September 25th, 2019
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In the IT world, reasons for underperformance and failure to meet expectations can be quite diverse. Of course, IT work often requires highly technical skill sets in high-demand, so finding and retaining excellent talent is the first challenge in creating a high performing team. This is especially true for software engineers, as the relationship between knowledge, competence, experience, and impact is extremely non-linear.
A perspective that we consider to be particularly critical is that IT work often happens within very complex, sometimes poorly maintained systems. With this in mind, consider these important actions for your software engineering team:
Wherever possible, results-oriented metrics along business-value chains should be established and owned directly by the implementing engineers or teams. Aside from being simply the one thing that matters to the business in the end, this also helps foster a results-driven perspective, promotes ownership of outcomes including in the long-term, and fosters involvement in the design process.
That being said, some IT work can be too far removed from the end of the value chain to be effectively captured by results-oriented metrics. Typical examples include:
Some tasks might be effectively measurable by more process-oriented metrics, such as how smooth and predictable IT operations can be performed. Issues in software architecture, or IT systems in general, often show their impact in delayed or unpredictable projects. Beyond this, soft-skills performance, albeit hard to measure objectively, should also be accounted for and not neglected.
At SimScale, qualities we look for that have proven to work well for us are simply:
Of course, assessing these qualities effectively and objectively is a universal challenge and requires effort, experience, and even a leap of faith in some cases. That said, we never look only at the individual or even team level to judge potential but take management and other contextual factors into account that can often either stifle or drive the growth of an individual or team. And sometimes, simply finding a sweet spot for someone’s skill set can be hugely rewarding for the team member, the team, and the entire business.
First and foremost, the situation should be evaluated to determine both the current and realistically expectable performance and the root causes of any shortfalls. Few things extinguish motivation as effectively as blindly pushing for “higher performance” without understanding how to achieve it. This is exacerbated when a software engineering team can clearly see the reasons for untapped potential in bad IT management, while their complaints go unheard; unfortunately, not a rare situation.
Management must show a clear commitment to listening, making the necessary changes, and following up on the outcome. This can mean anything from creating breathing room around project deadlines for team-driven improvements, to investing in working conditions or increasing headcount, or making other changes that may seem foreign to management members that are not as familiar with IT but will make all the difference to IT staff.
Moreover, older and more traditional companies still treat IT teams as more of a cost center than as their main source of innovation. Changing this perspective and showing authentic appreciation and interest goes a long way to increase motivation.
Listen to your teams and individual members, and be sure to take their concerns seriously. Make sure that there is mutual respect, trust, and ultimately, understanding. Lastly, take iterative steps towards clear goals, make outcomes transparent, and engage the team in this process to achieve high-level performance.
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