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Managing a team of engineers who are not technically aligned

Team reaction
Deadlines
Dev Processes
Productivity
Convincing
Coaching / Training / Mentorship

6 December, 2017

Michael had to enforce a technical decision when only half of his engineers were convinced.

Problem

When I started at Kabam as an engineering manager, I inherited a team which were not reliably shipping quality software. I collaborated with another engineering manager and his team to ship features for the same project. While the engineering manager and I fully believed in the benefits of test-driven development, my team was very reluctant about this approach. Because of these discrepancies, the development process was an operational nightmare.

Actions taken

We decided to pause product development and rebuild the application using Business Driven Development. We changed the technology stack from PHP to Ruby on Rails changed the process we used to release software. In a way, we imposed this decision on my team, which is not usually my preferred management style. The difficult part of this transition was getting my engineers to contribute in a constructive manner to this method, even though they didn't believe in it. We used a prototype, developed by one of the other manager's engineers, to prove to the rest of the team that it was more efficient to use the test-driven method. Making this significant change caused us to ship very few new features for 3 months, but allowed us to ship our software much more reliably and faster after change. We no longer had weekly releases rolled back frequently, but moved to a process of shipping when features were ready, often multiple times per week.

Lessons learned

Working with people who are not aligned technically is very uncomfortable, and as a manager, you sometimes have to make hard decisions to make your project move forwards. Sometimes it is better to be criticized but to lead your team to success than to be loved but to lead your team nowhere. In these types of cases, I would suggest spending time with reluctant team members, to explain the reasons for your decisions as transparently as possible. If they are still not convinced, you should pay attention and try to prevent them from becoming a toxic influence on other team members.


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