Underperformance checklist, platform teams, plan for your energy 💡
Monday 3-2-1 — Edition #51
Hey, Luca here! Welcome to the Monday 3-2-1 ✨
Every Monday I will send you an email like this with 3 short ideas about engineering management, technical strategy, and good hiring.
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1) 📋 Underperformance checklist
I believe 80% of performance is systemic, rather than individual. There is a lot of talk around finding 10x engineers, but we should rather focus on building 10x teams.
Great teams make great engineers, while the opposite is not always true.
Great performance is enabled by several factors, that work like layers of a pyramid, each building on top of the previous one 👇
So, if one of your reports is underperforming, here is a checklist with a few questions you may ask yourself to get a clue of where the problems are:
Are they aware of the company values?
Are they aware of the company vision and purpose?
Do they know what is expected of their role?
Are they assigned to a role/work that isn’t suited to their skills?
Are they let down by tooling / DX?
Are they getting clear and frequent feedback from their manager?
Are they getting enough opportunity to prove themselves?
Do they feel rewarded for the value they are delivering?
Are they in a condition to take ownership of their work?
Is the work challenging enough for them?
Are they overworked and are now suffering burnout?
Are their personal traits compatible with your culture?
Are they willing to improve?
Are they dealing with personal issues?
Did they just have a “bad sprint”?
You can find more ideas on how to help underperformers in this recent Refactoring article 👇
2) 🔨 Platform teams ≠ maintenance teams
Many companies struggle with performing regular maintenance. In some cases, I see them creating dedicated teams for it, because ✨ “Platform teams! We do just like Google!” ✨
Well, yes and no.
Platform teams make sense to address DX improvements, practices, and strategic investments in horizontal areas that would otherwise span many teams, and so would be hard to develop.
Platform teams also develop internal tooling that can be used by multiple other teams, in a consumer-provider model (see the recent article on Team Topologies).
Now, there is an overlap between platform activities and what we can call maintenance — but it’s far from 100%.
Tasks that are vertical to some product area, be they around productivity, bug fixing, or basic KTLO, should be generally owned by the team who also owns that product area. This is just the healthiest option to 1) enforce ownership and 2) leverage the team’s domain expertise.
So, if you are thinking of creating a platform team, make sure they would actually work on platform, rather than being the bug fixing team no one wants to work in.
More ideas on how to perform maintenance 👇
3) 🍅 Plan for your energy instead of your time
Over time I have found that time just loosely correlates to how much work I can do.
For two reasons:
⚡ Time ≠ energy — there is a limited amount of energy I can spend over 1 day.
⚖️ Not all tasks are created equal — some are more cognitively intense, others are lighter.
So, two hours of design work can easily knock me out for the day. Two hours of email feels lighter.
For dev process we invented story points to decouple effort from time. They are totally made up, but they kinda work. So, what is the equivalent of story points for our lives? Enter pomodoros 🍅
The Pomodoro Technique breaks work into small intervals (pomodoros), separated by short breaks.
Here are the basic rules:
Each pomodoro lasts 25 mins + 5 mins pause.
You address a single task at a time
Zero distractions. No notifications, no context switch.
I have been using pomodoros for about two years, and I could never go back. Here are the main benefits that I get 👇
⚡ Sustained energy — the regular pauses allow me to regain focus and sustain deep work longer. Breaks are annoying sometimes because they seem to break your momentum, but they pay off over the course of the day.
👁️ Focus — working on one thing at a time with no distractions makes you do more in less time. You will wonder how you got anything done before. If you worry about missing out on Slack, consider that comms are off only for 25 mins at a time — you can catch up during the pause.
🎯 Predictability — saying “this takes 2 pomodoros” is different from “this takes 1 hour”. You get to know yourself and your energy, you know how many pomodoros you can do in a day and in a week. This velocity is surprisingly reliable and you can use it for your planning.
More ideas on managing your time 👇
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I wish you a great week! ☀️
It would be great if you write about how all the company values and culture fail when there is inefficient bureaucracy in the company. It's a thing. I face it everyday and most of the readers face it too. Let's address it head on!
One of my biggest disappointments from most management training is the focus on exiting under performers rather than turning them around.