Managing Priorities, Metrics, and Motivation: Lessons Learned From Engineering Leaders

No matter how cross-functionally your teams may work, it’s ultimately your engineers who are responsible for executing your product roadmap. 

It’s easy for the connection between an engineer’s day-to-day tasks and your business’s overarching objectives to get lost or diluted in the technicality of the work. This is where strong engineering leadership comes in. 

I spoke with three engineering leadership professionals in hopes of gleaning some insight into how they manage their teams successfully and act as a liaison between product and the business. Learn how these leaders identify priorities, keep their teams engaged, measure success, and more:

What is your biggest priority right now?

“The biggest priority right now is operational scalability in an organization that is in blitzscaling mode. How we handle our priorities is having an understanding from the product side of the house what the roadmap and delivery timelines are, along with the current day-to-day support of the active products and services. It is a prioritization exercise on a larger scale for remaining flexible to be able to accommodate the needs of our customers.”

Vivek Desai, SVP of Engineering, Olive 

 

“My biggest priority right now is leading engineering on the rebuilt and re-engineered Slack platform from the ground up to empower everyone within organizations—developers and non-developers alike—to make work simpler, more pleasant and more productive with Slack as their Digital HQ. As the leader of our platform engineering team, I’ve had to set the strategy of how we focus on our most critical tasks, while implementing new processes to improve decision-making and collaboration between engineering and product. As the Slack platform continues to evolve, we’ll continue to work closely together to achieve our shared goals and priorities for 2022 and beyond.”

Rukmini Reddy, SVP of Engineering, Platform at Slack

How do you motivate your team?

“Lead with empathy! Fostering openness, curiosity and trust serve as the secret sauce to building meaningful relationships and high-performing teams. I strive to build good interpersonal relationships with each of my team members. Being a good leader is all about understanding what motivates the people on your team and inspiring them to do the best work they possibly can. This is more important than ever since many teams today operate remotely or in hybrid fashions. Having meaningful, one-to-one relationships with your team is critical to creating a sense of belonging and building a team that works well together against common goals.”

Rukmini Reddy, SVP of Engineering, Platform at Slack

 

“I help them find their own motivation by sharing context, doing my best to understand the kinds of work or outcomes they care about, and pointing them to the work that matches. Motivation naturally happens when people understand the shared story between themselves and the organization and where their perspective and skillset will be a huge lever for the business. 

We can find very UI-focused work for folks who are really excited by delightful user interactions. For people interested in a hidden world of complex problems, we can find work that gives them scope in the backend or systems design. For folks who have strong ideas about the right thing to do, we can fit that idea into our work. We can give them more and more context about the business’s goals and current strategy to help them align the things they know they should do with business success. Motivation can’t be pushed onto folks; it comes from building a space for them to thrive.”

Ryan Sorensen, Engineering Manager, Trello at Atlassian

As an engineering leader, which metrics do you measure?

“We are going to standardize on the DevOps Research Assessment (DORA) metrics. Through six years of research, the DORA team has identified four key metrics that indicate the performance of a software development team: 1) Deployment frequency: How often an organization successfully releases to production. 2) Lead time for changes: The amount of time it takes a commit to get into production. 3) Change failure rate: The percentage of deployments causing a failure in production. 4) Time to restore service: How long it takes an organization to recover from a failure in production.”

Vivek Desai, SVP of Engineering, Olive 

 

“There are three important metrics my team and I measure against. The first of which is cycle time, which represents our team’s time to market and time before software is delivered to customers. The second is time to merge, which is a good indicator for bottlenecks that may be blocking our collaboration process. And last but not least, we measure created vs resolved trends for incoming tickets or bugs to gauge team capacity vs. commitment and help us determine if the team is overloaded, underutilized and working just right.”

Rukmini Reddy, SVP of Engineering, Platform at Slack

What’s the one question you ask candidates in an interview?

“‘What is something that you feel you are yet to receive from your career?’ To me, the answer to this question can be quite insightful as it gives me an opportunity to really assess a candidate’s aspirations and goals. Especially now since we’re in a very competitive job market, it’s important to understand how to best match candidates with opportunities that fit their interests and pinpoint new opportunities they may not have thought about when pursuing a new job.”

Rukmini Reddy, SVP of Engineering, Platform at Slack

 

“‘Tell me about a time you disagreed with someone, and you changed your mind. The stronger the belief, the better.’ I’m looking here for curiosity, how strongly they advocate for their own worldview, and how they handle conflict. We’ve all been incredibly wrong in our careers. Approaching situations with the ideas that our beliefs are shaped by our life path and the person across the table from us is a capable human that believes the things they do for a reason is a superpower for building better beliefs.”

Ryan Sorensen, Engineering Manager, Trello at Atlassian

Julia Beech
Julia Beech
Executive Network Coordinator

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