Coronavirus: Tech Tips & Business Advice for Engineering Managers
The coronavirus is straining businesses in ways unimaginable. Many companies are built around some fundamental assumptions, assumptions that seem non-controversial pre COVID-19. For example, it was safe to assume that:
- Companies could always operate a storefront to serve their customers.
- Teams could go to an office to work.
- Supply chains were reliable.
If your company operates around any one of these assumptions, you might find it difficult to adapt to the new reality presented by this crisis. One thing clear to me is that the coronavirus is forcing every company to embrace digital transformation, whether they’re ready for it or not. If your business is built on driving revenue through physical locations, and you don’t spin up digital channels quickly, your bottom line will suffer, putting your entire business at risk.
Suddenly, your engineering team will be thrusted into the limelight. The business will look to you to innovate its way out of this crisis. As leaders, there are several choices ahead of you. Some of you will decide to do nothing and wait for the crisis to blow over. Others will become great managers and perform heroic acts to keep the lights on through the crisis. And there will be others who will transform into leaders by delivering new products and services to the business. IMHO, leaders are what the business needs right now.
This will be a three part blog post. This post will be about how to manage through the crisis by keeping the lights on. The next post will provide some tips on how to lead the business through these challenging times. The last post will be an unconventional playbook on how to innovate your way through the crisis.
Managing Through The Crisis
The coronavirus clearly creates new operational challenges that cannot be ignored. The obvious one is supporting teams that can no longer go to the office. Keeping the lights on means:
- Getting everyone remote access to resources via a VPN or some other technology.
- Making sure engineers with desktops get machines for home use.
- Training and comfort with video conferencing tools.
These are the basics, and relatively easy to sort out. What’s not so easy is reliance on key services running on premises.
Business System Availability
Availability of business systems to support engineering and design is a must. Consider your bug tracking system, source code repository, internal knowledge sites, and other on-prem infrastructure that supports daily operations. These systems all need to be highly available, which means staff is required to troubleshoot issues in person, particularly related to hardware.
In the near term, I recommend setting up an on-call schedule with several people who can go into the office in case of an emergency. I say “near term” because this is a risky proposition. Local law enforcement could prohibit anything but essential work activities and could deem this non-essential. You will need to quickly adopt cloud technologies to reduce the risk to your daily operations. Get rid of the on prem ticketing system for one hosted in the cloud. Ditto for shared drives and for code repositories. These are unprecedented times, so act quickly and decisively.
Engineering Support Infrastructure
Availability of engineering development resources are just important as business systems. Let’s say your team is working on new features for your mobile app. To support development work, your team built a pool of devices where individuals can “check-out” an iPhone to run a few tests. But with the coronavirus in play, your workforce is remote with no access to that pool, yet they’re still needed to build and test your app.
Today, you can distribute these devices to your team, so at least each engineer has a device to work with. It won’t give you complete coverage, but at least it allows for some testing. In parallel, consider adopting a mobile devices cloud to give each engineer greater access to devices to test.
External Service Providers
So far, I’ve talked about infrastructure requirements impacted by the coronavirus, and tips to adjust to keep the lights on. However, many engineering organizations are heavily reliant on service providers as part of their development process. These service providers are part of the digital supply chain needed to deliver software to market. Just as physical supply chains are disrupted by this virus (with goods stuck in manufacturing plants, at harbors, airports, etc.), expect similar disruptions from the digital supply chain.
For example, if you outsource manual QA testing to an offshore provider, you have to plan for service disruptions. India just issued a shelter at home order. This means that Indian outsourcers are struggling with the same things you are, i.e., getting their employees hardware, internet connectivity, remote access. You have no control over their timelines, yet you’re dependent on them to deliver timely QA results for upcoming releases. To mitigate risk, allocate in-house resources to do testing. Look at engineering projects in flight, cancel non essential projects and allocate engineers, project managers, whoever else to help with either manual or automated testing. In times of crisis, it’s all hands on deck.
Companies will look to you to ensure business operations continue unabated through the crisis. Those are the expectations placed on a great manager. But you have a unique opportunity to truly lead a transformation within your company, one that ensures new sources of revenue. My next post will talk about how to do that.
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