Engineers make the world go ’round, for technical product companies.
In technical businesses, the management of technology can be complex. Creation of business models, mapping data and software systems to those models and then integrating them across platforms takes a team of dedicated and talented people to do successfully. It turns out that engineering itself tends to be pretty straightforward, with just 2 requirements for success:
1) Technology needs to be ‘Good Enough’.
2) Technology needs to be delivered ‘Fast Enough’.
Understanding these two imperatives is of great importance in technical delivery businesses because of the psychology at work within engineering teams. This comes down to “intrinsic motivational bias”, which is the innate goal setting that happens with all good employees. In technical teams, engineers are most often motivated by the desire to create innovative technical solutions, and to do so with elegance, precision, maintainability, and style. The best employees are not showing up just for money: It is in the pursuit of professional goals that engineers get up out of bed, get dressed and scoot in to the office every day (in addition to getting paycheck.) They are showing up because of the hope for achieving the intangible but critical ‘reward moments’ of delivering on their motivation.
The rub comes when engineers are seeking goals that are not in exactly line with the company’s needs. What happens when engineers want to build or rebuild a system that is already ‘Good Enough’? What happens if product development gets sidetracked by episodes of over-engineering?
In my experience, the best technical contributors are also the most likely to push for ‘more’ and ‘better’ in their work. From the engineering perspective, great engineers define success in terms of finding optimal and elegant solutions. This often means that the shape and style of the hidden internal structure of a product can compete with the company need to have a product that is good enough delivered to customers sooner rather than later. On many occasions I have had really sincere discussions from engineers about how months of good work should be dumped in favor of an alternative approach to doing the same thing. While it is important to respect these suggestions, it is also important to keep projects on track and to get buy-in on defining and seeking “Good Enough” and “Fast Enough”.
Beyond simply dealing with this subject as the need arises, this concept of identifying company goals is critical. Make sure your engineers understand the business rationale behind the product. Get your engineers out of the building and into sales meetings to see where the rubber meets the road on driving revenue. This provides a chance for technical contributors to frame their work not only from their own perspective, but also from the company perspective. The output of this kind of framing exercise should be a reduction in project scope and complexity away from “Perfect”, down to a scope that neatly meets company needs of a good product, with reliability, maintainability, and the shortest possible delivery time to soundly deliver on those goals.
This framing exercise is especially powerful when you ask your engineers to help determine what exactly “Good Enough” means. If your team is building a passenger airliner, “Good Enough” means “Perfect” and it will take as long as it takes. If your team is building a website or a software tool, “Good Enough” might mean a lot less than perfect. Good Enough is not settling – it is the recognition of where value comes from in a business – value comes from customers getting good product and getting it sooner rather than later. The pursuit of perfection is often the pursuit of goals other than making money and getting into the market – something that you should never let happen.
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