Handling requests from executives

Christophe Pierret

VP Engineering at SUBLIME



Dealing with requests from executives can sometimes be difficult, and it's sometimes very hard to explain why things can't be done in the way they would like. A good example of this is an executive coming to you and asking for a project to be delivered in two months. If all of your engineers are already working on other projects, and the executive is very powerful, you may find yourself in a difficult situation.

Actions taken

"Be clear about what can be done and what cannot."

Often executives won't be specialists in your field and will come from business backgrounds. Take time to explain why they need to compromise and choose between their deadlines and the content they would like, but don't compromise on quality. Make them choose whether deadline or content is more important. If they value the deadline more, then let them know what content you can provide within this timeframe. If they value the content more, provide them with a date that you will be able to provide them with the content. If they choose both a short timeframe and the exact content, then they will need to provide an unlimited budget. You can then have a discussion based on this. You may also want to discuss deferring "about to start" projects to make room for new ones.

Next, pull other people into the discussion, so that you aren't arguing against the unreasonable time frames or requirements by yourself. If it doesn't already exist when you arrive in a company, set up a committee of people who oversee product activities. This committee should be composed of product, development, and business people. This ensures your product strategy is aligned with the goals of the company and prevents one person from pushing an agenda that isn't in line with that of other managers. The committee should also be used to decide on the top priorities for your company. Engineers don't decide on a company's business priorities, but you can assist them by providing them with costings, information on risks, and information about potential trade-offs.

Lessons learned

Keep in mind that as long as you have a fixed amount of resources, trade-offs will have to be made. Even if you are working hard to improve productivity, it won't improve by ten-fold in two months. So instead, you should estimate based on how much you have produced in previous months.

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Christophe Pierret

VP Engineering at SUBLIME

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementSprint CadencePerformance MetricsLeadership Training

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