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5 engineering productivity lessons we learned during the pandemic

Bhanu Singh Senior Vice President, OpsRamp

The world became a different place post COVID-19, and how we work, communicate and collaborate has been redefined—possibly forever.

When “shelter in place” hit the entire world, we were not sure how we’d be able to execute our projects, customer commitments, and day-to-day operations. Our company has a distributed team across the U.S. and India for development and operations, and most of our engineers rarely worked from home. But in India, as sheltering in place orders took hold, some staff even left their homes to be with extended families and parents, working from there during the lockdown.

In first-ever crises like the pandemic, leadership teams have to rethink everything to ensure the safety of employees while keeping them engaged, motivated and performing during highly disruptive and stressful times. 

Here are five strategies and tactics that we are using to help our teams focus and execute during the pandemic.

1. Embrace the change

It was important for our leadership team to be intentional and systematic in accepting the change. We established proper guidelines, tools and processes to transition quickly to a work-from-home environment. Selecting the same tools for everyone established consistent, exclusive communications to help mitigate isolation. Some employees needed extra guidance in setting the workplace, schedule and, systems to work effectively.

2. Listen to your employees

Employee health and safety was our top priority when the lockdowns began, and we started by actively listening to employees. Many needed to discuss the latest news on the pandemic or express concerns about loved ones who had contracted the virus. We created different levels of informal and formal check-in sessions in the early days of “shelter in place” to discuss anything, from family challenges such as childcare and remote schooling as well as news and market updates. Having open conversations about shared stress during the onset of the pandemic proved valuable in creating mutual support that we all needed to carry on with our daily obligations at work and at home

3. Empower staff at every level

As we enter the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of us fully engaged in some form of “new normal,” we have focused on aligning producers and consumers of our deliverables to ensure they are fully engaged and understand the dependencies. This entails asking for individual accountability on deliverables and encouraging people to work on aspirational goals. 

We were already practicing objectives and key results (OKRs), but COVID-19 made it clear we needed to push harder on further refining those and helping individuals prioritize and rationalize their goals as they progress. Goal setting through OKRs has been super helpful in bringing our remote employees together on the same page with shared initiatives and missions. 

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Frequent communications and collaboration across teams was given priority. This allowed managers to ensure a clear line of sight into deliverables, priorities, trade-offs, logistical challenges and dependencies. Our overarching goal was to keep people productive and avoid unnecessary project delays.  While it was important to over communicate across teams in the early stages of the pandemic, eventually, installing the right processes, tools and objectives drove engagement.

5. Facilitate outcome-driven engagement, development and execution

We use key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure outcomes daily and weekly. An outcome could be as simple as the fortification of certain buggy areas of the product or security testing and fixing or automating defect resolution. Outcomes can also be future looking cool experiments that drive product ideas and generate compelling customer value.

But the key is to make sure the team understands what success looks like throughout the journey of driving the execution of the outcome to the finish line. A simple example could be to review all Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures  (CVEs) for open source libraries used in the product and ensure they are updated with latest security patches.

We were surprised and delighted to see employees taking matters into their own hands by doing more than we asked, especially in cases where they could bring their creativity to the table. Leaders sometimes undermine the power of an empowered team and the magic it brings to add measurable customer and business value.

Moving forward

The last few months have been taxing on everyone in our organization. We do not know what things will look like in six or 12 months, but we’ve been given an opportunity to learn invaluable lessons about leadership, management and team culture. 

Moving forward, individual empowerment with outcome-based objectives will be our new recipe for software engineering success. We’ve seen firsthand how human creativity gets a boost when employees are motivated to share their stories, display their ideas no matter how rough they are, and work together toward clear goals and a common shared vision.

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