Prioritizing Complex Products For Your Team

Alex Boudreau

Director of Software Engineering, Analytics at Pindrop



"One of the teams I inherited when I joined the company had a very large backlog of work and were responsible for multiple complex products and services. The team at times struggled with work prioritization and often ended up not fully completing features. The team was pulled in all directions and often had to switch focus before fully finishing work already in flight since new and more urgent priorities would come up. This was difficult for the team morale and didn't provide a good sense of accomplishment. In addition, since the team kept working on multiple streams of work at a time, velocity wasn't nearly as good as it could be. The group didn't know what to work on first, how to solve this issue, or how to keep momentum. So, how do you prioritize work for a small team that is central to the company's core products when everything is 'high priority' and there's pressure to get things done quickly?"

Actions taken

"To solve this problem, I started out by trying to get a good understanding of the team's strengths, understand the current landscape and look for bottlenecks and points of contention within and outside the team. I then took the time to better understand requirements from other product teams and stakeholders, and discuss their own priorities. Based on that information, I started ranking feature and service development based on urgency, business priority, effort and impact. Working with the team, we then focused on finishing current work in flight before starting anything new. This was immediately a relief for the team, feeling they were able to complete a project from beginning to end. While finishing this work in flight, I reviewed the suggested priorities with other stakeholders that rely on the team and came to an agreement. This immediately improved relationships with our stakeholders and really helped the team, as it gave them a good roadmap with proper priorities, reducing their level of stress. Overall, the steps we took to consolidate work, prioritize the roadmap, and closely work with external stakeholders greatly improved perceived and actual effectiveness of the team and significantly boosted positive outcomes."

Lessons learned

"Team morale, velocity and perceived effectiveness can be impacted by the lack of proper work prioritization and cross-team/department collaboration. By ensuring you understand the current landscape, you key stakeholders' own priorities and pressing problems, you're able to formulate an appropriate strategy and execute appropriately. Engineering Leadership is not just about building great technology, but also about fostering strong relationships across teams and departments, improving communications and jumping in where your help is needed, even if it may not seem like an integral part of your role."

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Alex Boudreau

Director of Software Engineering, Analytics at Pindrop

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementSprint CadencePerformance MetricsLeadership Training

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