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Team can’t prioritize without you? Check these 3 things about your leadership style

If teams struggle to weigh the tradeoffs without your involvement, it may be a reflection of the systems you’ve put in place as a leader.

Naomi Lurie

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Have you communicated a high-level roadmap?


March 13, 2024

Does this sound familiar:

A business leader has an amazing, game-changing idea. She brings it to your product teams to make it happen.

But your team is unable to step through the decision-making process without you, analyzing the priority, weighing the trade-offs, and giving a clear and reasonable answer.

So, naturally, the request is escalated to you, the senior engineering leader. Now you have to jump in, learn the issue for yourself, and make a call.

If you head up a growing engineering function, a key part of your role is putting in the decision-making frameworks that allow decentralizing decisions to your management team. If they can’t prioritize new requests without you, it may be a reflection of the systems you’ve put in place as a leader.

Here are three things to check about your leadership style and methods.

Have you communicated a high-level roadmap?

When business leaders simply assume your team has the capacity to take on new work, it generally means they don’t know what the team is already committed to and working on. Here are some things you can do:

  • Ensure you are clearly communicating your high-level roadmap, at a minimum on a quarterly basis.
  • Provide your stakeholders with a self-serve dashboard where they can see the initiatives and features in progress as well as what’s coming up next.
  • Ensure your company understands the ‘product development system’, i.e., the inputs, outputs, and feedback loops that inform your decision-making and prioritization.
For more great tips, watch our session on How to Excel at Engineering Initiatives.

Are your teams aligned on strategic outcomes?

To scale an engineering organization, you need a North Star that everyone is aligned to. The North Star provides a framework for your teams to make those day-to-day decisions.

  • Make sure your teams understand the company’s strategy and how engineering supports it. If your teams are struggling to triage incoming requests and make a call, it may be a sign that the vision and strategy for engineering is unclear.
  • Make the translation from high-level goals to the engineering effort tangible. Accompany major undertakings with a one-pager that explains the current state and what you aim to achieve and how this ties back to the company’s strategy and OKRs.
  • When a new request comes in, have your team explicitly articulate the hypothesis and ask how this specific request will help achieve the North Star. Which business problem is it solving and how will this tech undertaking enable that? To paraphrase, if we do this, how will we move the needle on a key metric?

Do teams know when rapid experimentation is encouraged?

While some product areas are proven growth engines with well-informed roadmaps, others might be much more experimental. In those areas, nothing is set in stone and the goal is to prototype and learn quickly.

If that's the case, help the team understand that a lot of change is expected and natural. Accepting requests to try something new — and often — should be welcome.

  • For experimental areas, create a baseline understanding that experimentation is expected while you figure out product-market fit.
  • Consider setting some goals around the experimentation itself that the team can work towards. For example, set a goal to experiment with 20 GenAI prototypes a month. Within that bucket, the team can make decisions autonomously with their cross-functional partners.

In summary, by implementing a transparent high-level roadmap, ensuring that the team's efforts are in sync with the organization's North Star, and embracing the dynamism of experimental projects, you can effectively decentralize decision-making and become a stronger leader.

For more frameworks and strategies for scaling your engineering organization as your business grows, watch our session on How to Excel at Engineering Initiatives.
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