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The hard truth about coding -- knock down roadblocks in 3 steps

Jun 25, 2021 - 5 min read
Joshua Ahn
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Neglected roadblocks slow production and demotivate your engineering team, so what’s a quick and easy sequence to knock down roadblocks? Imagine this part of your job as similar to the work sequence of an emergency room (ER) doctor. Picture a patient walking through the door with an ailment or complaint. As an ER doctor, your job is to quickly diagnose the issue, resolve it, and prescribe preventative measures.

As an engineering manager, your job takes a roadblock your engineers present and pushes them back out the door quickly and systematically. Everyone runs into roadblocks, so start by imagining yourself in the shoes of your developer and approach their issue with empathy. The hard truth about coding is that it doesn’t follow a set of predictable steps, so it more closely resembles invention and scientific discovery. Today, we’ll cover the three steps engineering managers should take to knock down roadblocks.


  1. Diagnose

  2. Resolve

  3. Prevent



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Diagnose

You’re in a good spot if your new developer approaches you with a roadblock. The last thing you want is a new developer afraid to ask any questions and to feel siloed in their work. Instead, take this as an opportunity to showcase company-specific use cases and your support for your developer’s growth.

Narrow the search

Start big, then chisel down your approach. When diagnosing a problem, imagine a funnel starting with a variety of roadblocks an engineer can run into. These roadblocks range from technical issues to communication gaps but ultimately pose a similar threat: slowing down production and demotivating your engineering team. Start knocking down roadblocks by composing a list of general reasons your engineers may feel blocked by.

Here is a list to help you get started:

  1. Poor prioritization
  2. Lack of direction
  3. New Technologies
  4. Learning new languages
  5. Poor verbal or written communication

Clarify

Leave no room for assumptions. Often, improper communication results in further roadblocks. Here are some helpful clarifying questions or methods to make sure you accurately diagnose the roadblock at hand:

  1. If I’m understanding correctly…(repeat the question back in your own words)?
  2. Did I paraphrase what you said correctly?
  3. Are there any other roadblocks that you’re facing or anticipate facing?


Resolve

Time to knock down roadblocks. Since different roadblocks call for additional solutions, we’ll cover common roadblocks your engineers will face and how to overcome them.

Shifting priorities

If goals or project priorities are constantly shifting, your engineers may start to feel unmotivated or overwhelmed by a lack of organization. Solutions to shifting priorities involve the following:

  1. Visual depiction for timelines and projects - Kanban board
  2. Constant line of communication with project management and your team
  3. Open documentation for all information

Lacking Resources

Does your team have the technology and resources available to complete the project efficiently? Consider listing out software you use vs. what your team will be using. Taking this step can help streamline communication and consolidate notes on the project. Here are some lists to consider writing out between what you see and what your team sees:

  1. Available communication channels

  2. Task tracking applications

  3. Documentation

Debugging

Tap into the wealth of information provided by external and internal resources through keyword expertise. For example, a recent conversation with an engineering manager friend revealed that a helpful skill for knocking down roadblocks is knowing what keywords to type into Google, Stackoverflow, or internal wiki documents. In addition, don’t be afraid to tap into various developer communities and use tribal knowledge to knock down roadblocks. Here are common places to look for solutions:

  • Google
  • Stack Overflow
  • Reddit
  • Slack Channels
  • Internal wiki docs

Keep your team motivated by preventing roadblocks

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Prevent

Follow up every resolution with space for feedback. Prevent roadblocks by anticipating and preemptively creating strategies that identify roadblocks and resolve roadblocks for the next time your engineers face issues. Communication builds the foundation for effective roadblock prevention.

What could we do better?

After any sequence of identifying and resolving a roadblock, spend time asking your engineers what could have been done to prevent the roadblock in the future? Roadblocks inevitably show up in the future, but ideally, each experience makes the unblocking process more efficient. Spending the extra time to receive feedback communicates your support for the engineer and improves the process for the subsequent roadblock encounter.

Here are some questions you can ask your engineers during 1:1s:

  • What are some difficulties you face with communication?
  • What could have helped resolve your issue quicker?
  • What could have been done to prevent a similar roadblock in the future?
  • Are there any resources I can provide?

Provide ample skill development resources

According to a recent report by Pluralsight, 21% of developers felt inadequate employer support was a barrier, while 32% felt there were budget constraints to their tech skill development. Act as an advocate for your engineering team and keep communication channels open for feedback on engineering support. Providing learning resources strikes a balance between autonomy and mastery for your engineering team. One-size-fits-all resources are easy to implement but often aren’t as effective. Consider the following learning model to keep your engineers up to date and prevent future roadblocks:

Frequency: Monthly

Length: 3 hours

Time of day: During work hours

Technology of interest: Cloud management

Course Difficulty: High


Continue reading about managing your team:


WRITTEN BYJoshua Ahn

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