Deliver Engineering Projects Early by Supporting Your Overwhelmed Engineers.
Sara, a test engineer, is very good at her job. Her communication skills and track record of execution made it an easy decision to make her a lead for the testing of a complex new feature. As lead she is expected to determine a testing strategy, identify any required tools/hooks, socialize her strategy, and work to get commitments for her requirements. Testing requirements become exponentially more challenging to fill as releases approach key milestones so I need my leads to get ahead of the curve and surface anything controversial or expensive early.
You’re “spinning” when you’re so overwhelmed by a problem that you unconsciously avoid focusing on it in favor of interrupt driven work. In Sara’s case she is responding to requests for assistance, attending meetings, and answering emails but she isn’t spending enough focused time planning for her feature.
I’m a fan of lightweight written status updates. These are best when written and used as a input to a periodic status meeting. When done consistently, I find that symptoms of spinning are fairly easy to spot when. Symptoms include…
- Meetings are treated as progress.
- Bad: I met with Joe and we discussed performance requirements and what tools we will need.
- Good: Joe and I have finalized the the performance requirements and we now a stack ranked list of the tools and hooks required for testing.
- Tasks underway are too vague.
- Bad: We made progress on the test strategy.
- Good: The functional test strategy draft is complete and we will review it on Tuesday with Joe and his team.
- Tasks are announced as completed more than once and expected completion dates keep getting delayed.
Sara needs help, but I want to help in a way that helps her build the confidence and skills to address this herself in the future. So I set up a 1:1 and meet with her directly to discuss the project. During our conversation I learn that she’s been spending much of her time dealing with issues with a previous release and the tools team has been unresponsive to her requests and she’s been hesitant to escalate the issue.
I talk to her about what I’m seeing in her statuses and she admits she’s struggling with the project. We figure out how to get her workload reduced and give her advice on how to “escalate with kindness” in regards to the tools team. We talk about how she can spot this problem earlier and ask for help. Most importantly, I schedule several follow up syncs to make sure she’s successful.
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