Photo Credit: Radarsmum67 on Flickr

I engage with a lot of engineering teams (and leaders) that are stuck. They know full well they need to do something to enable thier product, service or business team – but they can’t get started.

In almost every case I find a culture of resistance – which can be best summarized as:



I don’t think we can execute that – I mean, we’ve never done it before and have no idea how to do it.


I sympathize – I really do – but only signing up to execute what the team already knows how to do is accepting defeat. Yes, I understand, you’ve never used a document database; nope – you’ve never used a horizontally scalable messaging infrastructure; true, you don’t have any experts in WebRTC; yes, I get that you don’t even know what technology to think about to solve this problem.

My prescription in these cases is simple:

  1. Figure out the smallest valuable thing you can implement – and implement it.
    • If you can’t decompose the feature/problem find someone who can help you do it – they all decompose.
  2. The people you have are smart – assume they will figure it out. Your confidence in them generates their confidence in themselves.
    • If they can’t you have to up-skill your team! Get outside help in the interim.
  3. Be relentlessly unafraid to fail!
    • First, you will even if you are afraid – unless, of course, you just stay stuck and do nothing. Second, failure is an outcome – and outcomes are good – we can learn from all of them.
  4. Go back to #1 and repeat.

Two more quick points:

  1. You don’t have to be formal leader (engineering manager) to do any of the 4 above. However, if you are and you don’t support these activities your team will stay stuck.
  2. Be 100% transparent with your stakeholders (product manager, business partner, engineering leadership, etc) about where you are on your journey from stuck to “we got this”.

The consistent application of this prescription – in my experience – leads to teams that rarely get stuck. More importantly you have created the foundation any engineering team needs to become high functioning and deliver consistently for the business.

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