Process Improvement

Dev Processes
Team processes
Meetings

12 March, 2020

Tim Barnes

Tim Barnes

Senior Engineering Manager at Instacart

Tim Barnes, Senior Engineering Manager at Instacart, describes how having flexibility and iteration when dealing with processes can lead to improvements across the board.

Problem

When transitioning to a new company or leading a new team, it may seem natural to transplant the processes that have worked for you in the past. However, I believe it’s helpful to consider alternatives, and to question whether the current process of your new team is the right one. It’s easy to get set in your ways, but iterating and evolving processes often lead to improvements across the board.
 

Actions taken

There are a number of ways to improve processes. Here are two that have worked for me.
 

  1. Take a pulse check on meetings -- Look around the room for signals as to how attendees are perceiving the meeting. Do they appear engaged or distant? Were they interested in the first half but not the second? Were there actionable takeaways from the meeting? Beyond trying to read signals, it’s important to gather honest feedback from the team. Ask attendees for their opinion on the meeting length and agenda. Was it relevant to their work, and do they believe it was a good use of time? This valuable information can help you adjust meetings accordingly.
     

  2. Evolve your processes as the company evolves -- Take time to evaluate the balance between the growth of the company and your team. Do the responsibilities and workload of your team feel proportionate to the team size and dynamic? If not, then you need to alter your processes. For example, one team I managed began supporting one-week sprints, in order to balance several projects of high importance from different stakeholders. This allowed us to give structure to the team’s process, while maintaining some flexibility and accommodating time-sensitive requests.
     

When implementing changes, I share my thoughts with the team to gather their feedback. I want to make sure that the team believes in what we are doing. It’s important to be transparent, and to communicate that process changes may not be perfect, but they will hopefully bring improvements. Being honest with team members also will result in less push back when asking for feedback.
 

Lessons learned

  • I think people look to their project management tool (Jira, Trello, Asana) as being a process, and this is wrong. A tool is a tool. You can use a tool in any way you see fit, but you need to do what is going to work for the team.
  • Process improvement is less about day-to-day tasks and more about communication. Whether you’re working with a team of five or five hundred, communication is essential. A breakdown of communication is a difficult problem for any business to overcome. Take time to build out a communication plan/structure for your team. Otherwise, you may need to throw out the process playbook and start again.
  • Improving your team’s process rarely receives pushback from leadership, because it’s how your company will successfully scale. Adding more people to a team with an inefficient process adds fuel to the fire. Turning that around will save the company time and money, and will also get your product to market faster. Overall, it’ll be a win across the board.

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