Developing a Strategy: Abstracting Up Vs. Adding
20 April, 2021
Vice President of Engineering at Commure
It doesn’t take much to know what is happening on the team when one is managing a smaller group of people. If they directly manage a team of six to ten people and have a handful of projects, keeping everything in one’s head is doable. However, the moment they start managing a larger organization with ten or twenty projects, they will start losing sight of why a specific project is being done or what is the actual impact of that project.
When my responsibilities increased, I found it exceedingly difficult to keep all the details about every single project in my head. Furthermore, without close supervision, I was unable to track if and how all small projects I was responsible for were adding to the organization. If I chose to streamline my focus on one project to understand better how that project impacted our goals, I would lose track of other projects. Indefinitely adding projects made it impossible to understand how they were all tied together to a larger picture.
If all those projects happening across the organization were not leading to a set of predefined objectives, one would constantly feel they need to know all the details because those projects were not connected to some set of objectives. Also, it would be hard to predict the final impact on the organization because every project would be narrowly defined in scope and disconnected from its long-term perspective. That being said, many fragmented projects would hardly bring any value to the organization but would require extensive effort.
Therefore, as projects had been added to my plate, I had to change my approach to planning. I shifted from “Let my teams do their planning and come up with their projects” to “Let us give them strategic direction and a sense of how their work relates to the main objectives.” I would define three to five key objectives and make sure that whatever my teams were doing led to those objectives.
That allowed me to measure performance based on the outcomes we wanted to achieve and which directly translated the impact as opposed to measuring deliverables for specific projects. Also, it made it easier to track what the organization was doing and proactively respond to challenges rather than always being in the weeds.
Coming up with a comprehensive strategy also affected the team’s motivation. People on the team felt that their work added something that was meaningful across the organization other than working on their small projects that were disconnected and unrelatable to a broader picture. They were often frustrated in the past because they felt they could not add value back to the organization.
- There is a finite number of things I can focus on and keep track of, and when it goes beyond a certain number, I can’t be productive and contribute as much as I would like. That number should be contained and can’t keep growing as an organization grows.
- When you are managing a team, you have three to five projects; when managing managers, that goes up to 20. But regardless of how large the number is, all projects should always be subsumed under three to five key objectives that I can be able to keep in my head at all times.
- Key objectives need to be socialized across the organization so that everyone at any level of the organization knows what those three to five key objectives are and how they relate to their work. Three to five is a number that works for me, but it could be any other number that works for someone else.
- Instead of horizontally adding things, at some point, you will need to abstract things up so that everything could be contained in a meaningful and digestible way.
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