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Engineering culture is a key pillar of modern digital businesses

Business owners like you and technology experts like me are witness to the evolution of every organization into a digital organization. This movement is born out of the realization that technology is not just a supporting software function but is at the core of every transforming business.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution creates a deeply integrated relationship between technology and business

The Tech@Core approach positions software as a differentiator and as an enabler for organizations that are adapting to ever changing customer needs. The Accelerate State of DevOps Report 2019 states that, ‘The ability to deliver software rapidly and reliably and provide high levels of availability is a powerful tool. It enables organizations to….keep up with compliance and regulatory changes and deliver critical software patches and updates necessary for security, quickly and reliably.

If ‘adaptability’ is the new competitive advantage, then ‘speed to market’ is the opportune result. The technical utopia that can sustain these business ‘ideals’ can only exist within an extremely sound engineering organization or an organization driven by an exceptional engineering mindset.

The tech utopia

Rapid cycle time is no longer a software team’s responsibility but a business prerogative.

Martin Fowler, Chief Scientist at Thoughtworks and renowned author, software consultant and speaker confirms that an organization’s Tech Excellence has never been as crucial as it is today. Creating a technology strategy that allows businesses to not only deal with, but take advantage of the increasingly rapid pace of change separates successful organizations from the obsolete ones. 

Today’s digital-first companies have revolutionized how technology infrastructure is developed, deployed, maintained and updated in extremely competitive go-to-market strategies. They have successfully integrated the continuous delivery and integration where teams quickly design, test, integrate and deliver software. 

While it is important to incorporate the core practices like automated testing, continuous integration, refactoring, simple and evolutionary design and collective ownership, it is also imperative that the organization understand and incorporate the ‘core values’ that these practices are based on - fast feedback, clean code, simplicity and repeatability.

Once businesses understand how these core values will help them deliver business value and reduce cycle time to the market, the teams can then autonomously choose what practices are best suited for them from an engineering standpoint.

The power of empowered, independent and small teams

McKinsey talks about how, “Small, independent teams are the lifeblood of the agile organization.” Small, autonomous business oriented teams influence maximum impact when it comes to faster delivery cycles and consecutively, fastest time to market. Businesses should be investing in building such teams.

These teams have the following qualities:
  1. Directly connected to the business
  2. Action a clear business investment
  3. Trust and collaboration between team members
  4. Low dependencies
  5. Value driven 

These independent teams are expected to exercise good judgment when it comes to the pivots and continuous evolution of their business practices. A (much needed) strong engineering mindset is nurtured in the team’s ability to define processes, that are specifically suited to the context of the business challenge, domain etc.

On the back of the strong engineering mindset, we also need to create an environment that facilitates a seamless connection between the engineering team, the business and customers. The quality, consistency and ease of this connection will determine how effective the teams are.

The objective here is to craft a working environment that is fluent enough so that we can get from business idea to the production as quickly and seamlessly as possible. The best example of this approach in action is the Aadhar identity platform.

The engineering mindset at work: a case study

India orchestrated one of the world’s largest technology innovations with a country wide biometrics based identification system - a key deliverable of the 'Digital India' initiative. And, in a recent talk, Pramod Varma, Chief Architect at Aadhaar outlined five principles that could help build an uninterruptible engineering organization, if observed.

1. Simplicity - This fundamental principle can unbundle work loads down to micro units, based on the fact that smaller chunks of work are easier to get into production. It is also a key attribute to observe when scaling solutions.

2. Openness -  Consistent collaboration thrives in an open work environment. A survey by a leading co-working operator found the happiest and most productive employees are those who regularly team up with people both outside and within the office. Such an environment ensures that every idea or problem can be augmented through diverse perspectives.

3. Resonance - The increasing degree of uncertainty requires organizations to develop a responsive delivery approach. Components of such an approach include building feedback into the development cycle, breaking down silos towards better collaboration, enabling collective team ownership of the solution and extensive automation.

4. Collaborative ecosystems -  Engineering-centric organizations profit from building, nurturing and leveraging strong ecosystems. An ecosystem is built on the back of a common business objective tying everyone’s efforts together towards qualitatively superior inter-organizational communication.

5. Iterative models or approaches - These are a forward-facing investment of time and resources. Building simplified, observable solutions that can be automated means businesses can hit the market midway, can keep learning and deliver value. On one side, a team immersed in an agile environment and encouraged to experiment and iterate (fail, fix and move on) works on daily or weekly release cycles while, on the other side, we have a seasoned IT team that operates at a more moderate pace to keep the business running smoothly.

It is no longer good enough to get software to production, businesses need to deliver software that are outcome based. This change is demanding and already upon us. We, together, have to create engineering organizations that foster trust and collaboration within and between teams. We have to empower teams to take decisions aimed at creating business value.

Circling back to this paper’s premise, today, technology is at the core of every business which makes every business a digital business. Given the pace of technological change and the dynamic expectations of consumers, it is essential that technology is not only involved in all the business decisions being made but has a seat in the boardroom and drives business decisions. The ideal business scenario to work towards is an engineering mindset that favours excellent engineering practices.

A version of this article appeared in Express Computer.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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