Maintaining technical continuity through turnover

Building a team for technical continuity

Documentation of design decisions is one of the best ways to ensure technical continuity on a team. If the team decides to go with one approach to solving a problem instead of another, documenting the decision in a design spec along with the rejected solution and the reason why it was rejected can help increase the longevity of this decision. Along the same lines, documenting the long term vision or trajectory for this design is equally as important, since it influences the decisions made today and helps future engineers continue executing towards this vision. The existing design specs are a great place for both of these bits of data, as this is typically the first place engineers should look when ramping up on a new component.

Rebuilding technical continuity after turnover

Sometimes, a new team lead will inherit a team which has suffered a lot of turnover in a short period of time — in the worst case, the team has turned over completely. In this situation, the new team will need to ensure they stay highly productive by avoiding to repeat the same missteps that occurred in the past or retracing the same designs only to end up right back at the same decisions their predecessors made. The team’s most important goal in this situation is to rebuild their domain expertise and institutional knowledge base.

Conclusion (TL;DR)

Build to last:

  • When making decision, document them so they have staying power.
  • When learning from previous mistakes, document them so future generations don’t repeat them.
  • Hold blameless retrospectives after major milestones.
  • Map out & assess subject matter experts, make sure there is always a backup.
  • Seek to understand what drove predecessors to make the decisions they did. There is usually a good reason for it.
  • Avoid rebuilding existing components/systems without first understanding them.
  • Read through previous retrospectives when launching a new similar project or phase of a project.
  • Include previous team members in code reviews if possible.

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