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Why Have an Engineering Philosophy?

Kristen Buchanan

At some point, your engineering team will encounter a challenging situation.

Whether it's friction between team members, high turnover, or questionable behavior from a team member – even one who is a high performer – team obstacles are inevitable.

A defined engineering philosophy can help teams navigate these obstacles and find the best path forward.

So what is an engineering philosophy, exactly?

At Edify, we define an engineering philosophy as the set of values, norms, knowledge, and behaviors that keeps a team together through the ups and downs.

It can be hard to define, especially if your engineering philosophy is something that’s just understood by your team members. Asana, for example, clearly articulates their philosophy through stated values.

But if a new hire joins the team, that innate understanding of the culture and philosophy might not be clear.

To set up your current and future team members for success, we always recommend defining a team or department engineering philosophy.

How do you form an engineering philosophy?

To clarify your engineering philosophy, ask your team the following questions:

  • What really matters to the team overall?
  • What are the team values and priorities?
  • What boundaries must be maintained for every team member to thrive in their role?

And then base your engineering philosophy off of their answers.

If you’re really struggling to define your philosophy, consider this:

What might be grounds for firing someone? If a team member exhibited X behavior, or disregarded Y value, would their actions be tolerated?

Sometimes it’s helpful to consider what isn’t part of your engineering philosophy to clarify what is important.

So often this comes down to a gut feeling. Think of a situation that causes discomfort for you or a member of your team — something that just doesn’t feel right.

Then take a hard look at exactly what doesn’t sit right, and why.

Why does an engineering philosophy matter?

Clarifying an engineering philosophy is a practice of setting boundaries for your team. And it’s critical to help new hires understand your philosophy from their first days onboarding onto your team.

When conflicts arise (and they inevitably will) it’s important to have defined precedents for what will and what won't be tolerated. Such clear guidelines help employees understand their role among the team, and allows them to feel supported by their manager or director.

It can also help reduce turnover on the team. When conflicts do arise managers can take swift action, and afterward the team can get back to work feeling secure and clear on the situation.

It's important to recognize that people make up the culture of a company, and that's really what this philosophy question is about. When team members understand the culture, respect it, and adjust their behavior accordingly, everyone can thrive.

When you have an engineering philosophy, make sure your new engineers become familiar with it right away. Try eddy, our onboarding bot, to give your new hires the information when they need it. 

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