Engineering Manager series part 4: productivity and how to boost team efficiency
Today we hear from Simone Basso, Director Of Engineering - Marketplace, on the 4th component of our Engineering Manager framework: productivity.
Engineering Managers have many different responsibilities. From ensuring technical deliverables are met to supporting Engineers on their career path, it can be challenging to decide what needs to be prioritized and what should be taken off the to-do list. One aspect of team management that is consistently prioritized is promoting team productivity.
Productivity is about maintaining a sustainable pace, setting the right expectations, and delivering consistently.
To set the right expectations, it is critical to form a close partnership with your Product counterpart in order to leverage technology and increase productivity rather than being constrained by its limitations.
So, what are the goals of an Engineering Manager in relation to productivity? After some reflection, I came up with the following list of 7 objectives with guiding questions and links to help Engineering Managers balance all of the different aspects of productivity and deliver:
Objective 1: Projects are prioritized well (including what not to do)
What is the 6 to 12-month vision for your team? What are you executing in the next 3 months? Do you have the right balance of short and long-term projects and goals?
How do you balance delivering business value with paying back tech debt and investing in new technologies that allow you to become more productive? 
What is really important? How do you prioritize? 
What are you trying to achieve and at what scale?
What is the best-case and worst-case scenario?
Who is your audience?
Objective 3: Dependencies, primarily internal ones, are minimized and managed effectively:
What are your technical dependencies?
Who do you depend on?
Can you minimize these dependencies by up-skilling people or removing technological dependencies?
Objective 4: Team processes ensure continuous improvement
What are your team ceremonies?
Is the process documented?
Does everyone know why you are doing what you are doing?
What questions are you asking to get people to think deeper, wider, and generally outside of the box? 
Have you made significant changes to your processes, people, and technology based on learnings?
What are the last 3 things you have improved, and what will be the next 3?
Objective 5: Waste is kept to a minimum — projects seldom get cancelled, fires and hotfixes are very infrequent, projects progress continuously and with little interruption, and uncertainties and risks are tackled early
Discovery is about tackling the following risks:
Will the customer choose to use it? (Value Risk)
Can the user figure out how to use it (Usability Risk)
Can we build it? (Feasibility Risk)
Does this solution work for our business? (Business-viability Risk)
Do you have or need a risk register for non-product risks?
Is your product counterpart aware of all risks?
If you don’t feel like what you are working on is of any value due to new information and learnings, how are you refocusing your team in a timely manner?
Objective 6: Individuals are set up to be productive — onboarding is fast and effective, interruptions are minimal
Do you have a clear onboarding plan?
Do you have rules and principles for how to take on new work, or is it ad-hoc and people jump into tasks straight away? (Feature requests, bugs, emergencies, etc.)
Objective 7: Team keeps track of tech debt and keeps it in check
What are your top 5 tech debts?
How much does each one cost you weekly in terms of loss of speed, distractions, etc.?
What are your major blockers or slow-downs in terms of tooling and development environments?
Can the team solve some of those issues themselves by prioritizing this work?
If not, have those issues been communicated clearly to the person you expect to solve this problem for you, and do they have a plan to help you?
Tips & Tricks
There is no magic trick. Read, learn, reflect, improve, test, fail, but, above all, try to gain a deep understanding of how you can make things better. Be pragmatic: not everything can be fixed or done straight away. Don’t get annoyed by small issues, but rather focus on impact.
I suggest a simple Plan/Track/Monitor framework. This will help you make sure you are covering long-term thinking and short-term execution while also ensuring your activities do not have any side effect on other teams.
Managing productivity is about tradeoffs, and requires organization and structure to collect the right amount and level of informations to make informed decisions without over engineering and over analyzing opportunities and challenges.
Additional Books to read regarding this topic:
“This motivational and autobiographical book tells the story of an ordinary person in an ordinary team who achieved something pretty extraordinary.” (Source: Amazon.com)
“This book is useful, actionable, and actually fun to read! If you want to get your team aligned around real, measurable goals, Radical Focus will teach you how to do it quickly and clearly.” (Source: Amazon.com)
“How do today’s most successful tech companies — Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Tesla — design, develop, and deploy the products that have earned the love of literally billions of people around the world? Perhaps surprisingly, they do it very differently than the vast majority of tech companies. In INSPIRED, technology product management thought leader Marty Cagan provides readers with a master class in how to structure and staff a vibrant and successful product organization, and how to discover and deliver technology products that your customers will love — and that will work for your business.” (Source: Amazon.com)
Check out the original version of this article on Simone’s Medium.