The Activity of Analysis

Hector Zarate Rea

Engineering Manager at Spotify



I manage a couple of different cross-functional engineering teams. When I work with my teams I can usually get a feeling if something is working well or not. However, sometimes it is not always clear to me. Or there might be a circumstance when something is not going as planned because uncertainties arose. In either case, I have a few tools in my belt that I use to combat these situations.

Actions taken

Being Proactive Instead of Reactive Establish good relationships and constant communication with your stakeholders and other teams. That way you get to know what's coming up ahead of time. For example, if you identify that urgent work usually comes from Sales, try grabbing lunch every now and then with their key person. Ask them about what's coming up and what's on their radar. You'll get information beforehand, giving you more time to think strategically and be proactive rather than reactive.

Risk Analysis This is a process of identifying and analyzing potential issues that could negatively impact your projects. Think about all the projects you are running right now and the risks that they could experience. A good way to do this is to list the risks and think about the likelihood of them happening. Then reflect on what sort of impact that would cause if they were to happen. I like to categorize and multiply the risk together with the potential impact. I use a rating scale of 1-3 for each. If it is not likely to happen and will have a very low impact if it does, then that's a 1 by 1, or one. Yet, if the impact is huge and it's very likely to happen, then that's a 3 by 3, which is 9 - the highest risk. You don't need to tackle everything but using this approach you can determine the ones that you should, the most important ones.

SWOT Analysis SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. I recommend running this analysis with your engineers, either in one-on-ones or in a group meeting. Your team members have a very good idea of what is working and what is not. Of course, you could do this analysis on your own, but the more input the better. Ask yourself and your team: what is working so far, what is definitely not working? And then brainstorm the things that are not in your control like opportunities and threats.

The Five Whys This is a technique used to analyze the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. You repeatedly ask yourself the question 'Why', five times over, so that you can inquire to the source of the problem. For example, if you feel like there are some disruptions in the workflow then ask yourself, why is this happening? Because some of the systems weren't functioning properly. Why weren't the systems working? Because we don't have the appropriate monitoring and alerting system. And why is that? Because they were handed over from other teams and haven't been set up for the current system. And so on. The concept is to ask why enough times so that you remedy the situation, uncover the multiple root causes and repair the issue for the long-term.

Lessons learned

  • The key concept is strategic thinking. There are going to be uncertainties that you can not avoid. For example, the resignation of an employee. It may come out of the blue and it can have a big impact on one of your projects. The idea, though, is to have a grip on the now and today and progressively move towards the longer term.
  • Repeatedly asking 'why' might give you insight into a tech problem, an organizational problem, or maybe a business problem. The root cause might not be tech-related but it can reveal itself by asking 'why?'
  • Just like planning, the artifacts of these analyses are sometimes not as important as the activity. These are continuous activities of thinking and reflecting.
  • All of these management, organization, and leadership exercises contain concepts that aren't too difficult to understand, but the key is making time and taking the opportunity to do them.

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Hector Zarate Rea

Engineering Manager at Spotify

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