Don’t Give Me the History

One of the challenges in an engineering organization is figuring out how to structure the organization to deliver the product you are trying to build. I talked a bit about this in Breaking Conway’s Law.

Two of the key aspects of this are primary responsibilities of management: identifying your internal leaders and managers and allocating resources across the structure you create.

When talking with a leader about their structure, a red flag is hearing about “the history” — how the team is structured the way it is because of how separate groups came together or how there were two peer engineers and you didn’t want to have one report to their old peer. And then ultimately you have this odd misshapen organization.

This ends up sounding like you’re abdicating responsibility and throwing away one of the key tools you and only you have to ensure the team is working effectively.

The sad thing about all the compromises you’ve made to “keep people happy” is that it doesn’t actually work. The rest of the team can clearly see the compromises you’ve made and they directly experience the inefficiency on a daily basis. It’s harder to establish trust for the other hard decisions you have to make if you throw that trust away right at the start. The teams with the best morale are those who are set up to work effectively and trust that their leaders will be willing to make hard decisions — and it starts or stumbles with those key decisions you make as you set up the team.

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