Three Questions Every Engineering Leader Should Be Able to Answer

Written by: Dorra Bouchiha

As an engineering manager, I often participate in status meetings and monthly/quarterly business review meetings to assess how the team is progressing against goals and milestones. I have mixed feelings about these. On the positive side, I am always excited to showcase the team's achievements, get better alignment on priorities and staffing and be able to raise any concerns and risks. On the other side, I find myself spending too much time and energy gathering information from JIRA, GitHub and my own notes from standup updates, conversations, etc… and consolidating it all into a deck of slides or a spreadsheet. 

The top three pieces of information I always look to capture are:

  1. What did we deliver that matters to our customers and stakeholders? How does it compare to our plans? 

  2. What did we spend our time on and how does it impact our ability to deliver?

  3. What is getting in the way and what do we plan to do about it? How can our leadership and business partners help?

With CloudBees Engineering Efficiency, I have the data readily available in one place to have meaningful conversations with my business partners and my leadership.

What did we deliver that matters to our customers? 

Most agile teams use an issue tracking system. We make our work visible on a board and we have a prioritized backlog. My team uses JIRA and everything we do is captured there, however the JIRA view does not let me see at a glance what customer outcome my team has delivered. CloudBees Engineering Efficiency provides me with a view that highlights all the work that has been completed by the team for a specific time range. 

Let’s look at an example use case for a dev. team working on “My App.” You can see in the screenshot above that this team has completed 92 percent of the work to deliver “My App” on iOS. This is fantastic news since the requirement to support Apple customers in time for a joint announcement with Apple came in just two weeks ago. The team has deliberately fast-tracked this work knowing the importance of such an event. 

The team has also been working on a feature to provide customers with weekly reports. It is the most requested feature during customer interviews. However, the team is only 50 percent done and may not be able to deliver the improvement before another month or so. They have made very little progress, completing only three stories, while the scope has increased by three stories! 

The team can see at a glance that while turning around the iOS support is fantastic, it came at the cost of slowing down the development of this new feature. Another project the team has started working on is the calendar view, a minor improvement. It may make sense for the team to shift focus back to the weekly report feature. The team can also see that five tickets have been completed that are not associated with any Epics. A further drill-down can show that the team has spent a fair amount of time addressing bugs and support issues. This view elevates the conversation from “Why is the weekly report feature late?” to “Did we spend our time on the right things”? The team needs to have a conversation about priority, scope and staffing. 

The activity screen above provides all the data needed to see what outcomes we have delivered for our customers. It also has all the details that would allow the team to have productive and healthy conversations, learn and improve. With a tool like CloudBees Engineering Efficiency, the team does not need to wait for a monthly business review meeting to discuss how they are progressing against their goals. The data becomes part of creating an effective continuous improvement loop and woven into the way the team operates. 

What did we spend our time on? What is getting in the way?

Another topic that comes up often in business review meetings is how the team is spending their time (“budget”). This is especially important for teams that support legacy products or have inadequate infrastructure. You can see below that the team is consistently spending more than half of their time performing releases or maintenance work. Last week was especially rough as the team needed to address a high number of support requests. This is clearly affecting the team's ability to deliver customer value.

The business review meeting is the right opportunity to ensure as a leadership team that the team is set up for success and can work in an environment that allows it to deliver against business goals in a sustainable way. Clicking on any of the colored bars above will take you to a drill-down view that would allow you to readily understand the work the team members are doing and identify opportunities for improvement. Sometimes the team will need to invest in maintenance work, addressing technical debt or improving the infrastructure. Quantifying this with data will allow for more effective conversations and enable leaders to provide teams with the right back-up and space to shine. 

The insights and discussion during business review meetings are valuable; the process to collect data is tedious and unnecessary. If I were to participate in a business review meeting today, I will focus my energy on better alignment, reduce uncertainty, identify areas of improvement without spending time gathering and massaging data.

Schedule a demo today to learn more about CloudBees Engineering Efficiency.

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