As the VP of Engineering, Josh Wilks leads the engineering team, manages client projects, and hundreds of things that pop-up throughout the day. As an outsider, people may wonder how he handles the pressure and workload of managing a growing team of engineers, when really it comes second nature to him. And it was no surprise when the main theme from his Gallup’s Strengths Finder test was an “Arranger,” someone who can deal with complex situations and always seems to find the best solution for the problem at hand. This three-part blog series will deep-dive into the mind of Josh, where you’ll learn his approach at problem solving.
Q1: How do you identify problems or situations that require your attention?
A1: In every organization, there’s always problems. The main question is what problems require my attention and what problems can be solved by someone else with my guidance in the right direction.
We have project status meetings internally every week so I can see what problems may arise in the future by seeing how a project is progressing. Plus, I usually walk around the floor, talk to the project teams, and support them by asking a series of probing questions to let them arrive at the issue themselves. Then, I guide them towards a solution.
There are also larger problems that require more of my attention. For example, situations involving clients, where I need to talk to them directly, or organizational challenges, where we need to modify certain processes to meet our needs.
Based on my previous experiences, I tend to know where areas can go wrong so I look ahead for potential issues that could come up. For example, when I notice we haven’t started to work on a launch plan with a client, I start to ask the PM and anchor questions: Have you submitted to the App Store yet? Have you made sure the client set up their services (i.e. App Store accounts)? From experience, I understand that there’s certain conversations you have to start early, especially when it impacts the success of a project.
Q2: What is your thought process when you’ve identified a problem?
A2: You have to identify all the possible solutions and results and find out what your end goal and ultimate outcome is. For example, our engineering team uses a tool called Pivotal Tracker when we want to build a feature into an application. The story always shows the outcome of the feature so users should be able to perform x action. When an engineer or myself approaches the problem, I try to think of all the steps in between that you have to complete in order to get to the final solution.
Q3: What are some examples of problems you’ve encountered? What did you do?
A3: There was a time when we ran into an issue where all the information we were given to implement the APIs didn’t work. We had an engineer investigate the issue and nothing was working, so we solved the problem by going through multiple parallel paths.
We reached out to the company’s customer support line, we asked the client to be a proxy into their third party contact, and talked to other people that have used that third party app. Whenever you’re trying to complete a task and you run into a block or problem, always look at what parallel paths you can take to unblock it.
Q4: How do you communicate issues to your team and stakeholders?
A4:When you run into a problem, you only communicate it to anyone who can provide assistance in solving your problem and provide information to stakeholders when the end result affects them.
While communicating the problem, make sure to communicate what you’re doing to fix it. You should let them know what the problem is and list out all the possible solutions that address the issue. Show your thought process of how you encountered the problem, how you’re trying to solve it, and what the expected outcomes are. For example, “I have a problem and tried 3 different solutions. The expected outcome is ‘xyz’. However, if I don’t solve it by today, the deliverables will be delayed a week.” You need to communicate the exact impact and how you’re going to solve it.
Reach out to people around you, whether it’s colleagues or bosses, and let them know what your problem is and what your solutions were. They can provide advice and solutions to similar problems they encountered in the past.
Josh is an iOS guru and a lover of everything mobile. As VP of Engineering at TribalScale, Josh brings his expertise in mobile to the forefront of the emerging technology space.