Do managers shift priorities to make engineers miserable?
I came to work today, opened my emails, and guess what? Our focus has shifted for the third time this month. We’ve just made good progress on a project, and now we must put it on hold. Why are they doing this to us?
This is a common stream of thought in the ever-evolving landscape of the IT industry. Large companies face the never-ending challenge of managing multiple projects with constant priorities switches.
For an engineer caught up in these changes, it can be equally perplexing and frustrating to witness a sudden change in direction. It’s only natural to question: Why do priorities in big tech companies shift so frequently? Does our management even know what they are doing?
Overall, the company management usually knows exactly what they want – and why that changes. Still, from my engineering perspective, this doesn’t always seem so. And this is fine – as engineers, we are supposed to have our own perspective on things.
But suppose we try to take on a different perspective and understand the top priorities and reasons behind them from a business point of view – priority changes can then change from the cause of frustration to opportunities for professional growth and the company’s success.
So let me share what I’ve learned, as an engineer who has deep-dived into the business side of the pool, about why priorities change and how that actually benefits me.
One of the most important reasons for shifting priorities are the customers. They hold the key to success, and their expectations are ever-changing.
Companies have to ensure that customer needs remain at the forefront. In other words:
If we cannot deliver, someone else will.
Losing customers is obviously bad for business. On the other hand, delivering innovative solutions that match customer demands and foster stronger customer satisfaction and loyalty – is good for business. Happy and loyal customers are the best advertisement money could buy.
As we make our customers happy, they become more engaged with our products, asking for more features and creating the following reasons for shifting priorities.
Growth & Opportunities
A company needs to grow or seize new opportunities if it wants to stay competitive. Usually, companies continuously evaluate the market landscape and adjust priorities to stay ahead of the competition:
A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.Ovid
Adjusting to this usually means thinking out of the box and delivering something new and innovative that could boost our growth and give us an advantage against the competition.
For me, an engineer, this has significant benefits – it could position me at the forefront of groundbreaking projects, exposing me to new technologies and expanding my skill set. It opens doors to exciting career opportunities and helps me grow both professionally and personally.
Having skilled engineers enables the company to focus even more on innovation and “complicates” our lives further. But in a good way!
Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.Steve Jobs
Innovation thrives in an environment that embraces change. Companies cultivate a culture that encourages creativity, experimentation, and out-of-the-box thinking by reprioritizing projects.
Innovation could affect us as engineers positively and negatively, and people sometimes perceive it as a threat. Am I supposed to be pulling rabbits out of hats and achieving the impossible?
But the reality is that innovation comes in small steps. In fact, in most companies, the best innovations are meant to optimize and speed up the usual work. This, in turn, enables engineers to spend more time on unexpected challenges or to learn something new.
Efficiency & Impact
Prioritizing projects also allows companies to allocate resources effectively, ensuring that teams like mine can make some impact. We often find ourselves in a situation where we suddenly must switch priorities to assist another team on their project. This sometimes causes frustration – why can’t they do it on their own?
But large companies have hundreds of services and different teams handling and maintaining different systems parts.
For example, to set up a product on Data Centar, the developer usually depends on databases, which depend on Infrastructure, which depends on Networks.
It’s impossible for one engineer to cover all these areas, so allocating resources effectively and having the right people do their part will benefit the entire company as we can deliver products faster.
Embracing switching priorities to assist other teams allows us to become an integral part of strategic decision-making, where our expertise and input contribute to shaping the direction of a project, making a project more impactful, and driving the organization’s success as a whole.
Why embrace the changes?
Quite simply because, as engineers, our adaptability and willingness to embrace change are essential for success in the fast-paced IT industry.
Not so long ago, I was also frustrated with priority switching. The most important reason for that was my lack of understanding.
When I find myself frustrated by such a situation now, I ask myself: What would I do if I were in that client’s place? Could we do something better on this product? How could I assist my colleagues so we are more efficient?
Answers to these questions help me gain insight into the broader organizational context. And this empowers me to thrive in a dynamic environment, contribute effectively to projects, and seize opportunities for growth and advancement.
Each priority change presents a chance to embark on a new adventure, broaden my horizons, and make a lasting impact. By embracing change, I become an agent of innovation, propelling my career forward and helping my company stay ahead of the competition.
The most important thing is staying informed. This helps me understand the reasons behind priority changes and provides me with enough information to start planning accordingly.
At first, this information usually comes abruptly or incomplete, so seeking clarity’s important. Seeking clarity allows me to understand how this change will affect my role. Asking specific questions to understand the rationale behind the changes and how they align with the company goal. Once I understand the new priorities, I can align my goals and plans accordingly.
Engage in open communication with team members and colleagues to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding the new priorities. Collaborating effectively will allow us to share knowledge, resources, and best practices to help achieve the revised goals.
This could help us stay positive if a project deadline is rough, as maintaining a positive attitude helps us navigate priority changes more effectively and output new ideas.
I could write about this whole day… But due to a change in priorities, we’ll have to stop here.