Focus On Inputs to Reduce Burnout

Juan Vasquez

CTO at Primer Labs



"One of my teams was struggling with a regular pattern of burn out. We hired engineers who were incredibly helpful, but they were burning out due to too many requests coming to them at once. This originated due to a problem with prioritization. We would agree on a sprint, but two days in a senior leader or someone from the product team would come in and change what we were doing or would ask us to focus on a different priority that they felt held more value."

Actions taken

"As an engineering team, we were focusing on being as efficient as possible. However, from a prioritization perspective, we didn't have the discipline to define the capacity we had at any given time. We were at a point where we were just trying to put out fires and make people feel as though everything was okay, rather than focusing on the tasks at hand."

"In order to solve the problem for the engineers, I had to realize that the issue was to do with the inputs being given to the engineering team. By reducing the context switching and changes to plans, I was able to reduce a lot of the stress that the engineers were facing."

"I decided to tackle this issue head-on and started by talking to the product team and the stakeholders as they were our partners. I sat down with a couple of leaders from their team and talked to them about the problem. In a lot of cases, they recognized the problem and they agreed that although they were trying to plan things out they weren't being consistent."

"I also put a 'work in progress' limit in place. It limits the number of projects our engineers can work on at once, and once the queue is full, the engineers can't work on another project until one of the current projects is finished or is taken off the work schedule. When a slot frees up, the stakeholders can decide on what will next be put on the queue. This healthy debate between the stakeholders also had a nice side effect of the company making better business decisions given constrained resources."

Lessons learned

"You may be an engineering leader, but your responsibilities extend beyond that. Your responsibilities extend to making your entire team successful. This can go all the way back to the stakeholders or the product management team."

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Juan Vasquez

CTO at Primer Labs

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementSprint CadencePerformance MetricsLeadership Training

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