Safety In Silos
What you if you “rewarded” cross-functional product development teams when they delivered validated outcomes for customers (vs. rewarding them for feature velocity)?
Oh there are a lot of reasons not to….
- Oh goodness, how can you measure that?
- By the time we can measure that, the team will have moved on to something else!
- Who will be responsible for measuring? Will they game the numbers?
- We do our part… focusing on velocity and quality!
- That’s not the current criteria we use for someone to move up from junior to senior in engineering.
- All of that is validated before we even start coding.
- People in our team report to three different departments. How would that work?
- What if engineering moves too slowly? Who takes responsibility?
- But there’s so much technical debt. We’ve got our hands tied. I’m not sure we can create outcomes. Just shipping is hard.
- It is really about the optics. Our investors are looking at our output!
- We are just trying to add bullet points to the feature list. That is what will make us competitive.
- By the time the work reaches us, it is already pretty prescriptive. We control the technical solution (the “how”), but don’t really have a say in the “what”.
- The outcome is already decided! The customer agreed to buy if we built this. So our only job is to build it quickly.
- The comp structure is already fucked as it is. Do you mean bonuses?
- Oh then we’d take on all kinds of technical debt because the incentives would be out of whack.
- I can see product being measured like this. But why engineers?
When you read these answers, do any themes stand out? And did you assume that by “rewarded” I meant a financial reward vs. what the org celebrates and tells stories about?
The reality is that the biggest force keeping us locked into the feature factory is structure and local optimization. It is hard… not because the tools and practices are particularly hard, but because we structure our organizations around trust proxies, hand-offs, and mini-kingdoms.
Engineering is asked to be “responsive” and to “build it right”. Which then pushes the burden to UX and Product to define the “it” beforehand. Which then incentivizes them to stake their incentives on “predictability” and “shipping the roadmap”. “Do your part”… and everything will be OK.
So. When decrying the feature factory, make sure you look deeply at how your own department might be structured. What are the incentives? In my experience, the front-liners care about impact and outcomes. But something along the way divides up that sense of responsibility.