3 mins

How to drive pace and build highly effective engineering teams when you can't expand the headcount.

The tech world is steeped in restrictions at the moment. Having been through a difficult year of layoffs and budget cuts, companies are looking to buckle down on efficiency. A tough ask when headcount isn’t what it was and higher-ups are counting their pennies. In this environment, teams need to focus on being efficient through alignment and intentional focus to maintain performance.  

Ahead of her talk at LeadingEng Berlin in December, Scott Carey (SC), checked in with VP of Engineering at Zalando, Joyce Chen, to hear more about how engineers can gain a competitive edge by mastering lean efficiency. 

The below conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. Joyce’s full talk will be delivered at LeadingEng Berlin on December 6.  

SC: What is your LeadingEng Berlin talk going to be about? 

JC: I'm going to talk about how you can think about efficiency. Nowadays it's not news to anybody that every company is looking at how to reduce complexity and be more efficient about what we do. 

I'm going to share my experience and my perspective on how we unpack and think about this issue. 

SC: A lot of engineering leaders are going through a cycle of layoffs for the first time in their careers. What has your extensive experience taught you about leading teams through a downturn?

JC: I’ve had a long career, one that started when there was no cloud computing. This meant that we had to think about a lot of things differently. For example, fixing bugs before releasing products was a completely different process compared to what we have today.

It is for this reason that I emphasize “focus”. It's very important to focus on what you're doing and tie it back to business impact. 

Secondly, it’s critical for us to prioritize alignment, especially in the context of business impact. Given that the economy has changed so much, this is doubly important. 

SC: How much of a problem is prioritization under these conditions and how can we efficiently reprioritize items? 

JC: This is another key aspect. Part of prioritization is sorting through the noise. This goes back to my point on alignment. Look to the three key priorities of your company right now and use that to inform which priorities rank higher.  

Also, I think that priorities differ a little from month to month. What I mean is, for example, for me in e-commerce right now, Cyber Week is the thing at the top of my mind. 

SC: What are you hoping that the audience take away from your talk?

JC: I have a long and varied career. Not only did I move from the US to Berlin, but I moved from working at Microsoft to working in e-commerce. So, firstly, I’m hoping the audience can see how someone could have a diverse career path. 

Secondly, I hope the audience can learn about how we think about efficiency in the context of the software development cycle.

And lastly, I wish for the audience to apply the examples from my talk to their own companies. In the cases they can’t, I hope they can reflect on the reasons why and explore other potential paths.  

SC: What was it about LeadingEng in particular that made you want to deliver this talk there? 

JC: One of my very trusted and highly regarded co-workers recommended LeadingEng to me. Not only is this a solid platform, but the level of bonding that I did with other speakers led me to believe this is a great way for us all to come together to share and learn from each other. So, in addition to giving the talk, I'm also looking forward to learning from others and networking long-lasting connections.