Engineering Management: Shift Left on Problem Detection

A software project and managing the engineers is a complex endeavor. You have a group of engineers, designers and managers. All with different backgrounds, talents and experience and together they want to achieve a common goal.

In software most of the time the members of the project team and also the client do not fully understand what the exact goal is. There are a lot of unknowns to manage. Its the job of the engineering management to bring all those people together to

  • first learn what their common goal is and
  • how they come from where we are now to this goal.
  • Sometimes during the project the goal changes and the engineering manager need to steer the project team into another direction. Sometimes the goal seams like a ever moving target.

    Engineering Managers: Shift Left on Problem Detection
    Engineering Managers: Shift Left on Problem Detection (Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash)

    How does an engineering manager handle all those tasks? The first thing to not forget is that the engineers are grown ups and know what they are doing. So micro managing is not necessary. The job of the engineering manager is to create an environment that these engineers can shine in. Move problems out of the way and make sure all members of the team know the goal. The whole team not only needs to know what the goal is, but also where the team is right now.

    The team can find out where they are right now through feedback. Feedback from the users, the clients, the product owners, designers and other stakeholder.

    It is vital for a good engineering team to have strong and fast feedback loops in place, so they can always assess where they currently are and if the direction they are moving is bringing them closer to the goal. (This is especially important when managing a remote team)

    The longer those feedback loops are, the longer the team can move in the wrong direction, away from the goal, without even knowing.

    During the duration of a software project a heap of problems can pop up. One of the truths in software development is, finding problems earlier usually reduces costs. It saves money and time. Time the team is not moving in the wrong direction.

    Costs of defects increase exponentially on the right. Shift Left!
    Costs of defects increase exponentially on the right. Shift Left!

    Consider the timeline of a development workflow from left to right. Going through all stages of the software development process from concept, design, through development, testing and review to deployment to staging, canary and eventually shipping to production.

    Shifting problem detection to the left on this timeline makes it cheaper to fix then waiting longer. It also lets the team make a correction of course earlier.

    Linting, static code analysis, Automated test, continuous integration and to some extent continuous delivery all help shifting left. You definitely should implement all those tools in your software team. (In the spirit of continuous improvement you can implement all those tools and technices step by step)

    At WunderPreview we built a tool that lets you have a running preview environment for all your code changes automatically. No matter what technology, so it can be used on big grown software projects. It is the missing feedback loop that lets us have a running preview environment for new features as early as possible. We call this continuous previews.

    This way our non technical staff, the project owners, beta testers and even customers can review our new features as early as possible. Shifting problem detection left on the timeline above.

    To know earlier during a project where we are and if we are moving into the right direction really helps our engineers.

    So as an engineering manager do everything you can so your engineers can do great work. Move obstacles out of the way. Implement fast and stable feedback loops to shift left on problem detection.

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