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Engineering Investment and Business Alignment

3 Lessons I Learned From the 2021 State of Engineering Management Report

A few weeks ago, Jellyfish released the 2021 State of Engineering Management Report which looked at the challenges, opportunities, and obstacles engineering leaders faced over the last year. With insights from our Engineering Management Platform, and after surveying hundreds of engineering leaders, we were able to identify key changes engineering teams went through in 2020. We looked at what worked for engineering management, what didn’t work, and where leaders are planning to focus in the future. 

With this post, we re-examine the findings through the lens of how engineering leaders might manage differently based on the lessons we’ve learned.

1. No more questions: Engineers can work from home.  

Despite the numerous challenges facing engineering teams last year, our data shows that on average most engineers persevered and actually became more productive. 18% more issues were resolved, coding days increased 18% per week, and there were 6% more commits on average across the organizations participating in this research. 

There has been a longstanding notion that engineers are most productive when in the same space together as this fosters more collaboration. And while it may be true that in-person office spaces are best for collaboration, this data might signal that working from home might be beneficial for tasks that don’t require peer or team collaboration. Perhaps we should be steering the conversation away from what’s “better” universally, and instead ask what’s the best environment for the type of work that needs to get done. 

2. Leaders still don’t know what their teams are working on

In last year’s report, leaders overestimated their team’s capacity for roadmap work by 62%. We see from this year’s report that the challenges of visibility persist. In 2020, leaders underestimated the amount of customer support and unplanned work by 114% and 81%, respectively. For the second year in a row, the best guess methodology was wildly inaccurate at predicting the actual work done by their teams.

To move past estimating Allocations, leaders need to invest in the systems that will give them visibility and real-time insights into what teams are working on. Within the same dataset, leaders that adopted an Engineering Management Platform (EMP), a platform designed to solve for this challenge, predicted with near 100% accuracy the total amount of time that teams spend on priority activities. And until we see higher adoption rates of EMPs, we can continue to expect leaders to misrepresent the amount of time teams can spend on priority areas. 

The good news is that after experiencing such acute visibility pains in 2020, many engineering leaders are starting to recognize this visibility gap and close it. 

3. Does team productivity improve with better visibility?

Productivity was reported as the top challenge for most leaders, with 22.2% saying it was their top priority in 2020. Gaining visibility into what their teams were working on was a top challenge for only 13% of leaders surveyed. While this is an improvement year over year, leaders might consider giving it more attention based on the results seen from those that focus on visibility. It appears that those that invested in solving their visibility challenges may have indirectly solved for their productivity woes as well. 

Our report found that engineering teams that adopted EMPs decreased their issue cycle time by 23%, increased the number of issues resolved, and even increased the average number of weekly engineering coding days by 11%. What this implies is that while solving for visibility challenges, leaders might also be indirectly fostering higher productivity. While we cannot say whether this is causation or simply strong correlation, it would not be unreasonable to connect that teams would be more productive when their leaders are better at guiding what they are working on, illuminating why they are doing that work, and facilitating how they are working on it. Regardless of the direct correlation between visibility into Allocation and productivity, it appears that leaders who leveraged EMPs were able to achieve both better visibility and higher productivity than their peers.

The State of Engineering Management

As we stated earlier this year, the future looks bright for engineering leadership, and the insights from the State of Engineering Management confirm this. Data more accessible than ever to leaders. Teams have plans to hire more through 2021. Despite the challenges we faced in 2020, your engineering teams exceeded productivity expectations and accomplished great things over the past year. Engineering leaders, you have much to be proud of, and we’re happy to report that the state of engineering management is strong in 2021.