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Low Sensitivity
Occupy the Space: A
grassroots guide to
engineering (and product)
strategy when none exists
Jason Yip
6 March 2024
Low Sensitivity
Here’s the scenario…
Low Sensitivity
Low morale “No strategy”
Why? Leadership
response?
Just repeating
the vision
Low Sensitivity
Someone needs to step up!
Low Sensitivity
Low Sensitivity
What do we mean when we say
“strategy”?
Low Sensitivity
Low Sensitivity
TL;DR
Strategy is problem-solving for a high
stakes challenge.
Low Sensitivity
Good strategy has 3 parts.
Low Sensitivity
Diagnosis
Not just “this is a problem”
but also “why is the
problem happening?”
Guiding Policy
Guiding principles for how
we believe we can
address the problem.
Coherent Actions
Specific actions we take
that are coherent with the
guiding policy.
Low Sensitivity
Diagnosis Guiding Policy Coherent Actions
Our ML models are not
performing well because
our legacy system does
not capture the data we
need to train effectively.
Migrate off the legacy
system to new services.
Focus on migration of
traffic over migration of
capabilities.
Direct all new traffic to
new services
Explicit migration timeline
with target outcomes (not
just best efforts)
New capabilities built on
new services first – even if
exception made to also add
to legacy.
Low Sensitivity
Therefore, “no strategy” means…
Low Sensitivity
Diagnosis Guiding Policy Coherent Actions
? ? ?
Low Sensitivity
Diagnosis Guiding Policy Coherent Actions
? ?
Our ML models are not
performing well because
our legacy system does
not capture the data we
need to train effectively.
Low Sensitivity
Diagnosis Guiding Policy Coherent Actions
Our ML models are not
performing well because
our legacy system does
not capture the data we
need to train effectively.
Migrate off the legacy
system to new services.
Focus on migration of
traffic over migration of
capabilities.
Direct all new traffic to
new services
No explicit migration
targets. Explicit short-term
business outcome targets.
New capabilities built on
legacy system first because
most of the traffic is there.
Low Sensitivity
So what? What’s the problem with “no
strategy”?
Low Sensitivity
Confusion
Lack of motivation
Incoherent and
competing actions
Low Sensitivity
Countermeasures for “no strategy”
Low Sensitivity
Occupy the Space Draft Share Decide
Don’t Sweat Ownership
Get Staff+
Engineers Involved
Assign dedicated
liaisons
Low Sensitivity
Occupy the Space
Low Sensitivity
Profi
t
Steal underpants
Empty space
where there
should be a
strategy
Low Sensitivity
There is an empty
space where there
should be a strategy
Complain about leaders
not stepping up
You’re capable, why not
step up yourself?
Only one of these choices is useful.
Someone else fills the
space with a bad strategy
Low Sensitivity
One of two outcomes
Your strategy is
accepted… because
it’s competent and
has buy-in.
Your strategy is not
accepted… but
leaders are forced
to correct it.
This one is better This one is acceptable
Low Sensitivity
Diagnosis
Not just “this is a problem”
but also “why is the
problem happening?”
If you want your strategy to be “good”...
Coherent Actions
Specific actions we take
that are coherent with the
guiding policy.
Guiding Policy
Guiding principles for how
we believe we can
address the problem.
Low Sensitivity
I’ve yet to see this be a problem… but just in case…
You get a “+1” for
addressing the
strategy gap.
The leader who was
supposed to provide
the strategy gets a “-1”
Low Sensitivity
Occupy the Space
When there is a strategy gap, fill it yourself.
This will lead to either:
1. Acceptance of your strategy
2. Leaders correct it.
Either way, you no longer have a strategy gap.
Low Sensitivity
Your strategy is accepted… because
it’s competent and has buy-in.
How do you increase the likelihood of this?
Draft Share Decide
Get Staff+
Engineers Involved
Assign dedicated
liaisons
Low Sensitivity
Draft Share Decide
Draft, share, decide. Starting principles | by Jason Yip | Medium
Low Sensitivity
You can’t get to depth quickly
with too many people involved.
Strategies created by
committee tend to be shallow.
Why you can’t have a useful conversation with a lot of people | by Jason Yip |
Medium
Which is why
Low Sensitivity
Low Sensitivity
“Without involvement, there is no
commitment. Mark it down, asterisk
it, circle it, underline it. No
involvement, no commitment.”
Stephen R. Covey
Low Sensitivity
Low Sensitivity
#protip
Sharing can sometimes be more about buy-in than it is
about getting additional insight… don’t make it more
complicated than it needs to be.
Low Sensitivity
Draft Share Decide
1. Draft strategy with a small group
2. Share it with a broader group for feedback
3. Decide on the “final” version
Low Sensitivity
Get Staff+ Engineers
involved
Low Sensitivity
Target characteristics for “Staff+ Engineers”
Been
around for a
while.
Knows a lot
about how the
systems work.
Implicit respect and
authority independent
of reporting lines
This could be you.
If not, get that person
(or people) involved
Low Sensitivity
Why get Staff+ Engineers involved?
They probably have a
perspective that should be
incorporated in the strategy.
Their involvement can
sometimes automatically
create buy-in.
Low Sensitivity
Get Staff+ Engineers Involved
The most senior technical ICs tend to have influence.
Exploit this and get them involved.
Low Sensitivity
Assign Dedicated Liaisons
Low Sensitivity
“This is our
proposed strategy”
“This is our proposed
strategy… AND all the
dependent groups are
bought-in”
This one is stronger
Low Sensitivity
Get dependent
groups bought-in.
Establish good
relationships with
dependent groups.
Assign dedicated
liaisons to establish
good relationships.
Low Sensitivity
Low Sensitivity
“Bureaucratic pressure alone is an inherently flawed method for
ensuring genuine, long-term cooperation— as no one appreciates
being told to play nice with others. When the pressure is removed for
whatever reason, cooperation is likely to diminish.”
“liaisons offered a completely different channel for connectivity, a
human-to-human personal network that was accountable for the
creation of cross-boundary, dotted-line relationships among
independent entities.”
Low Sensitivity
“The liaison seems
well-mannered and
intelligent. We must
assume the rest of the
team is the same.”
Low Sensitivity
Assign Dedicated Liaisons
A strategy with buy-in from other groups is stronger.
If you want buy-in from other groups it’s useful to have
someone dedicated to building relationships with them.
Low Sensitivity
Don’t Sweat
Ownership
Low Sensitivity
You’ve addressed
the strategy gap.
Your area is now
under control
and doing well.
This makes your area
attractive for
someone to takeover
and/or steal credit. Empire builder
Low Sensitivity
No strategy… with
associated confusion,
lack of motivation,
incoherent action, etc.
Clear strategy… but
someone steals credit for it.
This one sucks less.
Low Sensitivity
Don’t Sweat Ownership
When you come up with a good strategy, it’s possible
someone else with more power will show up and take credit.
This is still better than having a strategy gap.
Low Sensitivity
Summary
Low Sensitivity
Low morale “No strategy”
Why? Leadership
response?
Just repeating
the vision
Occupy the
space!
Low Sensitivity
Occupy the Space Draft Share Decide
Don’t Sweat Ownership
Get Staff+
Engineers Involved
Assign dedicated
liaisons
Low Sensitivity
Questions?

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[OReilly Superstream] Occupy the Space: A grassroots guide to engineering (and product) strategy when none exists

Editor's Notes

  1. Here’s the scenario… morale is low… people have been complaining about a lack of strategy for a while. The top leadership team has just been repeating the vision with no explanation of why that’s the right thing to do never mind how to get there.
  2. Someone needs to step up… If you’re listening to this presentation, that someone is you.
  3. The most useful framing I’ve seen for this is from Richard Rumelt in Good Strategy, Bad Strategy and The Crux.
  4. A diagnosis of the challenge - not just “this is a problem” but also “why is it happening?” Guiding Policy - guiding principles of how we believe we can successfully address the challenge Coherent actions - specific key actions we take that are coherent with the guiding policy
  5. For example…
  6. “No strategy” can mean no diagnosis, no guiding policy, no coherent actions but also…
  7. … could look like this where there is a diagnosis, but no guiding policy which leads to incoherent actions… or…
  8. … there can be a diagnosis and even guiding policy but actual actions are incoherent. Any of these combinations can be described as “no strategy”. There’s also just “bad strategy” where the diagnosis and/or guiding policy and/or actions are dumb.
  9. Mainly confusion which leads to both lack of motivation AND incoherent and competing actions
  10. So what can we do about it?
  11. I’ve used 5 countermeasures for this kind of situation that I think are useful.
  12. This is the visual I have in my head. I’ll sometimes call this “space” a “strategy gap” but I like how “Occupy the Space” sounds better than “Occupy the Strategy Gap”.
  13. In my opinion, there are 2 bad choices and 1 good choice
  14. I want to be clear, it’s still okay if you make a reasonable effort to fill the space and it’s not quite there because you’re missing context that was not shared.
  15. A diagnosis of the challenge - not just “this is a problem” but also “why is it happening?” Guiding Policy - guiding principles of how we believe we can successfully address the challenge Coherent actions - specific key actions we take that are coherent with the guiding policy
  16. This last one is about organizational politics
  17. I’m not saying that it doesn’t suck but it sucks less.
  18. Same scenario but