By Robbert van Os
Posted on 2023-03-24T00:00:00.000Z

Creating an Engineering Strategy for New Leaders

Expanding beyond initial planning, explore progress monitoring, continuous improvement, tech trends, cross-department collaboration, and strategy adaptation.


Whether you are part of a young startup or an established organization, developing an engineering plan is essential for driving growth and innovation. A well-structured engineering strategy, though not necessarily comprehensive, should provide clear direction, facilitate resource allocation, and create a foundation for success. Emphasizing the significance of aligning engineering efforts with business objectives, a practical, step-by-step approach can help leaders, both new and experienced, craft their organization's engineering strategy. Establishing a dynamic and adaptable plan that fosters collaboration, innovation, and long-term success is crucial for any organization looking to excel in a competitive landscape.

Background on Engineering Strategy

An engineering strategic plan is an essential roadmap that directs an organization's technical efforts, objectives, and priorities. Key elements that should be included in any engineering strategic plan are:

  1. Vision and mission: Clearly articulate the long-term vision and mission for the engineering department, ensuring alignment with the overall organization's goals.
  2. Technical direction: Define the primary technical focus areas and the organization's approach to addressing them, including the adoption of new technologies and methodologies.
  3. Objectives and priorities: Establish specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives that support the overall business strategy. Prioritize objectives based on their potential impact and resource requirements.
  4. Resource allocation: Detail the allocation of human, financial, and technical resources required to achieve the identified objectives, taking into account existing capabilities and potential growth.
  5. Risk management: Identify potential risks and challenges associated with the engineering strategy and outline mitigation strategies to address them proactively.
  6. Performance metrics and KPIs: Define key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the progress and success of the engineering strategy, ensuring they align with overall business goals.
  7. Collaboration and cross-functional integration: Describe how the engineering team will collaborate with other departments to foster a holistic approach to problem-solving and organizational growth.
  8. Continuous improvement and adaptability: Develop a framework for regularly reviewing and updating the engineering strategy, ensuring flexibility to adapt to changes in the market and technological landscape.

By incorporating these elements, an engineering strategic plan can effectively align engineering efforts with business goals, fostering a responsive and adaptable organization capable of navigating challenges and capitalizing on opportunities as they arise.

Example Strategy with Objectives for a SaaS Solution

An example engineering strategy for a company developing a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution might include the following objectives:

  1. Improve platform scalability: Enhance the SaaS platform's architecture to handle a 100% increase in concurrent users within two years, ensuring seamless performance and user experience even during peak usage times.
  2. Reduce time-to-market for new features: Implement agile development methodologies and streamline the development pipeline to decrease the time it takes to release new features by 30% within 18 months, enabling the company to respond more quickly to customer needs and market trends.
  3. Enhance security and compliance: Strengthen the SaaS solution's security measures and attain relevant industry certifications (e.g., SOC 2, GDPR compliance) within the next year to build customer trust and meet regulatory requirements.
  4. Optimize customer onboarding: Develop an intuitive and automated onboarding process that reduces customer onboarding time by 50% within two years, improving user satisfaction and accelerating time-to-value.
  5. Increase platform reliability: Achieve a 99.99% platform uptime within 12 months by implementing monitoring, redundancy, and failover mechanisms, ensuring a consistent and reliable user experience.
  6. Expand API capabilities: Extend the SaaS platform's API functionality within the next two years to enable seamless integration with popular third-party tools, fostering a more flexible and adaptable solution for customers.
  7. Foster innovation: Allocate resources to research and development, with the aim of introducing at least two industry-disrupting features or capabilities within the next three years, positioning the company as a market leader.

By setting clear objectives in line with the company's overall goals, the engineering team can effectively prioritize their efforts, driving the SaaS solution's growth and innovation in a competitive market.

First Steps in Defining an Engineering Strategy

Embarking on the process of defining an engineering strategy requires a structured approach. An engineering manager should take the following initial steps to lay the groundwork for a successful strategy:

  1. Understand the organization's vision, mission, and core values: Familiarize yourself with the company's overarching goals and guiding principles, as they will inform your strategic planning process and set the direction for the engineering team.
  2. Assess the current state of the engineering team: Evaluate the team's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges to establish a baseline for improvement and growth.
  3. Gather input from key stakeholders: Engage engineering team members, business leaders, and customers to gather their insights, needs, expectations, and concerns. This feedback will help you identify areas of focus and prioritize objectives for the engineering strategy.
  4. Analyze market trends and competition: Research industry trends, emerging technologies, and competitors to understand the market landscape and identify potential opportunities or threats.
  5. Establish strategic objectives: Based on the information gathered, set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives for the engineering team that align with the organization's vision, mission, and business goals.
  6. Prioritize objectives: Determine the relative importance of each strategic objective, taking into account factors such as potential impact, resource requirements, and alignment with broader business goals.

Addressing Ambiguous Business Strategies in Younger Companies

It's not uncommon for younger companies to have an unclear or evolving business strategy. In such cases, it's crucial for engineering managers to collaborate with business leaders to clarify the organization's strategic direction before developing an engineering strategy. An engineering strategy built on an uncertain foundation will likely face challenges in aligning with business objectives. By working together, the engineering and business leadership can establish a coherent and unified vision, paving the way for a more effective and well-aligned engineering strategy.

Staying Focused and Managing Overwhelm in Engineering Strategy Development

Developing an engineering strategy often involves processing and synthesizing a vast amount of information, which can be overwhelming. Staying focused and maintaining a clear head are essential to successfully navigating this process. Here are some tips to help you keep your cool and stay on track:

  1. Break down the process into manageable steps: Divide the strategy development process into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will make it easier to focus on one aspect at a time and prevent feeling overwhelmed by the big picture.
  2. Set realistic deadlines: Establish reasonable timelines for completing each step in the process, taking into account the complexity of the task and the availability of resources. This will help you maintain momentum and stay organized without feeling rushed.
  3. Prioritize information and tasks: Identify the most critical information and tasks that will have the most significant impact on your strategy. Focus on these areas first, and address lower-priority items as time and resources permit.
  4. Schedule regular breaks: Give yourself short breaks during the strategy development process to recharge and maintain focus. Stepping away from the task at hand for a few minutes can help clear your mind and improve your ability to concentrate when you return.
  5. Collaborate with your team: Delegate tasks and involve your team members in the strategy development process. Collaboration can lighten your workload and provide fresh perspectives, helping to prevent burnout and maintain focus.
  6. Use organizational tools: Utilize project management and organizational tools to keep track of tasks, deadlines, and progress. These tools can help you stay organized, manage your workload, and maintain a clear overview of the strategy development process.
  7. Stay flexible and adaptable: Recognize that strategy development is an iterative process and that plans may need to be adjusted as new information becomes available or circumstances change. Embrace this adaptability and avoid becoming too attached to a specific approach, which can help reduce stress and maintain focus on achieving the overall goals.

Bonus Tip: Embrace the Evolution of Your Technical Vision Document It's essential to understand that a technical vision document is not a static artifact but rather a living, evolving entity. As the organization grows and adapts, so too should the vision document. A smart approach to managing this evolution is by determining the requirements and constraints for your plan at the outset, recognizing that these may change over time. This practice will contribute to a comprehensive and flexible engineering strategy.

Examples of requirements and constraints to consider when developing your engineering strategy:

  1. Requirements:
    • Scalability: The system must be able to handle an increase in user traffic or data volume without compromising performance.
    • Integration: The solution must be compatible with existing systems or easily integrated with popular third-party tools.
    • Customizability: The product should offer a high degree of customization to meet diverse customer needs.
    • Maintainability: The system must be designed in a way that allows for easy updates, bug fixes, and enhancements.
  2. Constraints:
    • Budget: The engineering strategy must be developed and executed within the constraints of the available budget.
    • Time: The timeline for achieving specific milestones and goals may be limited by factors such as market pressures or contractual obligations.
    • Regulatory compliance: The engineering strategy must adhere to industry regulations and standards, which may impose constraints on the design or implementation of the solution.
    • Resource availability: The availability of skilled personnel, equipment, or other resources may limit the scope or pace of the engineering strategy.

Elaborating on Identifying Coherent Actions

Once you have established a clear engineering strategy, the next step is to identify coherent actions that support your objectives. Coherent actions are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) steps that are consistent with your overall strategy. By ensuring that these actions are SMART, you can more effectively prioritize tasks, allocate resources, and track progress toward your goals.

Here are some steps to help you identify coherent actions:

  1. Break down objectives into smaller tasks: Decompose each strategic objective into smaller, actionable tasks or milestones. This will help you understand the necessary steps to achieve each objective and identify any dependencies or potential roadblocks.
  2. Define specific actions: For each task or milestone, outline the specific actions that need to be taken. Be as precise as possible in describing these actions to ensure clarity and avoid confusion.
  3. Assign responsibility: Clearly assign responsibility for each action to a specific team or individual, ensuring accountability and ownership throughout the process.
  4. Establish measurable criteria: Define key performance indicators (KPIs) or other metrics that will enable you to assess progress and success in achieving each action. These should be quantifiable and directly related to the action being taken.
  5. Set realistic deadlines: Assign deadlines for each action, taking into account the complexity of the task, dependencies, and available resources. Ensure that these deadlines are achievable and time-bound, promoting a sense of urgency and commitment.
  6. Review and refine actions: Regularly review your coherent actions to ensure they remain aligned with your engineering strategy and adapt to any changes in the business or technological landscape. This may involve reprioritizing actions, adjusting deadlines, or revising the scope of specific tasks.
  7. Communicate and collaborate: Share your coherent actions with the entire engineering team, ensuring everyone is aware of their responsibilities and the overall plan. Encourage collaboration and open communication to address any challenges or concerns that may arise during the execution of the actions.

By identifying coherent actions in this manner, you can create a well-structured, goal-oriented plan that aligns with your engineering strategy and drives your organization toward success.

Continuing the Engineering Strategy Journey: Beyond Initial Planning

The journey to developing and executing a successful engineering strategy involves several additional steps beyond the initial planning stages. In a brief summary, these steps include:

  • Monitoring progress and measuring success: Establish systems to track progress, using key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure outcomes and inform decision-making.
  • Building a culture of continuous improvement: Foster a supportive environment that encourages open communication, learning, and collaboration, while continuously refining processes and investing in professional development.
  • Leveraging emerging technologies and trends: Stay informed of industry advancements and incorporate them into your strategy to maintain a competitive edge and drive innovation.
  • Collaborating across departments: Engage with other departments to ensure alignment and optimize the overall business strategy, supporting a holistic approach to problem-solving and organizational growth.
  • Adapting and evolving your engineering strategy: Regularly review and update your strategy to reflect changing business goals, market conditions, and technological advancements, enabling your organization to remain agile and responsive.

These steps will be discussed in more detail in a future article, providing a comprehensive understanding of how to create and maintain an effective engineering strategy that drives success.