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How to Deal with Organizational Adversity

Alignment
Feelings Aside
Leadership
Conflict Solving
Internal Communication
Fairness
Ethics
Toxic Atmospheres

7 January, 2022

Nikita Ostrovsky
Nikita Ostrovsky

Head of Infrastructure and Site Reliability at Patreon

Nikita Ostrovsky, Sr. Manager. Site Reliability Engineering at Peloton Interactive explains how he overcame confrontation with leadership over an organizational vision, respectfully communicating with customers and engineers.

Disagreement Between Leadership and Teams

A few times in my career, I've had an architectural vision of what I wanted to build that doesn't align with my direct leadership. Whether they thought they had a better method or just disagreed with my system, it led to difficult conversations and tension. With a specific company, I joined the team with a narrow vision to cut funds on observability tools and provide a better and more observable environment. My goal was to move the company away from third-party platforms and find alternative options that were budget-friendly, all within 12 months.

Ensuring Your Vision is the Best Possible Avenue

Disagreement with Implementation:

Many layers of leadership above me, disagreed with my approach. My team and I had to push back against this tension because we knew that our recommended method was technically correct. We could have given in, and there still would have been improvements, but it would not have been the right decision architecturally. Also, genuinely listening to feedback from leadership was critical as well. It was very important to be sure that missing context on the team’s part was not leading to us making a mistake.

Having a Clear Vision:

In my situation, it was essential to have a technically correct vision. I ensured that all other options were considered and communicated with customers to make sure I was building what they wanted. The final aspect of communication was to output my vision to the industry to see if it was a model that had been successfully built before.

If I didn't have a strong vision, I learned that it was virtually impossible to defend my idea. Leadership would ask me questions and try and poke holes in my vision; without the technical background as well as customers and engineers on my side, it would be difficult to stick with the team’s recommended strategy.

Being Transparent:

I was as transparent as possible with my leadership and customers so that everyone had a clear vision of what was being built. At the end of the day, having ownership of the project, and if it was a failure, my name would be on it. I firmly but VERY respectfully explained to leadership that I was brought on to execute a vision, and I would continue in that pursuit.

Looking For Clear Examples:

To counteract some concerns about the vision, I looked for my customers' support. I knew that nobody in my organization could disagree with what the user wanted, so I began partnering directly with customers. I looked for larger clients and senior engineering leaders, as I knew these were the most valuable to my team. When customers were in alignment with my vision, I started a regular line of communication between us and offered to partner with them as much as possible. I routinely kept them updated with my concrete vision and any changes made to the plan as well as asked for their support in light of headwinds that would arise.

The Outcome:

In the end, we decreased our costs from $4M to under $500K. We had tremendous customer buy-in, and we executed the project within our timeframe. We resigned small extensions to our vendors for legacy customers.

Tips for Ensuring Less Confrontation

  • I recommend building small and generalized pieces before starting to build anything else. My team needed to build an event pipeline which would take around eight months of work. Instead, we partnered with a large customer to build a service where customers could send and review data. This took around two months and began providing value instantly; from there, we began to build on top of that. Customer buy-in is what allowed us to be successful, and building small impactful pieces first allowed us to execute on our vision.
  • Be prepared to defend the decisions that you make. For myself, whenever I create a design document, the first sentence explains the 'why.' When someone asks about this specific decision, I can point to a document that has a detailed description.
  • Always be respectful and humble. This strategy can easily be viewed as stubbornness. Patience and complete respect are paramount

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