How to Ask Your Engineering Team for Help

Posted by Josh Weissburg on May 22, 2015


People love to talk about the wonders of data-driven marketing, but there's a reason it's hard to do: you need access to all that data! Usually, access to data means asking your engineering team to hook up or make a change to a tool you're using—GROAN.

Why is this so painful? Because engineers are incredibly busy. They usually have too many projects in a very time-sensitive pipeline and everyone else in the company is waiting for them to hurry up and finish, just like you are. So engineering teams have to be very strict about taking on new work. Keeping this in mind, the key to a successful engineering ask is to base your ask on the things your engineers care about and get really, really specific about what you're asking for.

So you’re going to have to ask; the question is how to make that ask relevant and clear.

What, exactly, do you need?

  1. Give them a spec. Engineers need a spec and they HATE vague asks that require them to figure out what you really need. Don't just give a general description. Instead, give real examples, often in the form of user stories, so they can clearly picture what work they need to do to satisfy those requirements.

  2. Edge cases. Think through where your request might run into trouble. What about exceptions? What happens when some users don't have the data you want to use? The more “what if” scenarios you plan through, the fewer surprises and bottlenecks will emerge. Much of the work is running through these scenarios and making sure that your ask still makes sense; do this work for your engineers and they will listen to you.

What’s the business case for your ask?

Just as with getting funding approval from execs, you will need to convince engineering your request is worth their time and attention. Remember, they’re likely going to have to bump someone else’s request in favor of yours, so make your business case a strong one. Any request you make needs to have a good understanding of and solid answers to the following questions:

  1. What are the company priorities?
  2. What are the targets driving those priorities?
  3. How does this ask align with these priorities?

Make your ask personal

The format and case for your ask are prerequisites—without these, your request doesn't have the raw material it needs to succeed. But remember that at the end of the day, all of us are much more excited to work on interesting problems, especially if they make our jobs easier or get us promoted. For engineering, motivation probably means emphasizing some combination of the following:

  1. Engineers are paid to build features and squash bugs, so figure out how your marketing request helps them with those core priorities. This connects to the business case you made, but you should also directly explain how your engineer (not just the company) will benefit from completing your project. 
  2. Engineers like interesting problems, so present your request as a challenge you believe they can solve. Maybe even tell them a little bit about why they will be better at solving it than anyone else.
  3. Engineers want to make their jobs better and easier, and if your project could provide tangible benefits (i.e. by removing work, making the system more stable, or earning them a win with their boss), spell that out.

Convincing other people in your company to take your asks seriously is a key component to any successful career. Engineering is one of the toughest places to make these asks, but by learning to make these asks of engineering, you will have the resources and tools you need to get things done quickly and make a big difference. No need to dread the engineering ask!

Topics: Best practices