Boost Engineering Velocity: How to Get Unstuck and Ship Faster

· 4 min read
Boost Engineering Velocity: How to Get Unstuck and Ship Faster

In the fast-paced world of software development, engineering teams face immense pressure to deliver value quickly. However, bottlenecks like misalignment, lack of visibility, and constant context switching can grind productivity to a halt. Deadlines slip as workflows break down, morale plummets and stakeholders grow concerned.

As an engineering leader, maximizing the output and efficiency of your team is critical. When velocity stalls, how can you get development unstuck and sprint ahead at full speed?

The Engineering Slowdown

On gloomy Monday morning Nick arrives at the office. As an engineering manager, he noticed his team slowing down over the past few months. They seemed stuck, needing help responding quickly to stakeholders’ changing priorities.

Nick could see several issues plaguing his engineers. The junior developers depended heavily on Peter, the sole overwhelmed backend tech lead. There was minimal coordination between the frontend and backend teams, leading to misaligned work. Stakeholder requests frequently fell through the cracks and needed a transparent system for tracking them.

The engineers needed more visibility into each other’s tasks and how they tied back to key features and priorities. Nick realized he needed to regularly review the product roadmap and plans from the project managers and failed to do so.

Nick grabbed his second cup of coffee that morning and tried to shake off the foggy confusion over the team. He knew something had to change soon — he wasn’t yet sure what. How would they break out of this stalemate? He worried about the team’s morale declining and stakeholders getting more concerned with progress if these issues weren’t addressed.

Does the situation above sound familiar? It definitely does to me. Here’s how it could be instead.

The Optimized Team

The engineering team assembles on Monday morning for their weekly standup meeting. Carlos, a senior engineer, provides an update on the feature he’s been working on. He mentions how he paired with Sarah, a junior engineer, over the weekend to help her get up to speed on the new API implementation. Sarah chimes in, feeling confident about the work ahead, thanks to Carlos’ mentorship.

After the standup, tech leads Bob and Mike sync up to align priorities between the front and backend teams. They review the shared project board, which outlines work in progress across squads. With an up-to-date view, they can coordinate workstreams and identify dependencies.

Later that day, the product manager receives a customer feature request. She enters it into the system, documenting all the relevant details. This triggers a notification to engineering, where it’s triaged according to the pre-defined SLA. Based on priority, it will be discussed during the next grooming session.

In that grooming session, the team breaks down upcoming features into granular tasks that can be assigned. Each task is tied back to a specific roadmap item, helping keep work focused on the bigger picture.

There’s a call scheduled later that week to showcase recent work to stakeholders. The team can demonstrate an incremental iteration that factors in feedback from the last session. This continued dialogue enables them to adjust course quickly based on evolving needs.

With this level of collaboration and communication, the team is aligned, empowered, and able to build features that deliver maximum value.

Tactics to Accelerate Delivery

Engineering teams often face bottlenecks that hinder velocity. Deadlines slip as workflows break down and productivity stalls. How can you optimize your team’s process to increase focus and ship faster? Here are a few tactics to unblock developers, accelerate delivery, and get closer to optimized team above:

Onboard Senior Engineers to Mentor Juniors

Junior developers often need help with problems outside of their experience. By pairing them with senior engineers, junior engineers get the technical guidance they need to progress. This mentoring unblocks from days-long snarls and aids with the transfer of expertise.

Schedule 1:1s to understand your senior engineers’ capacity to mentor. Leveraging their hard-won knowledge amplifies what juniors can accomplish.

Implement Frontend/Backend Syncs to Improve Alignment

Unexpected integration issues between frontend and backend systems can cause costly delays. Bridging the knowledge gap is key. We now hold weekly syncs between frontend and backend tech leads to solve this.

Discussing changes and risks helps align the teams. Last month, we averted a major middleware versioning conflict thanks to this sync. Take notes and share risks flagged cross-functionally to eliminate surprises.

Use Request Tracking Tied to Features

Sometimes, trying to understand what engineers are working on is a mess. You can gain insights into team priorities and progress by logging feature requests and mapping them to roadmap items.

Reviewing the task tracker before weekly standups helps align tasks with delivery goals. For this to work, engineers should diligently ticket the tasks and point out mismatches with the backlog — catching misalignments early.

Document Processes to Connect Work Items to Features

When a last-minute customer request arrives, it’s easy to scramble to deliver with no process in place. By documenting the workflow for prioritizing, specifying, and implementing feature requests, you can efficiently align work to roadmap priorities.

Training the team to build a habit of connecting tasks to features prevents distraction. This process transforms random requests into structured deliverables.

Protect Maker Time by Reducing Context Switching

Getting pulled into the weeds of every problem drains productivity. Audit schedules to minimize context switching between meetings. Fewer distractions during maker time keep engineers in flow.

For example, sheltering a 4-hour Design Sprint block every Friday would help engineers ship a high-impact feature that could linger for months due to distractions. Protect maker time and reduce context switching for big benefits.

Engineering teams face an array of challenges that can impede productivity and velocity. From coordination breakdowns to lack of visibility into priorities, it’s easy for developers to get blocked or distracted. This results in blown deadlines, frustrated stakeholders, and plummeting morale.

Unblocking engineering workflows takes time but pays huge dividends in engagement, productivity, and stakeholder satisfaction. Empower your team to get into the flow and watch them build incredible products at accelerating velocity. The results will speak for themselves.

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