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The Importance Of Correct Problem-Framing

Internal Communication
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

19 July, 2018

Thomas Bartolucci
Thomas Bartolucci

Engineering Director at Squarespace

Thomas Bartolucci discusses the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned when they framed a project’s problem incorrectly.

Problem

Our engineering department began a project to reduce the load on one of our systems. However, the project ended up running for too long, and we pivoted in direction a number of times.

Actions taken

Looking back, the problem was that we had set our expectations incorrectly. The goal of the project was to reduce the load on one of our systems, but when we talked about it, we talked about the goal being beginning a service-oriented architecture. That messaging resulted in a lot of churn. We faced a lot of these sorts of technical challenges, including the fact that building a service inside of a system we were trying to reduce the load on increased latency. We went through all sorts of machinations. However, if we had started from the premise that we were trying to reduce load and then had looked to solve the problem in the best way possible, we would have been much more effective in reaching our goals. I took too much of a role in trying to control the messaging when the reality was that we had set the wrong goal. Alongside this, there were decision points where I gave the team too much leeway. I had set up a six-month review, and I was unconvinced they would accomplish their goal with the current strategy. However, they were so bought into the incorrect messages that they wanted to prove they could reach the goal. Unfortunately, I let this drag on for too long. I should have told them we needed to cut the cord and refocus on what the real goal of the project was.

Lessons learned

While we did eventually accomplish our goal, it took much longer than it would have if we had started from the correct premise. Don't allow projects to drag on. While you will always want to give your teams the benefit of the doubt, sometimes you have to go with your gut instincts. We could have probably saved three to four months if I had done the hard thing and said they needed to do things the way we finally did sooner. I gave them too many chances when the facts and data were clearly presented.

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