Building High-Performing Engineering Teams with Stacie Lang-Frederick, VP Engineering at Collective Health

August 20, 2020

Recently, Plato hosted an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) webinar featuring Stacie Lang-Frederick, VP of Engineering at Collective Health. Plato hosts their webinars on Zoom, with David Murray, Cofounder at Confirm as the moderator.

Users submit questions in the Zoom console, while other users signal their interest by upvoting it. In this post, I’ll highlight some of the questions addressed by Stacie and David.

How an engineering leader can impact team performance

An audience member posed the following question to Stacie: “As a leader, what’s your advice for key ways you can personally impact team performance as opposed to organization or process?”

According to Stacie, it’s important for the engineering leader to communicate the vision, or “the thing we’re trying to hit.”

“If I’m doing my job, I’ve given everyone the right direction. I’m empowering them or unblocking them so they can do their jobs as best they can,” says Stacie.

When the team sets off in the right direction, they can then work autonomously and decide the best way to achieve the vision. Stacie says that at this point, there’s no need for daily check-ins, but she’s there to step in if needed.

Stacie notes that the path to achieving the vision can be bumpy and present challenges. When challenges arise, she makes it a point to show her support to the team. “When things become really urgent or there’s a fast-paced thing we need to do, offering a word of support is important. Just making it clear to everyone that I’m here to support you,” says Stacie.

How to measure remote engineering teams

“Remote engineering teams” can mean two things: working with internal teams across geographic boundaries or working with vendor-supplied teams (e.g., Lohika) that are also in a different location. 

Stacie measures local teams the same way she measures remote teams. “I don’t look at them differently because if you have an external team, part of their success is whether you notice they’re an external team or do they feel like an extension of your own team?”

Stacie says that when external teams feel like an extension of her own team, she’s winning. Work processes and communications channels flow correctly across teams. The external team is not treated any differently from her own. The external team has the knowledge about her product and technology stack, so she can trust them to deliver on time and with high quality. 

“It’s not like you have to say, ‘They can only work on this because of that, right?’ You actually have freedom to use them in a way that you would use your own team,” says Stacie.

About her partnership with Lohika, Stacie says, “There are times when you need to move fast when building a team and that’s where a company like Lohika can be really useful. Our experience has been really fantastic with Lohika.”

How to increase the engineering team’s velocity

A viewer asked Stacie: “What are some tactics or strategies that you’ve had success with to increase your engineering and/or product team’s velocity?”

Stacie stresses the importance of having the Product, Design and Engineering teams in sync. One critical factor is the depth and quality of the Product Requirements Document (PRD). 

According to Stacie, “How quickly can we get through the process of understanding what a feature is? What does it entail, so we can get into the design process and then into implementation. How long is it going to take?”

In addition to the quality of the PRD, when it’s delivered to Engineering is important. The following questions are important, according to Stacie:

  • How soon do we have the PRDs?
  • How early in that process can we get into design?
  • Does that allow us enough time to do the right thinking and scoping and then into a project? 

The more the timing and process can be smoothed out, the higher the team’s velocity. If there’s ever a point where the team sits idle, waiting for a PRD or related documentation, there will be a slowdown that compromises velocity.

Related: Read Digital Health case studies from Lohika.

How to assess team health and performance

A question presented to Stacie: “What would be the key observations and measures you’d look at to determine team health or high performance?”

Stacie answered that delivery is important, including the team’s ability to deliver on its estimates and timeframes. This can be a challenging task when unknowns are introduced. The team needs to embrace the unknowns and proceed with them in mind.

Quality is another criteria. Stacie looks at the following:

  • Do you have testing?
  • What’s the number of bugs that are identified?
  • How long before the first set of bugs is discovered?
  • Where are the bugs happening?

Next, Stacie looks at system performance:

  • How long does the system stay up?
  • When does it go down?
  • How much more hardware is needed as the system scales?
  • What are the costs associated with that hardware?

Stacie also makes a qualitative assessment about the team’s sprint retrospectives. A first indicator is whether people are talking and participating in the first place. If they are, then what issues (or patterns of issues) are coming up? If people are actively making suggestions, that’s a positive sign of the health of the team. 

According to Stacie, “Are people volunteering, are they plugging into your culture? Are they volunteering for things? Do they feel invested in where they’re at? What they’re doing? Are they suggesting things for your product? There are soft signals and sometimes very hard signals in terms of product, performance and quality of deliverable.”

Related Post: Delivering Human-Centered Products in a Remote World

Watch the recording

Big thanks to Stacie for joining us on this Live Q&A! Here’s a recording of the webinar:

Learn about future webinars from Lohika

We have an exciting schedule of upcoming webinars planned, featuring engineering thought leaders like Stacie. Visit our Events page to learn about upcoming and past events.