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Part of my role as a staff engineer is to come up with vision / architecture docs that capture the direction we should go in the next 6 mos-3 years. It’s a core part of my role to write down the vision and thus help management make planning decisions on resource allocation and direction.

I see my job as not the sole author of such a vision, but rather as a synthesizer of the many great ideas already out there. Usually my peer senior developers have a lot of great, impactful ideas and specific context. We have a culture of collaboration and regularly seek inspiration from each other. I work closely with them - to say “no” when appropriate, seek inspiration, edit/steer the ideas, and to give senior devs a voice in the future direction.

In my experience, A plan that includes them, that they give feedback on, (I write, they give me feedback) is more real than something management/I derive from on high and force down the devs throat.

THE PROBLEM

I have a manager in my group that tends to prefer it if I came up with the ideas without getting feedback from the senior ICs directly. This manager feels it provides a lot of distraction and noise away from their day to day and that I might be stressing people out by having them work closely with me on this.

(More specifically, the feedback from ICs is that there’s a lot of noise around ideas. My thinking is this has to do with people not having a place to channel ideas (cause I was asked not to interact with ICs on this stuff). So senior ICs fee unheard and blast idea after idea in slack as they lack the means to channel them into a greater vision. )

They also feel like engineers can feel whiplashed if my management comes back and vetoes the ICs ideas or changes direction, they thought we would do their idea X but in reality we won’t do that. Better, they argue, to settle these things and management layers than get the ICs input early on. To me this is actually a pretty compelling argument.

Nevertheless, I see not working with them as working with a hand tied behind my back. This is a periodic, infrequent type of work that needs to get done, and I would rather do it in partnership with my peers than force it on them.

THE QUESTION

I’m a bit stuck and feel unable to fulfill my role. How do I best include my other IC colleagues in the development of long term technical planning?

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  • What does IC stand for ? Aug 13, 2022 at 17:20
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    Individual contributor, as opposed to a manager.
    – mxyzplk
    Aug 13, 2022 at 17:36
  • What is the reason that you were "asked not to interact with ICs on this stuff"?
    – Helena
    Aug 13, 2022 at 18:42
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    @Helena, I think the reason is "This manager feels it provides a lot of distraction and noise away from their day to day and that I might be stressing people out by having them work closely with me on this." (written by the OP). Aug 13, 2022 at 20:38
  • "without getting feedback from the senior ICs directly" - How do those ICs feel about it?
    – Donald
    Aug 14, 2022 at 4:32

3 Answers 3

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This manager feels it provides a lot of distraction and noise away from their day to day

This is to some extent a reasonable concern.

and that I might be stressing people out by having them work closely with me on this.

Has anyone actually asked your ICs if they are "stressed out" by this? In any case, this:

I have a manager in my group that tends to prefer it if I came up with the ideas without getting feedback from the senior ICs directly.

is not the solution. Your job is to find a way which both allows you to gather feedback from the ICs and simultaneously alleviates management's concerns. Yes, this is politics. Yes, this is stakeholder management - but those are two of the major part of the job of top-level ICs.

Exactly how you walk that line between getting the feedback you need and respecting management's concerns isn't really something anyone here can tell you, as it's very dependent on the specific people you work with - some of your ICs you may be able to just drop them a note and ask them for some brainstormed thoughts, others you may need to set up a more formal process with; and similarly for how you handle your management.

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  • The specific feedback is there’s a lot of noise around ideas. My thinking is this has to do with people not having a place to channel ideas (cause I was asked not to interact with ICs on this stuff). So senior ICs fee unheard and blast idea after idea in slack as they lack the means to channel them into a greater vision.
    – Doug T.
    Aug 13, 2022 at 16:57
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    The correct response to "feedback is unstructured and causing noise" should not be "let's not have any feedback". Sounds like you need to be working with your management to put in a more structured framework for feedback. Aug 13, 2022 at 17:03
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The answer may depend on how much time the senior members have to spend to give you the feedbacks. Does it take each of them 1 or 2 hours per week? or only 10 to 15 minutes per week?

If it takes each of them 1 or 2 hours per week to respond in great details, then their managers may rather have them spend that time working on their projects as they may have tight schedules.

If it takes only 10 or 15 minutes per week for them to write quick comments or feedbacks, then it should be fine.

Can you restructure the request for feedbacks such that it would not take the senior members lots of time to study your plan and reply ?

For example, you can probably break down the documents in many small and easy to understand parts. Then send only the small and well-defined parts to the corresponding senior members who have domain expertise for these particular parts and get their feedbacks (instead of sending big documents to all members).

It is a great idea that you want to get the feedbacks from the senior members. This will make your planning more accurate and have good consensus from all key members.

However, if you can address the main concern of the managers about the time it takes for the senior members to provide feedbacks, then your idea will be very welcome by these managers.

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As was stated elsewhere, not getting feedback is definitely not the way to go. Things that I have found work well are a combination of structured and unstructured input and feedback. You can pick and choose based on the individuals, their managers, workloads and preferences. Here are a few things I have found to work:

  1. Regularly 1:1s with the seniors. This can be unstructured conversation about ideas in-flight. It's structured from the POV of it's a set time on a set frequency.
  2. Feedback provided via PRs. Get your thoughts down in a repo and when you're ready, open a PR for the seniors to comment on. Having expectations clearly defined around how long they will stay open for etc. stops them just being open forever and arguments going around in circles. This also has the benefit of being transparent if you let everyone have access to the repo. This mechanism has the benefit of the seniors being able to participate on their schedule, not yours.
  3. Town hall/Open forums. Can be on a set cadence, or ad-hoc. Get your ideas in a slide-deck and present them to everyone, solicit feedback both in the session and afterwards.

A combination of the above can be used depending on what you're working on, the urgency and the people involved. All of them require providing an expectation of how many hours per week you need from the seniors.

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