Doing More With Less: Strategies for Engineering Teams

Watch the full recording of this Engineering Q&A with Okta's President and Chief Development Officer:

Companies are constantly looking for ways to do more with less in today's tech industry. Layoffs and cost-cutting measures are becoming more common, and companies are under pressure to remain competitive. In a recent Plato Q&A session, Sagnik Nandy, President and Chief Development Officer at Okta, and Anna Nicanorova, CTO at Annalect, shared their thoughts on "Doing More With Less" in the tech industry.

Sagnik believes that four types of efficiency need to be considered when building and maintaining systems: engineering efficiency, resource efficiency, process efficiency, and structural efficiency. "As engineers, we are often very good at debugging and optimizing systems to get the same thing done with fewer resources or support more throughput. However, we typically don't apply that same mindset to teams and people," he said.

Defining and Measuring Efficiency

To measure engineering efficiency, Sagnik suggests looking at any team, defining success efficiency, and then setting some kind of quantification. It may be partially accurate, but as long as it's directionally correct, it can be helpful to move the team in the right direction.

He suggests using metrics such as surveying team members every three months to ask if they feel their productivity has improved or regressed. Additionally, gathering perspectives from cross-functional teams is essential. The engineering team may feel they are doing a great job, while other teams may have a different experience. For example, the customer service team may be receiving a higher volume of complaints, indicating that there may be issues with the product that the engineering team needs to be made aware of.

Sagnik also notes that efficiency and quality can have a cyclic pattern, where teams may prioritize efficiency and later focus on quality, and vice versa. For smaller teams, hitting timelines and feature throughput are good efficiency indicators, while metrics such as the mean time to deploy are more helpful for larger teams. However, Sagnik stresses that metrics will always be flawed and that context and team composition must be considered when assessing efficiency. For example, a team working on a greenfield project can move faster and more efficiently than a team working on a legacy system.

Efficiency: Keeping Costs in Mind

When assessing engineering efficiency, Sagnik emphasizes the importance of considering the cost of running a system. As a system grows, it is expected to become more efficient over time, and teams should think about what can be done differently to achieve this. Sagnik suggests considering the cost of resources and people as teams become more globally deployed, which can affect the overall cost of hiring specific individuals. He also suggests thinking about the cost of operations and how it can change over time. The system's cost can increase as teams handle more alerts and complexity. Keeping these factors in mind will help teams make more informed decisions about improving efficiency.

Incremental Improvements

Finally, Sagnik stresses the importance of incremental improvements and fine-tuning in building and maintaining systems. Too often, he says, the standard career growth pattern is rewriting systems, which leads to a first promotion. Then, realizing that the new system has flaws and fixing them leads to the next promotion. Instead, he encourages teams to focus on incremental improvements and fine-tuning to ensure systems are efficient and cost-effective. By making small changes and improvements, teams can keep systems running smoothly and avoid needing large-scale rewrites.

In conclusion, Sagnik Nandy, one of Okta's top engineering leaders, shared his thoughts on "doing more with less" in the tech industry. He emphasizes the importance of considering four types of efficiency: engineering, resource, process, and structural. He also stresses the importance of considering the cost of running a system when assessing efficiency and encourages teams to focus on incremental improvements and fine-tuning to ensure that systems are efficient and cost-effective over time.

Watch the full recording of this Engineering Q&A Session now!

Watch the full recording of this session here:

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