Tag Archives: management

Observation

Several weeks agoDawn and I discussed several of the traits that are often found in strong leaders. Among them, there was one that is so overlooked that it is the first thing people ask me about my list: the power of observation.

Observation is key to so many aspects of leadership, but everybody that asks me about it meets it with a similarly dismissive attitude.

“Everyone knows how to look,” they deride, “it’s obvious.”

Observation is more than merely looking, it’s looking with intent! Being properly observant requires actively paying attention to your surroundings (and yourself) with the goal of taking action on the information that you find. it’s not merely being aware of the things around you, but earnestly absorbing them and processing what you find. It requires diving deeper than the surface; there are numerous levels of observation, and each layer deeper you manage to go is an additional degree of insight (and action) afforded you.

At its most basic, a leader should be in the habit of observing the general attitude of the team. How does the team seem when working? When not working? Interacting with you? When you’re not obviously around? With each individual member? With people outside of the team? When things are stressful?

The answers to questions like these paint a picture of the health of your team that you will never get by simply asking—the team might not even realize, for example, that they’re combative to “outsiders” but through careful observation you might note the signs. You might observe tension between teammates before it becomes notable to those involved, even.

Remember, though, that observation implies a willingness for action. When you observe behaviors that betray underlying “illness”, it is incumbent upon you to act. It’s the combination of careful observation and resulting action that will really elevate your ability to lead your team.

Pitch Perfect

Want to know if your team understands something? Ask them to give you the elevator pitch. If they can’t summarize the objectives and high-level milestones in a few quick sentences, it’s unlikely that they understand it very well.

Take a step back, can you give an elevator pitch? If not, take the time to make sure that you truly have a grasp on the plan, then take that newfound proficiency to get your team on board as well.

You’ll be surprised at how much traction simply having a firmer grasp on the subject will help your team gain!

Leading Questions (a Podcast)

A few weeks ago, Dawn and I were participating in a leadership conversation in a slack that we both frequent when the idea of us doing a leadership podcast was brought up.

Neither of us have ever waited to be asked twice to throw ourselves out there publicly, so we hastily pulled together a concept, some material, recording equipment, and set to work making a thing.

Yesterday, we posted the first episode of that thing!

Continue reading Leading Questions (a Podcast)

Leading Without Ego

The lede of an interview in which I was recently featured ended up being the notion of not being precious with your ideas—as a result, that concept has been the topic of conversation quite a bit over the last few weeks. As often happens, the most common question to arise also happened to be the most obvious one:

How do you avoid being precious with your ideas?

Continue reading Leading Without Ego

Confessions of an IT Pro: Precious Ideas Will Hold You Back

This is a placeholder for an article about me that was posted on a different site. If you want to read the article, you’ll have to click through! Please try to ignore the ginormous picture of me at the top. Please try to ignore the use of the word “Pro” in the title. Creative liberties were taken!

Unlike being a lawyer or a doctor, IT has a number of entry points. Some go to school. Some convert their passion from childhood into a career. And some, like software professional Jer Lance, initially get their training and expertise through military service. We spoke with Lance about his roles spanning education, management and software development and what he’s learned over that time.

Q: How did you start your career? And how important do you think education and certifications were for you? 

Read more…

Slow Path to Leadership

I started a new job about a month ago, so I am right on schedule for my typical visit from the Imposter Syndrome fairy. It’s as regular as clockwork: suddenly immersed in a place where everyone in the building has infinitely more knowledge than I—everything from the business domain to work procedures to where to find the bloody conference rooms1—so I have to fight the feelings that I’ve finally taken on too much until I start to get my feet beneath me on something that feels like solid ground.2

It’s simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.

Continue reading Slow Path to Leadership

You Get What You Measure

Wells Fargo has had to fire over 5,000 employees as it was found that they were making fake accounts on behalf of customers—these terminations took place over the course of a few years, so this has been going on for some time. More recently, however, the bank ended their program of incentives to cross-sell accounts to customers.

To recap: a company started to measure how often its employees were able to cross-sell accounts, applied incentives to that measure, and the employees dialed up their cross-sells to the point of actual fraud.

This is unsurprising, you get exactly what you measure—no more, no less.

I’ve seen this often in software delivery: companies claim to value quality, but what do they measure? Lines of code, features completed, project milestones, deadlines. What do you get in return for that measurement? You get tremendous amounts of low-quality work delivered on time and within budget—then you spend extraordinary amounts of time and money fixing all of the terrible, broken software you’ve created.

A past employer expressed tremendous amounts of frustration with exactly that problem when they brought me onto the team; their projects would be completed reliably on time or very close, but would often be delivered 100% or more late (and with tremendously reduced profit) because of the enormity of the repair tasks.

If you want to receive quality, that is what you have to measure. There are numerous ways to do so; incentivizing first-time delivery quality with zero-defect feature bonuses, tracking defect counts against feature complexity for a team, and turning off incentives for milestones in favor of incentives for active status communication are just a few that I have used with great success.

In the aforementioned company, I lobbied for and eventually succeeded in eliminating milestone measurement on the delivery side of the organization in favor of quality metrics similar to those above, and both profit and timeliness skyrocketed…but what rose the most was customer satisfaction. Suddenly, clients enjoyed our process and software, which was really my goal all along.

Remember that you will always get what you measure, but you will get the letter of it, not the spirit of it. Act accordingly.

Panic Managing

It’s quarter after nine in the morning and you’re just getting into the morning groove when it happens. In the very moment that you become aware of how eerily quiet and still the room has become your manager is standing next to you with a look you’ve come to know all too well–wide eyes, knuckles white around the handle of his coffee mug, flushed skin–his voice is just slightly higher pitched than normal as he starts to speak. He conveys to you today’s first emergency.

Just like that, your day is shot.

Continue reading Panic Managing

Managing Honesty

In a post several months ago, Seth Godin asks organizations that speak untruths to customers “what else will you lie about?

The question of organizational integrity is one that I wrestle with frequently. I’ve written about it directly or indirectly several times already, and I’m sure I’ll write about it considerably more.

In the same way that Seth describes the slippery slope of institutional lying to its customers and to the public, managers must be wary of choosing to start glibly lying to his or her charges.

And it’s terribly easy to start lying.

Continue reading Managing Honesty

Leadership Doesn’t End

This post is a placeholder to an article that I wrote for another site, if you want to read the article, you’ll have to follow the link…

It’s 10am and I am sitting in my home office corresponding with a broad network of contacts and contacts of contacts, and it occurs to me that for a hopeless introvert, the last 24 hours amounts to more “being on” than I typically muster in even a busy week.
And I haven’t even started trying to find a job for me yet!

The Valuation of Time

Let’s begin with a basic concept with which we should all be able to agree: time has inherent value. Nobody seriously questions this fact, what we argue is what that value is.

I was thinking about this while I was doing some yard cleanup this week and the lawn folks came by to mow. As the two of them swept in and back out in about 10 or 15 minutes, I found myself pondering the cost of that fraction of an hour in a very intellectual fashion…

“Are you fucking shitting me, that’s $100/hour to mow my lawn!” I thought, intellectually.

Continue reading The Valuation of Time

Fast Food Delivery

I’ve written and spoken on the subject of managing customers fairly extensively because I feel that it is often done incorrectly—no, not just incorrectly, but extraordinarily incorrectly, cartoonishly so. In my experience, most customer management is done from a place of complete fear. How do we avoid losing the customer, how do we avoid offending the customer, how do we avoid failing the customer.

So defensive. So reactive. So rooted in negative emotion.

Continue reading Fast Food Delivery

Layoffs: Those Left Behind

Last week we went through a round of layoffs (or reductions in force, or whatever trivializing euphemism is currently en vogue). Over the course of two decades in the industry, I have been through numerous layoff cycles—as an employee being laid off as well as being among those that retained their employment, and later as a manager having had to lay folks off and escaping having had to do so. One thing that I have never done is escaped unscathed.

Continue reading Layoffs: Those Left Behind

Decision Triage: Cost to Revert

In a previous post, I discussed using decisiveness to reduce or eliminate decision debt; but how do you do that? I mean, if you haven’t made the decision yet, doesn’t that—by definition—indicate that you aren’t yet ready to make the decision?

From my perspective, there is only one useful way to categorize decisions: by their cost to revert. It’s less a taxonomy than a scale, but the basic organizational schema for decisions should be in ascending order from most costly to change to least costly. From there, logic dictates that you should only exhaust as much exploratory effort to make a decision as its cost to alter.

Continue reading Decision Triage: Cost to Revert

Manager vs Leader Talk at Penguicon 2016

Dawn Kuczwara (@DigitalDawn) and I talked a bit about the difference between managers and leaders at Penguicon this weekend. Penguicon always pulls a different sort of talk out of us, and this is no exception. The informality of the panel-style discussion lent itself to several things…

Continue reading Manager vs Leader Talk at Penguicon 2016

Decisiveness and Decision Debt

Consider your brain to be like a Git repository, constantly changing and updating and checking in new information. Everybody who has maintained a Git repo for any length of time is all too familiar with the amount of technical debt that is accrued through open branches. The more branches you have open and the longer you have branches open, the greater the likelihood that merge conflicts, hidden bugs, and other evils lurk in your future code. Continue reading Decisiveness and Decision Debt

Coaching vs Mentorship

As I discuss leadership, I often use the terms “coaching” and “mentoring” in a manner that would lead a casual reader to assume I mean them to be synonymous—that they are interchangeable. They are not.

For most of us, our first real exposure to a coach is in high school sports. My high school wrestling coach knew two important things: he knew what made up a successful wrestler and he knew that I had no idea what made a successful wrestler. With those two things, he set out to teach me the things that I needed to learn to be successful—often over my objections, frequently against my better judgement. He had a clear vision of what the goal for me looked like, and he helped me achieve.

Well, sort of, I never ended up being much of a wrestler. Continue reading Coaching vs Mentorship

Managing Safe Spaces

There is this concept that has followed me around from team to team as long I’ve managed, coached, or otherwise led people. The description of the concept changes team-by-team—”shit umbrella”, “distraction barrier”, or (currently) “human meat shield” to name a few—but the core idea remains constant; a key attribute of my leadership style is that of preventing the enormity of the weight of the organization from ever falling on the heads of those I lead. Continue reading Managing Safe Spaces