David Furlong

David Furlong

When other teams pay for your decisions

Things that can go wrong in teams when other teams pay for your decisions

Engineering breaks stuff or changes things nonchalantly because it's easier at the time, creating lots of work for support.

Sales overpromises, engineering pays in complexity, urgent deadlines, and a bloated product that needs maintenance.

Engineering is slow to fix something because they don't like the task, creating more work for support.

Engineering pushes hard against urgent deadlines because they're not fair and require overtime, although they have capacity. They are justified in their position but it isn't optimizing for the team. Account managers struggle to mend and maintain customer relationships.

These are all examples of what can happen when other teams pay for your decisions.

And all of these are mistakes I have made at some point in time.

It's hard to be effective as a company if teams are playing against each other instead of together. Teams can start playing against each other when they lack empathy to one another. This can happen when there are perceived power differences between teams "Engineers are worth more than custom support", or when people are stressed, under time pressure or working overtime. Animosity can grow when this stress isn't evenly distributed within the company. If customer support keeps having to work overtime but other team members don't, and customer support feels that it's due the engineering that they need to work overtime, it's easy for them to feel justified in blaming engineering for their woes.

How can we increase empathy across teams and avoid these pitfalls?

  • Hire for empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Communicate the why when it comes to work and tasks
  • Build better, stronger relationships between team members (culture)
  • Improve planning to avoid stressful, urgent work if possible
  • Align the team around shared metrics rather than individual metrics. "Engineering" performance metrics if any should account for any negative externalities engineering may produce on other teams or team performance. This can be really hard to do.
  • Make sure performance reviews and personal incentives aren't possibly misaligned with the team incentives