5 Steps to Harness Tech Team Chaos
Picture this: you wake up, go for a workout, grab a high protein breakfast and head to work. But before you even finish your first coffee, the chatter around you has intensified. Everyone on your engineering team is stressed out, and they need answers from you. What about timelines for this and that, and whatever happened to that initiative brought up at the meeting two weeks ago? This daily chaos has been creeping in for awhile now. Up until recently, you could answer these kinds of questions at the drop of a hat, but you’re starting to realize that you don't actually know what every person on this team is working on anymore. Your organization is getting bigger, and it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up.
Growing pains are normal at this stage of growth for every company, so you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean that you are forever stuck in the chaos. Follow these 5 steps to reinstate order to your team.
Step 1: Create an Environment of Visibility
Ensuring team visibility to counteract chaos does not translate to micromanaging. Instead, strong visibility simply occurs when each member of the team is privy to what is being worked on and why. But how can a team successfully track each member’s workload and progress amidst a culture of freedom and autonomy?
To begin, offer your team a challenge: make everything they are working on trackable and traceable in the tool of your team’s choice (i.e. Jira). If this isn’t easy to do, meet with your team to analyze the blocks in the way- is there any shadow work? It could be that the tool you are using is not optimized to track certain kinds of work. Dig deep to the root issue until your team is able to easily account for each of their tasks. Traceable work creates transparency- your team will be able to identify pain points and solve them together.
Step 2: Categorize the Work
Work with your team to to divide tasks into categorical buckets that link back to other tracking tools. For example, you could label your team’s epics/tasks so that they easily tie back to the roadmap item(s) they correspond to. To get started, meet with your Product Managers or team leads and answer the following questions:
- What is your team working on (status: in progress) ?
- What part of the total backlog links back to strategic roadmap themes?
This will provide clarity on whether or not the current work relates back to your roadmap. You might be in for a few surprises at this stage, but don't worry- it's all part of the process. The goal is to create transparency amongst your team, and to increase awareness of what is being worked on and why.
Step 3: Make it Stick
Now that you’ve gotten your team organized and on the same page, you can start to carve out a new normal. Set guidelines to maintain this way of approaching the work, and make sure to communicate them to all of your stakeholders. Don’t forget that your stakeholders go beyond the engineering teams- your client-facing teams need to be informed of this new way of working as well. Support, onboarding, professional services- aligning all of these roles will increase your chances of success.
Introducing a new way of working is only the first step. To make it last, clearly define the rules of the game- and be specific. Ask your team to answer questions like:
- Who will keep track of documenting the work in Jira?
- Which fields should be mandatory when creating an epic?
- How often will people report on the work and to whom?
Step 4: Create Accountability
A great way to ensure that people take ownership of this new transparency is to lean on visual tools. Dashboards per squad and for the team as a whole are a great way to visualise and share what is being worked on, not only for the teams themselves, but for higher management as well. The owners of these dashboards should maintain and review them regularly to keep them relevant.
Step 5: Support Communication & Governance
Last but not least, ensure there is a forum or place where tech and product topics can be discussed, and data-based decisions can be made. We recommend having a forum for the Tech related topics (Tech Steerco/Council), and one for the Product related topics (Product Steerco/Council).
- Multidisciplinary tech team
- Gathering all input
- Discussing relevant topics based on a business case
- Multidsciplinary team (including Finance, Legal, InfoSec, Sales & Marketing)
- Discussing product related topics based on a business case
One final piece of advice: find executive support. To make these 5 steps successful, you’ll need someone at a high level to help drive initiatives and move things forward.