There’s a lot I don’t know about being a kick-ass boss, or being a great manager. I’m pretty much still a work-in-progress in that area. Thankfully, Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor” points me to the questions I need to ask myself about it, and suggests steps I should consider taking in order to do better.
Some memorable lines from the book:
- Relationships don’t scale. But the relationships you have with the handful of people who report directly to you will have an enormous impact on the results your team achieves.
- You strengthen your relationships by learning the best ways to get, give, and encourage guidance; by putting the right people in the right roles on your team; and by achieving results collectively that you couldn’t dream of individually. When you fail to give people the guidance they need to succeed in their work, or put people into roles they don’t want or aren’t well-suited for, or push people to achieve results that are unrealistic, you erode trust.
- It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to 1) accept and act on your praise and criticism; 2) tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well; 3) engage in this same behavior with one another, meaning less pushing the rock up the hill again and again; 4) embrace their role on the team; and 5) focus on getting results.
- We are all human beings, with human feelings, and, even at work, we need to be seen as such. When that doesn’t happen, when we feel we must repress who we really are to earn a living, we become alienated. That makes us hate going to work. To most bosses, being professional means: show up at work on time, do your job, don’t show feelings unless engaged in motivation or some such end-driven effort. The results is that nobody feels comfortable being who they really are at work.
- It’s about finding time for real conversations; about getting to know each other at a human level; about learning what’s important to people, about sharing with one another what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work – and what has the opposite effect.
- Challenging others and encouraging them to challenge you helps build trusting relationships because it shows 1) you care enough to point out both the things that aren’t going well and those that are and that 2) you are willing to admit when you’re wrong and that you are committed to fixing mistakes that you or otherwise have made. But challenging people directly takes real energy – not only from the people you’re challenging but from you as well – so do it only for things that really matter.
- If nobody is ever mad at you, you probably aren’t challenging your team enough. The key, as in any relationship, is how you handle the anger. When what you say hurts, acknowledge the other person’s pain. Don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt or say it shouldn’t hurt – just show that you care. Eliminate the phrase “don’t take it personally” from your vocabulary – it’s insulting. Instead, offer to help fix the problem. But don’t pretend it isn’t a problem just to try to make somebody feel better.
- If we have the data about what works, let’s look at the data, but if all we have are opinions, let’s use yours.
- What growth trajectory does each person on my team want to be on right now? or Have I given everybody opportunities that re in line with what they really want? or What growth trajectory do my direct reports believe they are on? Do I agree? And if I don’t, why don’t I? Sometimes people really want to grow and are capable of contributing more than they have allowed to; at other times, they simply want more money or recognition but don’t really want to change the way they work or contribute any more than they do already. As the boss, you’re the one who’s going to have to know your direct reports well enough to make these distinctions and then have some radically candid conversations when you see things differently.
- There’s nothing wrong with working hard to earn a pay check that supports the life you want to lead. That has plenty of meaning. Only about 5% of people have a real vocation in life, and they confuse the hell out of the rest of us. Your job is not to provide purpose but instead to get to know each of your direct reports well enough to understand how each one derives meaning from their work.
- You don’t want to be the absentee manager any more than you want to be a micro-manager. Instead, you want to be a partner – that is, you must take the time to help the people doing the best work overcome obstacles and make their good work even better. This is time-consuming because it requires that you know enough about the details of the person’s work to understand the nuances. It often requires you to help do the work, rather than just advising. It requires that you ask a lot of questions and challenge people – that you roll up your own sleeves.
- It won’t get better all by itself. So stop and ask yourself, how exactly, will it get better? What are you going to do differently? What will the person in question do differently? How might circumstances change? Even if things have gotten a little better, have they improved enough? If you don’t have a pretty precise answer to those questions, it probably won’t get better.
- If you never ask a single question about a person’s life, it’s hard to move up on the “care personally” axis. probably the most important thing you can do to build trust is to spend a little time alone with each of your direct reports on a regular basis. Holding regular 1:1s in which your direct report sets the agenda and you ask questions is a good way to begin building trust.
- The platinum rule says, figure out what makes the other person comfortable, and do that.
Recently, I was asked by the Human Capital Management team at work for a list of specific requirements for our scrum master role. I obliged, and at the top of my head wrote the following:
A scrum master is someone who –
- has great written and verbal communication skills
- understands the software development process, has experience working with product managers and programmers; preferably with customers too
- well-versed in the practice of software testing, enjoys exploring systems, thinking in various perspectives, and putting on different sorts of hats
- delights in shouldering a support role to the software development team
- is a self-starter, regularly updates himself/herself on what’s happening in the software development and testing industry
- someone who takes pleasure in a bit of scripting / programming is a plus (Webdriver, Watir, Cypress)
It’s not an extensive list, and I may have gotten some of the details wrong about what skills scrum masters are supposed to have based on the ideal definitions that’s out there in the web, but it’s alright. These are just the things I initially thought would suffice, in the context of what I and my team does and experience most days. Our testers are scrum masters too, and I’m proud that so far we’ve been able to make stuff work on our end.
Scrum masters in other places probably need a dissimilar set of requirements, because those are what allows their systems and processes to be effective, and that’s just fine.
For the past few weeks a number of programmers and myself have been tasked to build an initial prototype for a system rewrite project, handed to us by management. The merit of such project is a matter of discussion for another day; for now it is enough to say that the team has been given a difficult challenge, but at the same time excited about the lessons we knew we will gain from such an adventure.
There’s been several takeaways already in terms of technology know-how – dockerized applications, front-end development with Vue, repositories as application vendor dependency, microservices – just several of the things we’ve never done before.
But the great takeaway so far is the joy of literally working together, inside a room away from distractions, the team working on one task at a time, focused, taking turns writing application or test code on a single machine, continuously discussing options and experimenting until a problem is solved or until it is time to take a break. We instantly become aligned at what we want to achieve, we immediately help teammates move forward, we learn from each other’s skills and mistakes, we have fun. It’s a wonder why we’ve never done much of this before. Perhaps it’s because of working in cubicles. Perhaps it’s because there’s nearly not enough available rooms for such software development practice. Perhaps it’s because we’ve never heard anything about mob programming until recently.
I’m sure it won’t be everyday since we have remote work schedules, but I imagine the team spending more days working together like this from here on.
Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a classic, and I did not understand what that meant until now, after reading the book. It has survived the test of time, and the lessons in it still applies to all of us today. It really is a treasure trove of actionable advice about forging friendships and leading people, and I’ve come to see why some of my way of doing things have worked for me all this time. Better, I’ve found places where I could use more practice and improve.
Here are some favourite lines from the book:
- Let’s realise that criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home. Let’s realise that the person we are going to correct and condemn will probably justify himself or herself, and condemn us in return.
- There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. And that us by making the other person want to do it. The only way I can get you to do anything is giving you what you want.
- We nourish the bodies of our children and friends and employees, but how seldom do we nourish their self-esteem? We provide them with roast beef and tomatoes to build energy, but we neglect to give them kind words of appreciation that would sing in their memories for years like the music of the morning stars.
- If there is any secret to success, it likes in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own.
- Keep in your mind on the great and splendid things you would like to do, and then, as the days go gliding away, you will find yourself unconsciously seizing upon the opportunities that are required for the fulfilment of your desire. Picture in your mind the able, earnest, useful person you desire to be, and the thought you hold is hourly transforming you into that particular individual.
- He had wanted merely a friendly, sympathetic listener to whom he could unburden himself. That’s what we all want when we are in trouble. That is frequently all the irritated customer wants, and the dissatisfied employee or the hurt friend.
- So if you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems.
- Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you, and you may turn your opponents to friends.
- You can tell people they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as eloquently as you can in words – and if you tell them they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never! For you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride, and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds. You may then hurl at them all the logic of a Plato or an Immanuel Kant, but you will not alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.
- If you are going to prove anything, don’t let anybody know it. Do it so subtly, so adroitly, that no one will feel that you are doing it. You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.
- I am convinced now that nothing good is accomplished and a lot of damage can be done if you tell a person straight out that he or she is wrong. You only succeed in stripping that person of self-dignity and making yourself an unwelcome part of any discussion.
- If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may be possibly led to, if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.
- No one likes to feel that he or she is being sold something or told to do a thing. We much prefer to feel that we are buying of our own accord or acting on our own ideas. We like to be consulted about our wishes, our wants, our thoughts.
- What do you think he found to be the most motivating factor – the one facet of the jobs that was most stimulating? Money? Good working conditions? Fringe benefits? No – not any of those. The one major factor that motivated people was the work itself. If the work was exciting and interesting, the worker looked forward to doing it and was motivated to do a good job.
- This is what every successful person loves: the game. The chance for self-expression. The chance to prove his or her worth, to excel, to win. That is what makes foot-races, and hog-calling, and pie-eating contests. The desire to excel. The desire for a feeling of importance.
- He always gave people the opportunity to do things themselves; he never told his assistants to do things; he let them do them, let them learn from their mistakes. A technique like that makes it easy for a person to correct errors. A technique like that saves a person’s pride and gives him or her a feeling of importance. It encourages cooperation instead of rebellion.
- If you want to improve a person in a certain aspect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics. Assume a virtue, if you have it not. Assume and state openly that other people have the virtue you want them to develop. Give them a fine reputation to live up to, and they will make prodigious efforts rather than see you disillusioned.
- Tell your child, your spouse, or your employee that he or she is stupid or dumb at a certain thing, has no gift for it, and is doing it all wrong, and you have destroyed almost every incentive to try to improve. But use the opposite technique – be liberal with your encouragement, make the thing seem easy to do, let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it, that he has an undeveloped flair for it – and he will practice until the dawn comes in the window in order to excel.
- It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
A software development team is composed of people, a combination of of programmers, testers, designers, and product owners. One team is visibly different from another because they have different people working in them, although both teams work in the same organisation and share the same mission. One group may be dealing with passionate but inexperienced new hires, another may be led by an introverted and soft-spoken senior, another team could be a lot more experienced with automating things, one team is probably better with team communication than others. Each team has a life of its own, always growing up, always trying to find out what specific problems itself has and what values it can contribute to the organisation, evolving day after day.
We understand that everyone is similar yet different from each other. Why is it then that we often insist in managing them with a one-size-fits-all process? Or am I missing something? I understand that we want teams to get better at what they do, we want them to release software faster, with better quality, but do we really think that one particular process works for everyone? Instead of that, shouldn’t we just immerse ourselves in a team, one after another, observe, ask where they are and where they want to go, talk to them, share experiences, help them solve problems, care for them, let them grow into a family with us? It seems to me that every time I get to join a team I think about the people in it first, no particular fixed process in mind, and we find out what works for us as we go, together.
It’s been a while since I’ve shared interesting articles and recordings about topics surrounding software development and testing.
Here are a few videos, for the curious:
- Continuous Delivery – Sound’s Great But It Won’t Work Here (by Jez Humble, about continuous delivery, the excuses organizations tell people when they fail to implement it, and what those excuses actually mean)
- There and Back Again – A Hobbit / Developer / Tester’s Journey (by Pete Walen, on how software was built in the old days, how testing and programming broke up into silos, and a challenge for both parties to go back at excelling at each other’s skills and teaming up)
- Feature Injection (by Chris Matts, about business analysts and tea bags, understanding that requirements are just dependencies, and finding out where the value is in requested features by asking for examples)
- A Day of Mob Programming (by Woody Zuill, on mob programming, and how taking a whole team approach to coding can help us align and build better software together)
- Testability vs Automatability (by Alan Richardson, about the differences between testability and automatability, what each term actually mean, and recognizing how specific words can help people tell stories better or not)
Here’s an always challenging question: how are great software development teams formed? Managers, scrum masters, we all struggle to create continuous progress within our groups. And we know that there’s lots of factors in why that is – communication, skills, individual quirks. Sandy Mamoli and David Mole tells us that self-selection is the answer, and their book, Creating Great Teams (How Self-Selection Lets People Excel), provides us with the details.
Here are some notes from the book:
- Fundamentally, two factors determine whether a group will forge itself into a team: 1) Do these people want to work on this problem? 2) Do these people want to work with each other? Neither a computer program nor a manager can answer these questions. Only the employees who will do the work can.
- Self-selection is a facilitated process of letting people self-organize into small, cross-functional teams. Based on the belief that people are at their happiest and most productive if they can choose what they work on and who they work with, we think it’s the fastest and most efficient way to form stable teams.
- The best motivators are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy provides employees with freedom over some or all of the four main aspects of work: when they do it, how they do it, who they do it with, and what they do. Mastery encourages employees to become better at a subject or task that matters to them and allows for continuous learning. Purpose gives people an opportunity to fulfill their natural desire to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.
- No one chooses to work on more than one team or project. Time and again organizations fall into the trap of optimizing resources rather than focusing on outcomes. People often believe that multitasking, having people work across several projects, and focusing on resource utilization are the keys to success, when in reality they’re not.
- People communicate face to face. There are barely any discussions about process or how to communicate. Team members just talk and coordinate and collaborate as needed. Things are much faster that way.
- In the spirit of letting people control their way of working, we never mandate whether a squad should run scrum, kanban, their own special creation, or a traditional way of working. Following Daniel Pink’s principles of motivation, one of the key forms of autonomy is being in control of your processes. Giving people autonomy over who they work with should be extended by letting them choose how they work together.
- There are two agile practices we believe should remain mandatory: retrospectives and physical story walls (if you are co-located).
- It’s fair to say that sometimes employees don’t want to work with each other. And that’s okay. People know whether they’re going to gel in a squad with a particular person, and if not, it makes sense they would choose not to work with him or her. Self-selection, unlike management selection, allows them to make that choice.