Involve Engineering in the Planning Process

By Hubert Liu

It’s exciting to be a founder and a business owner -- you get to set your own schedule, run your own team, and do things the way you want. Unfortunately, especially for first-time founders, this is often a huge trap!

As a founder, it’s often assumed that you must come up with all the answers yourself. In a recent conversation, an entrepreneur commented that they didn’t think they should involve their CTO in planning, unless he/she was also a co-founder. Otherwise, he/she is an employee of the business and should receive ideas and specifications and just make it happen.

This got me thinking about different types of decision making (command, consultative, consensus, and delegated). For the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on the consultative decision, and why consulting your CTO and engineering team in your product planning is a great idea. The two main reasons are:

  1. Engineers are really good at decomposing problems

  2. Engineers can give quick feedback to help adjust scope or schedule

Decomposing The Problem

For most engineers, not all time is spent writing code. There’s a significant amount of time dedicated to mapping out problems and spotting potential roadblocks of proposed solutions.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what founders are doing too! As a founder, it’s often hard to get the thoughts out of your head and into a digestible manner for others, and your engineers can help talk you through that. Because they are always thinking about how to build something, they have to make sure they understand exactly what that thing is as well.

If you’re having trouble putting your thoughts on a whiteboard or a document, you’ll run into those same issues again when an engineer starts development. Talk through those things in the beginning to get on the same page, and save yourself headache down the road!

Shortening The Feedback Loop

Scope and schedule are two directly correlated legs of the project management triangle. Scope refers to the feature set (amount of work to be done), while schedule refers to the delivery date or timeline. An increase in scope lengthens the schedule, while a decrease in scope shortens the schedule.

Quick feedback from engineering on the plausibility of the schedule, given the scope, can allow fine tuning of each leg. Fast estimations help hone requirements, and force you to think about features as either a must-have or a nice-to-have, depending on the desired schedule.

Being transparent as possible in your confidence level of a certain feature set can also help balance scope and schedule -- something you know for sure is important should take priority, while something that you’re unsure of (and must be validated after release) can be more loosely implemented with less precision.

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Thinking about how you can leverage your team to help you make decisions can be a huge benefit, if done with balance. The consultative decision is just one method, but when used appropriately, it can help a founder get their thoughts organized.