By Robbert van Os
Posted on 2023-03-25T00:00:00.000Z

Engineering values and distinguishing from technology strategy

Explore the importance and difference of clear engineering org values versus a tech strategy, to guide decision-making, behavior and foster a positive work environment.

Setting engineering org values is an essential process that requires careful consideration and planning. As engineering teams grow and evolve, it becomes increasingly important to establish a set of core values that guide decision-making and behavior. In this article, we will explore the background of engineering org values, the problems they solve, and how they differ from technology strategy.

Values play a crucial role in shaping the culture of an organization. They provide a shared sense of purpose and direction, helping to align team members around a common goal. For engineering teams, values can help to establish a framework for decision-making, ensuring that technical solutions are aligned with broader organizational objectives. In addition, values can help to foster a sense of community and belonging, creating a positive work environment that attracts and retains top talent.

While engineering org values are distinct from technology strategy, they are closely related. Technology strategy refers to the overall approach an organization takes to technology, including the tools, processes, and methodologies used to develop and deploy software. Values, on the other hand, are more focused on the underlying principles and beliefs that guide decision-making. Ultimately, both technology strategy and engineering org values are essential components of a successful engineering organization.

Background, experiences, and perspectives

Engineering organizations are made up of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. As a result, it can be challenging to ensure that everyone is working towards a common goal. This is where values come in.

Values are the guiding principles that help organizations make decisions and prioritize actions. They provide a framework for how work is done and what is considered important. By setting clear values, engineering organizations can create a shared understanding of what is expected and how to achieve success.

Values can help solve a variety of problems within an engineering organization. For example, they can help align teams and individuals around a common goal, facilitate communication and collaboration, and provide a framework for decision-making. When values are clearly defined and communicated, they can also help attract and retain talent that shares those values.

It's important to note that engineering values are distinct from a technology strategy. While a technology strategy outlines the tools and approaches that will be used to achieve goals, values are the underlying principles that guide decision-making and behavior.

The Problems Values Solve

Engineering organizations face numerous challenges that can be addressed by establishing and adhering to a set of core values. Here are some of the problems that values can help solve:

  • Alignment: Values help ensure that everyone in the organization is working towards the same goals and objectives.
  • Culture: Values shape the culture of the organization and help create a sense of belonging and purpose for employees.
  • Decision-making: Values provide a framework for decision-making, helping employees to make choices that are aligned with the organization's goals and objectives.
  • Accountability: Values help establish clear expectations for behavior and performance, making it easier to hold employees accountable for their actions.
  • Recruiting and retention: Values can help attract and retain employees who share the organization's vision and goals.

By addressing these challenges, values can help engineering organizations to be more effective, efficient, and successful in achieving their goals.

Engineering Values vs. Technology Strategy

Engineering values and technology strategy are two distinct concepts that are often conflated. While technology strategy refers to the overall plan for how technology will be used to achieve business goals, engineering values are the guiding principles that inform how engineers should approach their work.

Engineering values are focused on the process of engineering, rather than the end result. They guide engineers in making decisions about how to approach problems, how to collaborate with others, and how to prioritize their work. Technology strategy, on the other hand, is focused on the end result - how technology can be used to achieve specific business goals.

While technology strategy is important, it is not sufficient on its own. Without a clear set of engineering values, engineers may make decisions that are not aligned with the organization's goals or culture. Engineering values help ensure that engineers are working in a way that is consistent with the organization's overall mission and values.

It's important to note that not all engineering values will be useful for every organization. The values that are most important will depend on the organization's culture, goals, and priorities. A useful value is one that is specific, actionable, and aligned with the organization's goals.

While not all engineering organizations have formal values, it can be useful to define them. This can help ensure that engineers are aligned with the organization's goals and culture, and can also help attract and retain talent that shares those values.

Rolling out engineering values can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the organization's culture and structure. Some organizations may choose to involve all engineers in the process of defining values, while others may have a smaller group of leaders define them. Regardless of the approach, it's important to communicate the values clearly and consistently, and to ensure that they are integrated into the organization's processes and decision-making.

What Makes a Useful Value?

Values are only useful if they actually guide behavior and decision-making. So, what makes a value useful?

Firstly, it needs to be clear and concise. A value that is too vague or difficult to understand will not be helpful in guiding behavior. It should be easy for everyone in the organization to understand and remember.

Secondly, a useful value needs to be actionable. It should provide guidance on what behaviors are expected and what decisions should be made. For example, a value like "customer-first" is actionable because it guides decisions about prioritizing customer needs.

Thirdly, a value needs to be aligned with the organization's goals and mission. Values that are not aligned with the organization's goals will not be useful in guiding behavior towards achieving those goals.

Finally, a useful value needs to be measurable. It should be possible to assess whether or not the value is being lived up to through observable behaviors and actions.

What are good examples of engineering values?

When establishing engineering org values, it's important to consider your organization's culture, goals, and priorities. Here are some practical examples of engineering org values, along with their desired output:

  1. Collaboration and teamwork - Encourages knowledge sharing, open communication, and better results.
  2. Ownership - Empowers engineers to take ownership of their work, leading to increased productivity, innovation, and accountability.
  3. Continuous improvement - Encourages a culture of continuous learning, experimentation, and feedback, leading to better products and processes.
  4. User focus - Prioritizes the needs and experiences of users, leading to more successful products and happier customers.
  5. Transparency - Encourages openness and honesty about decisions, progress, and challenges, leading to better trust and collaboration within the organization.

It's important to note that these values are merely examples, and what works for one organization may not work for another. The desired output of each value will also vary depending on the specific needs and goals of the organization.

If you are new to the role of leadership, this can be hard to figure out, here are some additional suggestions and practical advice for a new tech lead to determine the best engineering org values for their team:

  • Seek input from team members: Ask team members about their values and what they believe are important principles to guide their work. This can be done through surveys, one-on-one meetings, or team workshops.

  • Look to the company mission and culture: Consider the overall mission and culture of the company and how that should inform the engineering org values. Aligning values with the company's mission and culture can create a more cohesive and effective organization.

  • Research best practices: Look at what other successful engineering organizations are doing and what values they prioritize. This can provide inspiration and guidance for what may work for your team.

  • Identify pain points: Consider the challenges and pain points facing the team and how values can address those issues. For example, if communication is a challenge, a value like transparency or open communication may be appropriate.

  • Consider the team's goals: Think about the team's goals and how values can support achieving those objectives. For example, if the team's goal is to develop high-quality software, a value like attention to detail or excellence may be appropriate.

Remember, it's important to involve team members in the process and to get their buy-in. This will help ensure that the values are relevant and meaningful to everyone, and it can also increase team morale and engagement. If your team is less experienced and relatively new, remember that they may also require guidance and support. Rolling out engineering org values is not a one-time task. It is a continuous process that requires commitment and effort from everyone in the organization.

Useful but Never Magic

While values are important for setting the tone and direction of an engineering organization, they are not a magic solution to all problems. It is important to remember that values are just words on a page unless they are actively lived and reinforced by leadership and team members.

It is also important to recognize that values are not a one-size-fits-all solution. What may work for one organization may not work for another. Additionally, values should not be seen as a replacement for clear communication, feedback, and accountability measures.

One way to ensure that values are useful is to regularly assess and evaluate them. This can be done through surveys, feedback sessions, and other forms of communication with team members. It is important to be open to evolving and updating values as the organization grows and changes.

Another way to ensure that values are useful is to tie them to specific behaviors and actions. For example, if one of the values is "collaboration," it should be clear what behaviors and actions demonstrate collaboration and how those behaviors and actions will be recognized and rewarded.

Overall, values can be a useful tool for setting the direction and tone of an engineering organization. However, they are not a magic solution and require active effort and reinforcement to be effective.