Understanding your company’s business strategy will help you battle analysis paralysis to find the right projects for your org.
As a staff+ engineer, you often have the freedom and responsibility to choose between multiple projects. This freedom can lead to analysis paralysis, being unable to make a decision due to overthinking. You are free to work on the “best” project as soon as you can figure out how to decide on what best means. As a staff+ engineer, you should understand the impact of the technical aspects as well as bigger picture concerns like how technical elements will affect the system and teammates. These are all important, but one facet holds more weight than others: how well a project aligns and impacts your company’s business strategy.
Learning about your company’s business strategy
When you have more than one option to pursue as an engineer, it can be difficult to gauge which action is the highest priority. But, knowing your company’s business strategy offers a new lens to look at the problem, opens new avenues for discussion, and might even change your sense of urgency.
Start by familiarizing yourself with your business’ current strategy. Recordings of recent town halls, quarterly reviews, and other all-hands meetings are a great place to start. There should be documents on your intranet and even 10-Ks for public companies. Strategy docs should be easy to find in the company database; ask around.
Once you understand the company’s high-level strategy, it is also a great idea to find the technology group’s vision documents. The CTO and VP(s) write these to lay out how your part of the organization intends to further the company’s larger goal. Searching out, reading, and asking questions about these documents is also a great way to have alignment discussions with your leadership. Your CTO and VPs will welcome your questions because it shows that you are listening to them and helping to bring alignment. You are investing in their vision and helping to translate to the other developers. This is an opportunity to get the strategy and vision in front of ICs, outside of top-down management.
The documents and videos will point to one of three main types of strategies: a business strategy, cost strategy, or differentiated strategy.
- The business strategy is about superior operations and execution; you want to gain and retain customers by offering better service than your competitors.
- The cost strategy is about being more efficient and having better margins; your company is appealing to customers’ bottom line.
- The differentiated strategy is about being unique; no one else has your products and services.
The strategies are often blended; instead of a pure business or cost strategy, a company will seek to pursue the best customer experience at a mid-market price. For a business strategy, the CTO’s vision will lay out which parts of the customer experience technology should work on. Your goal is an in-depth understanding of how your company and your leaders intend to attract and retain customers. This is key to deciding between multiple projects.
How to use business strategy as a guide for prioritizing projects
Look at the list of projects on your plate with a fresh perspective on company goals. You’ve already determined that these projects are valuable; that’s the source of your paralysis. The first step to breaking down this paralysis is to write down how each project aligns with your company’s strategy. Through writing a summary of your understanding, you may see alternate ways of achieving the same goal – include this in your written down outline.
There may be projects that don’t seem to align at all. For example, if your company is pursuing unique features in a differentiated strategy, cost-cutting projects could drop off the priority list entirely. Make a note to translate this information to stakeholders later.
Communicating with stakeholders to consolidate
Once you’ve put together your compendium of project summarizations, send them to the project stakeholders to see if your understanding is correct. Start the conversation with an email looking to confirm your understanding and get more details:
“Hi [stakeholders], I was thinking about project X and how it aligns with our company’s strategy of Y. We’re hoping that this project will achieve Z. Do I have the alignment correct? Are there more goals I should be aware of?”
Opening up these conversations with your stakeholders can lead to more transparent communication and increased efficiency. Stakeholders can point out areas where goals have been misunderstood and discuss the results they are after instead. This can elevate the discussion from the work you’ve been asked to do to the results they want the project to achieve. Often, you will see ways to pivot projects to be more impactful for less work. Increasing impact while reducing work is the ultimate staff+ superpower – embrace the opportunity!
Alternatively, if, during the summarization stage, you didn’t see any alignment between the project and the company goal, reach out to the stakeholder for confirmation.
“Hi [stakeholders], I was thinking about project X and how it aligns with our company’s strategy of Y. We’re hoping that this project will achieve Z, but that doesn’t seem to be in alignment with our goals. Have I missed the bigger picture?”
Sometimes it will turn out that certain projects indeed don’t align. They may have matched previous strategies, but they don’t make sense at this time. If you and the stakeholder come to an agreement that a certain project does not align with wider company goals, it may come to canceling the initiative altogether. However, more often than not, staff+ engineers can focus their efforts elsewhere instead.
The outcome of using business strategy to overcome analysis paralysis
Analysis paralysis sneaks in when you see merit in many competing projects. Learning your company’s business strategy helps you step back from consideration of merits and evaluate whether the project’s goals are a good fit at this time. Strategy discussions give you and your stakeholders a shared point of reference that transcends departments.
Through this process, you’ll be able to build stronger relationships with stakeholders and increase your visibility. It will also show them that you care enough about their goals to go the extra mile to ensure they’re attained. And, it will highlight you as a partner to the project’s success.