Product Engineers: It’s a thing

Are you a computer engineer? Do you fancy your code should look like an art? Do you think complex systems should be built? Do you think everything should go through process? If answers to all the above questions is, YES!, then you should definitely read ahead.

There are two types of engineers and you can be both, Batman also has two personalities:

  1. There are engineers who solve really hard engineering problems like., developing a new programming language, security protocols etc.
  2. There are others who build things with available resources.

Why this classification? Because it defines the expectations and priorities. If you are working at a company then you are being paid for the knowledge you have to build things that make company successful and as much quickly as possible. Your prioritisation decides will the company achieve what it needs and how quickly.

Now what does your company do? The chances are it is building products/services for people to consume. People who doesn’t know your “technology”. The success means for such a company is to win the market and be the sole provider of the product and service. And building things takes time, hence the idea of hacking or hackjob or jugaad. That’s what product engineers do.

Product engineers make things that work as fast as possible because the end goal is not the engineering but the product. A product that works. The user does not care about the complexity of the engineering. It can awe them but primarily, it should work like it is supposed to. It is the engineer’s job to make sure of that.

Product engineers solve engineering problems when the uptick for business is greater than the time spent in dealing with it.

Won’t it lead to mess? It will. Deal with it. No, I am not just brushing this problem off. I have a solution for this.

Whenever there is a lean time solve this problem. Organise everything. This is an iterative process. This strategy must sound like getting stuck in loop and yes, team will get slowed down over-time. Take some time out when it is absolutely required like too many errors happening, code maintenance has become a real issue, it is taking longer to do a five minute hack-job. Because it must be understood that the goal is different. Goal is to make the product win, right now.

Performance Reviews: Everything is wrong with it

Almost every organisation that I know of has a performance review cycle for its employees. Employee has to wait for six months to an year to get that performance review and the rewards/compensations are revised on the basis of it.

Performance review is flawed in its construct, more so in the sense of its execution. Below is the list that of fundamental problems that I have found which makes it not useful and given the way world is today, it is far outdated.

  1. Its almost always top-down
    Most organisations have performance reviews cycle as top-down i.e., managers giving feedbacks to their team members. This one sided nature of the review is the worst mistake an organisation can do, where the top tier remains unchecked of their performances while the employees suffer.

    Few companies have both top-down and down-up review system. Even there an employee has more chances to lose their credibility or worse remain unheard. This is because managers are mostly manipulative and truth be spoken, wield far greater authority(power) than the employee.

  2. Performance review suffers from recency bias
    This is a proven fact that most of our actions are based on recent events. In fact, if we dig into our memory majority of the events are recent. The ones from the history for example 6 or 12 or 24 months would mostly be about the peak times or the worst of the times. Everything else is a blur.

    This clearly reflects in the performance reviews. This has happened to me as well, I have done it. Reviews should be regular, combined with progress tracking for the person. Organisations have always focused on the efficiency but I have not yet seen a single instance where an employee can see where they stand. Objectivity is usually lost.

  3. There is no privacy
    Feedback between two people should be kept in secrecy. It is not important for the organisation to know the feedback received by the person more than person knowing what is required out of them. There should be clear metrics to look at but most reviews are opinion, which means essentially the person who has greater authority will have their way instead of actually solving the problem.

    Communication is the biggest hinderance in achieving anything. Considering this, one can imagine what reviews usually have. Unless the manager is Shakespeare, the chances are very high the review is not what it is supposed to be, helpful. Even the Shakespeare will create the confusion. There is certain tone and context to reviews which a person other than the receiver and giver will never be able to comprehend completely. Sharing that with a 3rd person is waiting for the disaster to happen.

  4. Too long a wait for feedback
    Looking back at things that were troublesome could be perceived as easy today, diminishing the effort put in by the person. More often than not, sour memories clog the mind than the good ones. We by nature tend to focus on mistakes than the good which adds to already listed problems.

    On the other hand, it is not justified for the employee. Things that a person can improve on today must not wait for six month. That is ridiculous. This is wasting both employee’s and organisation’s time, all in the name of process. Processes are useless if they tend not to solve the problem and dangerous if they have adverse effects like in this case.

  5. It is compensation or rewards review
    Worst of the problems with performance review is that it is meant to tell a person that you are not good and in some cases they are out of job. Usually the performance review is abused and used as a tool to decide on compensation or promotion. Performance review should be paired with a teaching/guidance program which helps the employee. Lot of companies lack any sort of program which can help their employees.

    Although this can be argued that its not the company’s job to do, then the organisation must also remember that its not employees job to be faithful to them. Relationships can only work if they both parties have win-win situation and not having support or at worst job is not a win for the employee.

What should be done?

One on one is a great way of having the problems resolved. There should be a time allotted to both the parties where one person speaks and the other writes down about themselves. It should be done between both managers and employees and between employees, again keeping it in secrecy. Mostly an employee is always aware of their performance. What peers and managers can do is, guide them to find the solution for their problems. The points discussed should not be held against the person at later point in life. The goal of this is to identify what the person did better and what they can do better.

For the company to decide if a person is compatible with the job they are required to do, there should be a clear metric which an employee can look at in real-time. Here, an employee must understand that although hard work is being appreciated but it is tied to results and it must be produced. For organisations, it should help the employees in achieving the results that they intend to as it fundamentally benefits the organisation. That is why everyone is there. Employee must not feel like they are into slavery where they are required to achieve something for salary with no help.