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How to Be an Effective Manager During a Crisis

Collaboration
Prioritization
New Manager

6 October, 2021

Harsha Shekar
Harsha Shekar

Engineering Manager at Atlassian

Harsha Shekar, Engineering Manager at Atlassian Corporation Plc, shares how he picked up from a place with no turning back.

Problem

During one of the billing reports' releases, some of the costs were not being added right. There was a loss of around XX$ for the company but was identified only after a month by the finance team. They escalated the matter pretty quickly since it was a considerable loss. At that point in time, I was a bit bewildered by the whole situation, and the biggest mistake that I made was not communicating the matter with my senior management on time. I should have expressed the root cause and our next steps to the higher management, but instead, I only tried to solve the problem with the people in my team.

Actions taken

Immediately after we figured it out, I sat with the team to identify what the problem was. Together we had to understand which program did not run well to fill in the course. We came about finding out that there were some checks around and putting down the details on prioritizing the tasks that needed to be done.

By the time we started backfilling the costs of fixing the problem, a week had elapsed by this time. The management was not even aware of the following steps that we were going to be undertaking. That was when I saw panic around me because the management was not even aware of what was going on. I realized the mistake, but a week later, which is unacceptable.

While mistakes do happen, setting up a clear short-term plan was all that I did. Establishing certain kinds of validation, monitoring, and alerting for the next time to be notified straight away was the initial step. Apart from that, there were also some manual actions being taken to backfill the issues.

At a later point in time, it could be another kind of automated alert that could trigger by itself. So, we set up the monitoring of the stats to understand the costs we were incurring on a daily basis. Doing so, we figured out that if there was any discrepancy even in a day, we were instantly aware of it.

These were some of the basic steps, but digging deeper, I set up daily standups with the team, where we started discussing some of the other aspects. When it came to the higher management, I set up a weekly call with them to provide an update on the operations. I would talk to them about what we were doing that specific week and discuss the agenda for the subsequent week. Setting up a bi-weekly call with the VP of engineering also became a part of the routine.

Consequently, we laid out a 3-month plan of our plans for the next to ensure that history did not repeat itself. We followed the process through a lot of restructuring and rearchitecting specific jobs only to clear out some tech debt. Needless to mention that we realized everyone needed to be updated accordingly.

Of course, it was pretty challenging to send out updates on a daily basis because of the pressure from all around. We knew our priorities, and we would pass on the information to the relevant teams to communicate further. This went on for 2 weeks straight since the crisis, but sooner or later, I changed the email updates to every 2-3 days.

Lessons learned

  • Your managers do understand the fact that you can screw up, but how you communicate the matter to them and when is all that matters to them. Keep them in the loop, and you can go your own way.
  • Managing down is always the easier path while managing up might be a nightmare. Communicate effectively to put things across in terms of managing a budget. Keep in mind that you cannot talk about a lot of technicalities to your managers. Explain the items from a business perspective, or more like a holistic view.

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