Dealing with crises in an engineering team

Business Context

Understanding the nature of Crises

  1. Crisis of time or people
  2. Crisis of confidence

Crisis of time or people

I’ve often overheard many an engineering manager make one of these statements –

Crisis of confidence

If you were anywhere near me when I wrote this sentance, you’d hear me cracking my knuckles before I started typing. A crisis of confidence is not easy to deal with (neither is it easy to write about it apparently!). This is the the toughest challenge you will ever come across, either as an engineer or as an engineering manager. And that is putting it lightly.

Stuff of legend

FIFO

In peace make preperations for war

This quote rings true. Do not prepare to deal with a crisis when in the middle of the crisis. Enough planning and preperation should’ve gone into your team during times of peace that when your team sees a crisis, they’re not easily spooked. Spending time with your engineers to understand their personal situations and where they’re at in the overall map of their life goes a long way into deciding the chain of command during a crisis. Be cautious not to choose the same person to lead all the time. During a crisis designations shouldn’t matter. Do you, as an engineering manager still keep in touch with code? Jump in and help out the team! There is no bigger inspiration than seeing a general fighting amongst soldiers!

The myth of multi tasking

Incremental progress and digging your team out of the hole

I cannot stress enough how much showing incremental progress is important. Any task requires small steps to be completed before zooming out and seeing completion. Each small task that gets completed is a definite stride towards delivery. To be able to actually complete tasks, freeze requirements before your team picks up the task, and make sure you allocate more than enough time. Don’t forget to celebrate small wins to keep motivation up!

Summary

Crises often suffer from the Ebbinghaus illusion. They are perceived to be a bigger threat than they actually are. However, there are cases where the threat was never even perceived. Either way, calling a spade a spade should help you and your teams guage the dimensions of a crisis. I cannot emphasize the importance of preparing for a crisis before it actually hits. Crises tend to lose steam when faced with an unyielding team that sticks together. Engineers who help out other engineers get through their tasks and not get stuck in the solipsism of their work tend to boost team morale. Crises can be conquered. The challenges are daunting but riches and fair weather await you and your team if you can sail through.

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shashanka n

shashanka n

We shall soon colonize space as we have conquered every biome on earth. This blog is dedicated to the as the mind is the last remaining bastion of the unknown.