Focus on the what, not the how

Mar 18 2021 by Satyajit

Around early 2020 my teams were about to release the software that they had been working on. We considered applying the mantra of You Build It; You Run It. We had a very clear goal in mind, in a few months we were going live with our product and we needed to maintain the systems that we had built.

I asked one of my engineers, who had experience as an SRE, to steer this task. The main outcome was to ensure that we as a team would be able to maintain the systems we built. We’d need to figure out our SLOs, alerting mechanism for when we breach the SLOs, respond to such breaches, and how to do it beyond working hours.

This engineer, with a few others, set up procedures for Incidence Response, set up Prometheus and PagerDuty to notify about incidents, set up a roster for going on-call during off hours and also training on how to respond to incidents. The bit that I was involved in was to get the contractual bits sorted out.

This whole exercise turned out to be a resounding success. We were the first department in the company to maintain the systems we built; prior to this we had an operations team. This inspired all the others in the company to do so as well. We were able to provide better support, with more context than an operations team.

The most important lesson from this experience I got was to focus on the outcome. In other words, what did we want to achieve? I wasn’t deeply involved in how it was done. This was crucial to the success. I have been an engineer myself, and got annoyed by managers who “suggested” how things were to be done or constantly check how things are being done. It is important to trust the engineers to get the job done right. When you focus on how things need to be done it puts mistrust in the people. If you don’t trust them you have hired the wrong folks.

tl;dr focus your energy on setting clear outcomes for your teams and follow up on these outcomes. Don’t focus on the how it needs to be done. Your engineers would figure the best solution.