Juggling Act: Balancing Multiple Roles on an Engineering Team

 
 

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles spotlighting Women in Engineering. We asked Priyanka Mazagaonkar, Director of Engineering for Selligent, to share her thoughts about her multiple roles.

"How do you balance it all?"

"Do you think you are able to do justice to either?"

"What about the extra demand on your time?"

I’m happy to say that for once, I wasn’t asked these questions as a "mom-who-also-works," but because I recently took on three different roles in parallel in my organization.

There’s nothing unique about taking on multiple roles. It is a given in startups, where almost everyone starts off with multiple roles that are later staffed individually as the company grows and matures. What made my situation different was that the roles I took on were already individually staffed in the other engineering teams in the company. This multitasking was in part necessitated by my team being the startup team amongst the rest.

Team Manager, Scrum Master Product Manager: All in One!

I came into the mix with my default role as the team manager and went on to take the role of a scrum master and a product manager for the first engineering scrum team being set up in North America. Agile Scrum is practiced fervently in our engineering teams and there are, hence, clearly defined roles for scrum masters and product managers. This made it even more challenging for one single person to play these roles in parallel. I dove into it with the "Challenge accepted - let’s do what it takes!" attitude, and the experience has been interesting, to say the least.

Addressing the Challenges of Multiple Roles

I predicted and planned for some challenges, while there were some that I encountered and solved along the way. Everything mainly boiled down to four things:

  1. Redefine roles for co-existence
    Contents from three full jars cannot fit into one. It was important to decide what tasks and responsibilities constitute the minimum viable definition for each role. For example, the full role of a scrum master has responsibilities that go beyond just her or his teams, to creating relevant dashboards and tracking overall stats, process, and progress across teams. It was vital to conclude what duties of a scrum master are a must-have for this arrangement and which ones can wait for a full position. My mantra was to start with the must-haves and then move on to the nice-to-haves and to set clear and measurable goals for each role.
     
  2. Have a go-to person or group
    It is useful to identify a go-to person (or a group of people) for assistance while ramping up on the parallel role, even after the initial training or hand-off is done. Not only does this make the ramp-up smoother, but it also provides for an automatic backup, which becomes so much more critical when one person is playing multiple roles.
     
  3. Fully Qualified Communication
    Communication becomes more nuanced while playing multiple roles. I am the team manager, the scrum master, and the product manager, and I can be a part of an email or chat conversation in the capacity of one or more of these roles. In such cases, it is sometimes important to qualify my response as pertaining to one of my roles. I often add qualifiers like, "from a product perspective" or, "as a scrum master" in my conversations to clarify which role I am participating/responding as.
     
  4. Feedback and Retrospective
    These two pillars of continuous improvement – feedback and retrospective – have ably supported me. Besides the obvious feedback line with my manager, I sought feedback from members of the other scrum teams, as well as my role-peers in other teams (and other companies even), to get a real sense of how I am performing in these varied roles. This, combined with a regular retrospective, allowed me to do course correction sooner rather than later.
    Back to Those Original Questions...

All of this is not to say that I am now perfect in each of these roles; far from it. There are moments every day when those three voices of my brain frantically work to conclude their inputs on a topic (yup, I know how that sounds). I can, however, comfortably answer those questions that I’m asked:

  • I balance it all by having clear expectations for each role.
  • Yes, I believe I do justice to each role. As is the nature of being human, my performance would not have a symmetric graph, but that is not for lack of effort, attention, or capability.
  • I would be lying if I claimed that there is no extra demand on time. The demand did peak significantly at the beginning, but it also hit a plateau as I gathered more hands-on experience in each role. Yes, there is still a surcharge; but one that is manageable with clear but adapting goals.

I’ll end with a few bonus questions that I’ve been asked, with my honest replies:

"Is it mentally exhausting?"

Of course, it is.

"Is it rewarding?"

Most definitely!

"Would you do it again?"

...oh, I‘m afraid I need to run into a meeting now...

 

Priyanka Mazagaonkar is Director of Engineering at Selligent Marketing Cloud. She has worked with the software technology industry over 15 years, having started her career as a software engineer and moving on to a management role soon after. She has been managing engineering teams across the globe for many years now and has a keen interest in exploring how products can make an entry into Cloud and related domains. She has extensive experience being a part of and coordinating with offshore teams, especially in the area of new development and technology exploration.

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