by Leon Rosenshein

Engineering Excellence

I maintain that we are engineers, and I’m not the only one. And of course, we all want to be excellent to each other. But what is engineering excellence, really?

It’s not doing code reviews or design docs or outage post mortems, but those are all part of it. It’s not SOLID or DRY or KISS, but those are part of it too. And it’s not staging environments, release processes, or alerting. Or at least it’s not just any of those things.

Engineering excellence, and especially a culture of engineering excellence isn’t about the things you do. It’s about why you are doing those things. It’s the difference between trying to ensure bugs aren’t released with the product at the end and trying to ensure bugs aren’t added to the product during development. A sufficiently rigorous late stage QA process can make sure bugs will never be released, but it can’t ensure you actually release something. Conversely, if you make sure bugs aren’t added (or live long if they are) you can release whenever you want.

It’s engineering excellence that takes you from executing all of the processes in the world because you’ve been told that process makes you better to “We care enough to do the best” so we want to do all those things which let us know that we’re doing excellent work. Engineering excellence is about craftsmanship and effectiveness. It’s about fit and finish. It’s about doing things in a way that makes things easier in the future, not what’s expedient not. It’s about doing things in a way that gives you the more average velocity, not more instantaneous velocity.

What you end up with is pretty impressive as well. You end up being both happier and more productive. You do things you didn’t know you could, and before you expected to be able to do them, so more value is released to your customers. You end up happier when you do it as well. You find that the little things that annoyed you are gone. There’s less friction when you try to do something. The time you used to sit around waiting for something to finish is gone.

It happens at multiple levels, not just the individual. The same thing happens at the organizational level. Build roadmaps not just for the quarterly review, but with customers so that the roadmap is built around customer needs. Collaborating with partners to reach a goal quicker. Having processes and norms to make things easier instead of using them as a constraint. A smoothing of the rough edges between and around teams and goals so they work together better.

And of course, not a simple copy of some other company’s ideas, but done in a way that fits our context.