James Stanier has some tools and techniques to better communicate the goings-on of your team to the wider business, and boost collaboration in the process.
However good your team is, or how quickly they deliver, it can be challenging to ensure the rest of the business knows what they’re working on. This is especially true for remote teams, where a lack of visibility can quickly lead to a lack of trust.
Here are some tools and techniques you can use to ensure your team’s voice is heard and their work is visible, with the added bonus of helping them collaborate better.
Why should you communicate?
Even if your team is killing it, you have a responsibility to ensure that everyone else knows that too!
The problem that many engineering managers face is that investing the additional time and effort to communicate what their team is working on can feel like yet another responsibility on top of an already busy schedule.
However, communicating what you are doing is a keystone of your job when running a team. And this isn’t just to tick boxes. Good communication ensures that:
- The great work that you’re doing is recognized.
- Your team is working on the right things.
- Your team is unmistakably aligned with other teams and the rest of the business.
- Issues, blockers, and dependencies are surfaced early and dealt with quickly.
But you’re stretched enough with your team meetings, 1:1s, and other interruptions, so broadcasting communication easily gets pushed to the bottom of the list. So the question is: where do you find the time?
The answer: you shouldn’t have to make separate time. Instead, you should make that communication part of the culture of your team and the work that you are already doing. That way, the communication is a side-effect rather than a separate task. And, what’s more, much of it can be delegated in order to free up your time and create progression opportunities for your staff.
Tools and techniques
Below is a selection of tools and techniques that you can use to ensure that your team is radiating information outwards as a side-effect of their work. As the person running the team, you will likely need to lead by example to instill these practices. However, with time, you’ll find that your team will start to produce these outputs as a matter of course.
1. Recorded demo sessions
One of the easiest ways to share your team’s work with the rest of the business is to record your demo sessions. If you’re not doing them already, then a regular demo session cadence, such as the end of every sprint or iteration, is a great way to help drive up accountability and information sharing within your team.
In each demo session, start by stating the goal of the previous iteration which the team has been working toward since; this sets the context of what they’re spending their time on. Then, have everyone share their screen and demo the functionality they’ve been developing, even if it’s not quite finished yet. Invite questions, feedback, and praise from the rest of the team, and then move on to the next person. Knowing that a demo session is coming up does wonders for focusing the team on delivering something that they can show.
With the recording at hand, spend a few minutes making notes of where the timestamps are for each person’s demo and what they are presenting. Then you can share the recording with the rest of the business, along with your notes, inviting any commentary.
2. Metrics dashboards
In addition to sharing the features and functionality that you are producing, it’s a good idea to surface the effect that the work has. This is where metrics dashboards come in. If you are able to instrument your code to track the success of the features that you are building, then you can produce a dashboard that shows the success of your team’s work.
For example, if you are working on making the checkout process faster, then you can instrument your code to track the time taken to complete it. You can then produce a dashboard that displays this data in informative and actionable ways, such as averages over time, percentiles, worst offenders, and so on. You can then tie the work that you are demoing back to the metrics that you are tracking, thus making the connection clear between what you’re doing and the effect on the business.
Investing the time to track and display the key metrics that are important to your team also focuses discussion internally and helps resolve any conflict around prioritization and direction. If the numbers aren’t getting better, then you know that you need to change something.
Make sure that you include the link to your metrics dashboard in all of your communications, and refer to it in your demo sessions.
3. Quarterly business reviews
In addition to the regular cadence of demo sessions, it’s worthwhile to have regular lookbacks at a higher level. A model that you can follow is the quarterly business review (QBR), where you look back at the previous quarter and look forward to the next. Although this is additional work, both you and your team will find it valuable to step back and look at the bigger picture from a business perspective: after all, it’s so easy to get lost in the weeds of the day-to-day.
You should put your QBRs in the calendar at a regular time at the end of each quarter so that you and the team have plenty of time to prepare. The QBR should be a collaborative effort, with everyone on the team contributing to the content. You should also invite your stakeholders and your senior managers to the QBR
The QBR should be a presentation that covers the following:
- The key metrics that your team is responsible for.
- The progress that you’ve made against those metrics in the quarter that has just passed.
- The reasons that the metrics have changed, and the work that you’ve done to improve them.
- Updates on any major projects or initiatives that aren’t covered by the metrics (e.g., infrastructure work).
- Any issues or challenges that you are facing.
- What your plan is for the next quarter.
Like the demo sessions, you should record the QBR and share it with the rest of the business, along with the slides and the link to your metrics dashboard.
Although QBRs may be daunting at first, like the demo sessions, they are a powerful forcing function to ensure that you and your team are focused on the things that really matter for the business. They also help to build trust with your stakeholders and senior managers and give them the opportunity to nudge you in different directions and escalate any issues that you have.
Over to you
Give yourself a challenge this coming week: pick one of the tools or techniques above and discuss it with your team so you can try it out. You’ll find that not only will it help you communicate what your team is working on, but it will also focus your team on what really matters. Not bad for a little extra effort!