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Dealing With Difficult People and Difficult Situations

Conflict Solving
Collaboration

28 May, 2021

Himanshu Vasishth
Himanshu Vasishth

Founding Engineer / Head of Product Engineering at Coda

Himanshu Vasishth, Founding Engineer and Head of Product Engineering at Coda, describes a contentious situation and how to handle it with openness while learning from it.

Problem

When I was the tech lead and manager for the general area feature, me and my team were improving on a critical feature. Once we started on with our discussions, there was a pretty significant disagreement between the product team, design team, engineers, and the CEO. The disagreement was mainly about what the final shape of the feature would look like. It’s no surprise that if the shape was different, then the overall work would also be very different, followed by entirely different results. As contentious as the situation was, the problems added on when the team members were dug into two different extremes.

Actions Taken

I used one-on-one meetings with the PMs, designers, and engineers to analyze everyone’s perspective. From one end to the other, what I found out from the product and design team was another concern. Their team felt that the direction they were working towards was too simple, while the other direction would be too complex. This may have influenced the product’s interface.

On the other hand, I suggested drawing out the features of the product that would help to communicate the product vision with other team members. In tune with that, I felt that there was a need to fill in the gaps. There were spaces where we could see that we needed something that we are describing. As a result, we enumerated all these features where we would need them, and we designed a mock-up of what the product would look like for each of the problems in each of the solutions.

Besides, the other measure that I took was to decouple what was the product implementation from how the product is implemented under the covers. This was important because, one way or the other, I could have implemented it in a way, which was only going to support the simple direction. Nonetheless, I could have also implemented the direction that would support both the simple direction and the powerful direction. In either case, we could block the full power of the UI.

Once we completed these two steps and listed out all the places, we could leverage the different types of functionalities and draw out all the mock-ups. It helped people visualize that the two solutions were not very different when it comes to how a new user would perceive it, and at the same time, it was evident that we needed powerful features. Simultaneously, the simple solution would not have solved every problem that our customers were facing.

Lessons Learned

  • It is super important to step away from the generalities and talk about the specific solution. In tune, it is also essential to understand the differences and similarities between the solutions.
  • When there is a contentious discussion among the different groups, it is constructive to break the discussion down into smaller groups. Potentially, one-on-one meetings are a winner.
  • When there is a conflict of interest, always ask questions and talk about the situation that leads to a solution everyone approves of.

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