I had to reorganize the way my team worked

Jean Hsu

Engineering leadership consultant at Medium



"My previous company grew very quickly and hired a lot of engineers during that period. As a manager, I had 15 direct reports. Because we had so many projects to work on at the same time, several engineers were working on their own. It was not easy for me to give enough attention to everyone. I tried to offer my help as much as possible and trusted that people would come to me if there was a problem. However, most of the engineers were taking more time on their projects than expected, and they constantly seemed to be in the state of 'almost done', week after week."

Actions taken

"I talked to my manager about this lack of good execution. We brainstormed and realized that the crux of the matter was that they were working on their own. Working alone on a project means that it is harder to ask questions in case of doubts or in case they were not at ease with a part of the code base, but it also decreased their motivation. They were also more reluctant to admit that they were stuck because they felt that it raised questions about their abilities. We, therefore, implemented a bunch of changes. First, we prioritized the projects our engineers were working on and dropped some of the projects. Then, we paired up engineers according to their expertise and seniority and allocated at least two engineers to each project. We also changed the staffing a little bit and elevated some engineers to the role of project lead so that they would be accountable for some projects. The team's reaction was very positive. Junior engineers were relieved not to be assigned a project on their own and, overall, the team became happier and more motivated."

Lessons learned

"As a company grows, it fosters many changes and everyone has to adapt. In my case, we had to prioritize, drop some projects, and reorganize the way we worked with the team to be efficient again. I also learned that it is not a good thing to let your members work by themselves on a project for weeks. They receive less help when they get stuck, they are less motivated, and they face a lot of pressure. We put 'more wood behind fewer arrows' and tackled projects serially rather than in parallel."

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Jean Hsu

Engineering leadership consultant at Medium

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationEngineering ManagementTechnical ExpertiseTechnical SkillsCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionIndividual Contributor RolesStaff EngineerTeam & Project Management

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