The first Engineering Strategy workshop edition is over!
Two half-days, extremely intense and rewarding 🙌
You need to meet enough crazy people to be early adopters of a first edition of something you do for first time. I’m so glad you all joined!
The past 29th and 30th of November, we did the first edition of Engineering Strategy Workshop remotely.
I prepared the workshop with two main intentions:
Learn a new model to understand strategy that goes beyond annual plans.
Helping people emphasize with each other and realize that they aren’t alone.
A new way to think about strategy
Who designs and execute an strategy cannot be split
We made an emphasis on the need of understand the design and execution of an strategy as a team effort that goes beyond the organizational chart.
An strategy can be made in collaboration of people that’s beyond their assigned team. That logical grouping of people can help the engineering strategy to have more odds of success due to:
Team members are part of the why we are doing this over that.
Leaders are part of the team members learnings (emergent strategy).
Learn more with this post
Deliberate strategy vs Emerging strategy
Deliberate strategy: Intentional and more formal, it assumes the future and defines that needs to be true.
Emergent strategy: The organization response to unanticipated events.
Based on A new way to think by Roger Martin, understanding strategy as a two types that support each other helps us to:
Create the necessary alignment and artifacts that deliberate strategy provides.
Allow the necessary adaptability and continuous learning as the less formal emergent strategy provides.
We need to ensure that we take advantage of formal and informal strategy approaches within each situation at hand. There is nothing that slows an organization more than applying deliberate strategy when emergent strategy worked better, and the opposite.
Strategy is not a plan
Strategy is a set of decisions, based on imperfect information, to overcome a high stake complex challenge.
A plan assumes that we have all the necessary information to predict the future. That’s simply a desire and a hope that we are in control. It is simply wrong. It seems like a waterfall thinking, isn’t it?
Instead, if we learn as we do, we can understand strategy as an adaptive process that improves over time. Like applying agile thinking into strategy. Crazy, isn’t it?
When we understand that deliberate strategy is enough to start but wrong, when we combine it with emergent strategy is when we become adaptive and continuously learning organization, and we can create a better strategy the more we learn and iterate it.
Instead of doing annual strategies, aim for shorter strategy feedback loops that will provide you more situational awareness and help you become better as an strategist thinker and doer.
You can check this video of Simon Wardley about Wardley Maps to know more.
I proposed the people to share how they company culture look like and do a reflection on the implications. Understanding your company culture will help you to know:
How the decisions are made.
How to influence them.
What do you need to do to have a seat in the table.
By ignoring your company culture, your odds of influencing decision making will dramatically decrease. By understanding it, you are one step ahead to impacting your organization engineering strategy.
We created a practice where we time boxed each component of the engineering strategy.
The team started focusing on understanding the reasons at architectural, problems, business view of what was going wrong.
I helped them into making questions focused more on the people than on the software or business needs.
Then it is when we have been able to understand the team dynamics and cultural implications. Thinks like Team Topologies and Kanban Maturity Model.
If we change the architecture without understanding the humans interactions, we will fail again.
After the hint of focusing on the people, the team were able to obtain a lot of more clues.
We brain stormed about what to do plus made a voting scenario so the team could see which direction appealed to them the most.
I were able to see some of the Team Topologies principles being applied (remove handovers) as well as good practices to help engineering team to focus on unplanned work.
Here, we saw how the tendency is to provide low level actions that don’t allow room for teams to participate. Plus, deciding things like merging teams that could create fear and uncertainty.
This is a common scenario that we, as leaders, need to make hard decisions. Yet, we often forget how to make those decisions while providing context and reducing uncertainty and chaos.
Learn how to introduce drastic changes is key for a strategy to succeed.
And sometimes, it is about creating an intermediate action that will help us reach the more drastic actions when needed.
Prepare the landscape for the actions.
After the practice
The practice was chaotic, missed information, not well coordinated. Yey! As it is when we do it in an organization!
We might thought of strategy as a well prepared people in a room with things clear, making informed decisions, and being sure of their strategy afterwards.
I have never being part of that activity. I am more familiar with the points the attendees shared:
I need to learn new things to understand this.
A lot of information.
But almost none of what I need.
Full of doubts.
Something that I loved is that people could relate with each other on those emotions and normalize that we are making it up as we do it. Not only us, but people in our organizations as well.
We need to support each other and understand that’s a job that’s unpleasant and the decisions we do won’t be perfect, they will have undesired consequences and the important part is to learn fast and improve over time.
Learnings as an attendee
The attendees shared:
Starting is the hardest part. Old habits persist.
If we are in a top-down organization, we will create an strategy that mimics that expectation unconsciously.
Culture impacts our decision making and how we can influence change.
The importance of not separating “thinkers and doers”.
Strategy is not a plan.
How DDD strategic pattern context-mapping can signal us that something is wrong in our organization design.
Even though we understand the importance of soft skills. When starting, we focus on the “hard” aspect of the organization, like architecture and product backlog, vs understanding the team maturity and company culture that might be causing the problems.
We reflected on how we proposed an strategy that didn’t open enough the conversation with the teams to make a collaborative effort instead of sensing it as top-down.
“Now I understand Wardley Mapping” - Attendee after the Wardley Map section.
Other people struggle as I am.
Learnings as a facilitator
2 half days of 4 hours in a row are quite intense. For the attendees and as myself as facilitator. I’m considering do 3 days of 3 hours instead.
It was enough clear that it was done in English until few days before starting the workshop.
There is enough Spanish speaking people interested that maybe opening Spanish Workshops and English workshops is a possibility.
The content is dense, and providing some learning material before the workshop could help attendees to participate more in conversations like Context Mapping from Domain-Driven Design.
The practice provides the extra value that people are looking for.
People that are in the “middle” (leads, managers, staff engineers, …) suffer to articulate strategy on top-down organizations.
The engineering strategy theory and components are well defined, how to use tools like Domain-Driven Design strategic patterns, Team Topologies, or Wardley Maps is harder to learn during the workshop but it provides enough mental framework to help people learn and apply those concepts by themselves.
Diversity is hard. I want to improve on this area for following editions.