Lack of alignment is silently undermining your software delivery (and how to fix it)
When we think about how companies operate, we imagine these neat little org charts where everyone and everything is perfectly aligned.
But almost every organisation I’ve worked with – and I’ve chatted to hundreds of product engineering leaders – operates in a beautiful state of chaos that looks a bit more like this.
It can sometimes make you wonder how the whole thing still runs. But it does.
The more your organisation grows, the more complex it becomes, and the harder it is to build and maintain alignment.
That's where our real problems begin.
To create alignment, we rely on classic methods that have become second nature.
- Daily stand-ups
- Team meetings
- Cross-team meetings
- Asking our direct reports to keep us updated
- Regular status updates
Systems of record
- PM software (like Jira or Linear) for sprints
- Hosting (like GitHub or BitBucket) for engineering work
- Communication software like Slack or Microsoft Teams
These activities cost people in your product engineering organisation 30% of that time, at best.
There’s a huge opportunity cost to that. Alignment has no real ROI, while the time we miss strategising, coding and innovating is value-generating and has substantial ROI in every healthy business.
And what's worse is, we're still not aligned.
Team A still doesn't know what Team B is working on, so we have poor cross-team collaboration, leading to duplicate work.
Poor cross-department collaboration leads to missed opportunities and time. Meanwhile, the lack of visibility means leadership isn’t equipped to make the best decisions.
There’s a facade of alignment that disguises the mechanisms we’ve built to try and mimic alignment.
Poor alignment snowballs. For example, poor alignment leads to a poor developer experience, which leads to higher turnover, which leads to more alignment meetings and even greater inefficiency.
Four small ways to improve alignment (and one big one)
1. Create natural checkpoints for alignment:
Identify the critical touchpoints in your development process where alignment is most crucial.
Instead of inundating teams with frequent meetings, focus on strategic moments for alignment.
Establish clear milestones like project kickoff, feature design, and sprint planning as natural checkpoints for alignment. This minimises interruptions while ensuring that teams are on the same page at crucial junctures.
2. Ruthlessly delineate what belongs in status updates, and what requires meetings:
Differentiate between information that can be shared asynchronously and topics that necessitate real-time discussions.
Encourage teams to employ asynchronous communication tools for routine updates, progress tracking, and minor clarifications.
Reserve meetings for complex discussions, problem-solving, and brainstorming sessions where real-time interaction is indispensable.
3. Standardise communication channels and processes:
Define a set of designated channels for specific types of communication, preventing information overload and ensuring messages reach the right people.
Categorise communication channels based on their purpose – for example, use project management software for task-related updates, dedicated channels for urgent issues, and collaboration tools for brainstorming.
Standardisation minimises confusion and facilitates targeted communication.
4. Share the right kind of information:
Prioritise surfacing strategic information, such as decisions, opportunities, risks and strategic progress. Use AI tools to summarise meetings automatically, such as Otter.
5. Enlist AI
In the past, alignment has been something we can only mimic through synchronous and asynchronous methods along with our systems of record.
Today, LLMs (Large Language Models) are ready to solve the problem properly.
We’ve built Stepsize AI to do precisely this.
Stepsize AI is an Operational Intelligence Engine that plugs into your systems of record and intelligently surfaces key information, risks, and opportunities, and organises these into smart, automatic updates for all organisational layers.
By automating the alignment process, Stepsize AI reduces time spent in meetings and helps remote teams reach new levels of collaboration.