Lesson #6: Building Relationships Outside of Engineering
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Building Relationships Outside of Engineering
As an engineering leader your impact spans beyond just your immediate team(s). As you move up in an organization, cross-functional relationships become key to a happy and healthy company culture, and these strong relationships will result in your own team being able to work more seamlessly with others. When you’ve established trust with a team, there isn’t going to be a worry about how “that team” is going to react when you’re introducing a change.
Engineering touches every aspect of a company, from sales and marketing to product and design to support and customer success and so on. This is especially noticeable at smaller or mid-sized startups where a smaller team has a wider breadth. The more your work touches other parts of the company, the more important it is to strengthen these relationships.
I’ll be honest – to a degree you’re going to be dealing with politics here, but it’s not a bad thing. Politics are forever a part of life and can’t be avoided. (Don’t try to tell me there aren’t any politics in your group of friends.)
Here are a few things to consider as you build relationships with external stakeholders:
Acknowledge and protect your boundaries, but be open to change over time. For example, I often will get a request to prioritize a certain project or request. If my team is absolutely swamped with another high priority task, I’m perfectly okay with saying we can’t do something right now, but I’ll see when we can get it on the roadmap. Where I have to be open to change over time is as we all likely know, roadmaps and priorities can change like the weather (hopefully not that frequently, though). If you build a wall and never allow any change, you’re likely going to stymie innovation.
Involve external stakeholders early on in the planning process. You wouldn’t want to be shocked by a change without having a say in its implementation; give external stakeholders the same respect. Let’s say for example you’re implementing a process change of how support communicates with engineering on escalated P0 and P1 issues. You’re now impacting their workflow, and improper communication can impact the support team’s efficiency, ultimately seeing a decrease in customer satisfaction due to escalation issues taking a longer time to resolve. To prevent this, call a meeting with the support leader(s) to present a workable solution for both you and their team, including a rollout plan and date to check in on how the new process is working.
Regularly check in with your decision-making peers on other teams. You shouldn’t just be talking to them when you need something from them or when they need something from you! I try to meet at least monthly with external stakeholders - find out what they’re working on, share what my team is working on, and see if there’s anything I can do to help make their lives a little bit easier. (Refer back to your boundaries on this one, though - you don’t have to agree to make changes in these meetings if they are going to do more harm than good.)
What I’m reading
I had surgery last week (I’m okay!) so I’ve mostly been reading for leisure since pain meds = minimal thinking, but I’m just about done with Measure What Matters and it’s definitely going to be on my must-read list for everyone.
Check out the full book list for recommendations and an ever-growing reading list.
Note: Links to books in this section are affiliate links to help support the purchase of the rest of my books :)
What I’m working on
My life currently revolves around quarterly planning, crafting our fiscal year engineering vision, and building out our career matrix for all of our engineers. In other words, heavy brain days every day. I recently asked Twitter for some suggestions on company engineering blogs and got some really great answers.
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