
A Technical SEO Manager will work with the product owner to understand why a particular dev tickets, that are critical to a website migration running smoothly, have been deprioritised and pushed to the bottom of the backlog. It’s the product owners job to manage the backlog, so making sure they understand the tickets are critical to make sure the migration runs smoothly is critical.
Example #3 - Developer schedules the workload
An SEO specalist works with the tech lead (senior developer) in a small development team to schedule, estimate and break down tickets into smaller chunks. They will also be able to quickly point out if a ticket is simple or needs to be scheduled over several release cycles.
An owner is a team member in the engineering team who can execute the work.
These individuals can help provide technical feasibility on recommendations, have deep knowledge of the system, and provide estimates on the size of tickets.
Examples of owners in an engineering team:
Full Stack Developer
UX & Design Lead
Both managers and schedulers will dictate the priority of the work. However, it’s the owners who are doing the day-to-day work that get projects implemented. So, if you need to understand if an SEO recommendation is feasible or need to have an SEO project estimated then you need to approach the owners.
Although owners don’t sign off on the priority of the workload or schedule projects, they are the ones who hold critical information which input into these activities.
If you don’t involve the owners early within the planning or priority process it can result in ideas being completely unfeasible.
Example #1 - Develop estimates SEO recommendations
A Head of SEO has a list of recommendations in a spreadsheet and approaches the product team to get them implemented. The product manager looks at the list and recommends they go and speak to the development team. They jump into a few meetings with the tech lead (senior developer) who works with them to estimate each recommendation in the list.
Example #2 - Designing new link components
A Technical SEO specalist wants to add a new internal link component to a page template on a marketplace website. They speak to the product team who communicate that they need to work with the UX team to create a design before they will implement anything. So, the Technical SEO specalist works with the designer to scope and create a new internal link component design that the developers can then implement.
Example #3 - Discovery and scoping of a project
A SEO Manager wants to create a content hub on the website. This requires creating a completely new set of page templates. Before they propose anything to the managers, they first approach the tech and design lead to understand feasibility and effort of the project. Speaking to these owners provide insight into the complexity of the project but also helps clarify a path forward.
🤏 Small vs Large Teams
Finally, it is important to remember that context matters when it comes to spotting these engineering archetypes.
In smaller teams there will be a lot of cross-over, a single team member might be both a scheduler and an owner. For example, a senior full stack developer in a small SaaS startup might be both the scheduler and the owner.
In larger teams these archetypes are broken down into roles, with each team member being responsible for part of the delivery engine.
So, when working with different teams just be aware that size is going to be a factor in who you need to approach. In my experience, the larger the organisation the more people you need to approach.
Hopefully, this newsletter highlights that navigating the engineering and product team is all about identifying the right people to help you get things done.
If you approach the wrong archetype for the wrong job, then you’re either going to be ignored or told to go away with little context.
Instead you should try to bucket the team members within the engineering and product team into three distanct archetypes. That each have a clear role.
📚 Further Resources
Staff Engineer Archetypes - Y Combinator
Staff+ engineering archetypes - Spotify
Engineering IC Leadership - GitLab
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