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A Lack of Clear Vision and the Team Morale

Product
Sharing the vision

29 January, 2021

Naveen Veeravalli, Engineering Manager at Uber, discusses how a lack of clear product vision impacted the morale of his team and shares what he did to improve their engagement.

Problem

My team had built an in-house product that was launched globally. However, we didn’t have sufficient global coverage, and the quality of the product was not up to our standards in some locations. Needless to say, the overall experience for our users was not satisfactory at those places, and we didn’t have a clear vision of how we would address the lack of global coverage.
 

At the same time, an external company released a third-party solution that could replace our product. It was on the leadership to decide if we would use an in-house or third-party solution. The team largely perceived a third-party solution as an external threat, and it had the most immediate impact on the team morale. The team was concerned that the company would decide to go with the third-party solution and wondered what would be the purpose of our team, and if we would be downsized or disbanded.
 

As a manager, I had to balance between what was the best for the team and for the company.
 

Actions taken

The first thing to do was to strengthen our value proposition. The company was considering the third-party solution because the value proposition of the in-house solution was not clear enough. It was not clear what we were bringing to the table and what our strengths were.
 

Then, we had to do a thorough side-by-side comparison analysis breaking it down into a number of categories, including financial costs, headcount costs, feature parity, etc., and at the end, comparing their ROIs. Also, we wanted to run a live experiment and integrate the third-party solution, but we needed my team to build that integration. We had to be transparent and explain to the team that the decision was not yet made and that we were running that experiment to identify the gaps. That helped calm down the team that was feeling anxious and neglected. The team felt that everything was already decided at the top level, and they had zero say in what was happening. As we became more transparent, the team started to open up and became more willing to help us with evaluation.
 

Once we ran the experiment, we realized that our solution was doing well in some countries and the third-party solution in others. We ended up going with a hybrid solution that combined the best of both worlds. The value of the in-house solution became quite predictable through the experiment, and leadership was willing to allocate more funding to support it because it became evident that our solution could do much more with increased funding. We showed how the company could win against competition using this hybrid approach.
 

Lessons learned

  • The team initially panicked because they feared that they might be disbanded, and it is a normal team-centric perspective. But as a manager, you should always think from a customer perspective and encourage your team to do the same. Customers don’t care what solution they will use as long as you are delivering to them a product that is solving their problem. Our mission is not to build a product but to serve a customer.
  • Whatever the problem is, be transparent and try to gain the trust of your team. The team should understand why they are doing it, what is a targeted timeline and what outcomes they should be expecting. They will feel much better once they have answers to the above questions.
  • The team was not motivated to put in an effort because they believed that our solution would be replaced, so why bother. Once they realized that both solutions would be impartially evaluated, they were much more eager to work on improvements.

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