Welcome to the digest #3 of my “Technical Leadership and Architecture insights” (or TLA_insights for short).


This is a special “aggregate” issue of TLA_insights focused on “Tech Vision and Strategy”, especially on the topic of “Setting and Operating” or “Life-cycle” of Tech Vision and Strategy (yes, I see it as a cycle that should be continuously operated).

“Aggregate Issue” - yet another pivot on TLA_insights format, where I put together (“aggregate”) a series of TLA_insights records on a specific topic. The idea is to create a sort of “state-of-the-art” overview on a given topic, while also bringing some consolidation and insights from my side.

This topic is still a bit “mystical” (as Will Larson, a reference in this issue says): people/orgs approach it differently; a lot of special ceremonies and overhead is put into it; many times people in the tech organization don’t embrace it as they don’t understand why it is important for them or how it enables them; and worst of all, and the most common pattern: approach it as a “one-off” thing, built top-down as a long document done once a year, which is “skimmed once” and then forgotten.

I have selected several interesting references to shade some light on the issues mentioned above and explain:

  • Why is it important (in a nutshell “it enables aligned and accelerated technical decision making by teams in the organization”);
  • How to approach it (i.e.: how to build it, but also “operate it” - as to maximize its potential it should not be a one-off thing, it should be a continuous process embraced by the whole technical community);
  • What it can look like (i.e.: important sections and elements to make sure this is an effective and used resource);
  • When to do What (i.e.: the cadence for activities and time-windows to consider, e.g.: Vision should target a multi-year window to provide safety on longer-term decision making, while a lot of tactical strategies will target shorter term and are much more concrete and scoped - still contributing/aligning with the longer term vision).

I hope you enjoy this special issue and stay tuned as I will be publishing follow-up material on this topic (new entries on this “aggregate”, and an article on the topic with my own views and consolidation of the insights gathered from these and other resources).

On a personal note: last 2 months were very busy, but also very interesting on topics relevant to TLA_insights (especially on the “Technical Leadership” area):

  • I became “Principal Tech Lead” at bol.com (the largest online shopping platform of Netherlands and Belgium). I am leading the official kickstarting of Tech Lead function in the organization. Bol.com has had “unofficial” Tech Leads (or Software Architects) organized in a rather “ad-hoc” manner for a good while. However, with the very fast growth we have been going through over the last 5 years or so, that model was not scaling well anymore, so we have introduced Tech Leads as an official function with clearer “areas of responsibility” and empowerment. We are positioning them as “Enabling Teams” (as in Team Topologies), and their mission is to maximize the potential of the product teams they work with and create an explicit network of knowledge and technical enabling in the organization. (I have an article on the pipeline to share Why we took this decision, What it looks and How we are approaching setting up this “team” or “network” of people on our product-led organization).
  • Related with kickstarting the Tech Leads at bol.com, we have also had the honor of having Pat Kua giving us his “Shortcut to Tech Leadership” virtual training. Pat Kua has been an inspiration and reference for me as Tech Lead for more than 5 years now, and it was great having him sharing a lot of insights and tools for our new Tech Leads (most of them been working as Engineer - “Maker” role, and now transitioning to a Tech Lead - “Multiplier” role, which is the exact focus of this workshop by Pat). Highly recommended to help new Tech Leads, but also to experienced Tech Leads (as a way to consolidate and organize the many things being a Tech Leader involves).

If you found this issue interesting or useful make sure to subscribe to the newsletter or follow-me on twitter so you get notified of new records in this topic and other TLA_insights areas. I hope you have fun and find some interesting insights here. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or want to chat about these topics.

TLA_insights digest #3 - “Tech Vision and Strategy”

light Tech Strategy: You Need it, But What is it?, Nick Tune

Great article by Nick Tune that touches on the "Why" ("the need") of Tech Strategy within (tech) organizations and "What" exactly that can look like to enable the desired effect - technical alignment and velocity.

Tech Strategy, why you need it and what it can look like (in the form of a multi-level approach: enterprise > departments > products).

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light Defining a Tech Strategy, Sarah Taraporewalla

Elements to consider when creating what Sarah calls "The Strategy Document". What I find refreshing in this article is that Sarah does not stop on the writing of the document, but goes on and makes great remarks on the execution of the Tech Strategy (namely: how to go about distributing it and even more importantly "continuously improving it over time").

Tech Strategy is not a project, it is a product: continuously improved and calibrated based on learnings. Goal: create more alignment and a clearer framework for decision making for teams / org.

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light GitLab Strategy Operating Model

Multiple "open resources" from GitLab used to provide the company with an aligned "direction and strategy" for their organization and product development. In this article I mostly focus on the general principles behind the company and product vision and strategy. However, these can be easily extended and used to define Tech organization vision and strategy.

Strategy is a continuum, but we can define a cadence of alignment periods to set where to focus & which actions (eg: work on “Values” to enable the 10 year vision; OKRs to align with 1-year plan).

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light Engineering Strategy, Will Larson

Article from Will Larson that describes a "recipe" for shaping and defining "durable and grounded Engineering Strategies and Vision". This approach is rather interesting as it takes an "iterative bottom-up learning approach" where we observe the common big engineering challenges (from Design Documents on teams) and from there synthesize the (current) relevant Engineering Strategies. Then, to provide extra longer-term direction, Will proposes an extra layer focusing on Vision, which extrapolates how the different Strategies (and their relations) pan out on a 2-3 years time window.

Engineering Strategy and Vision should be a “life-cycle” based on the concrete problems (& designs from teams), providing extended enriched insight to guide and speed-up future technical decision making.

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