Takeaways from Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor”

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.
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Five People and Their Thoughts (Part 7)

Today, here’s a new batch of compelling videos I’d like to share, for the curious:

  • What is Shift Left Testing? (by Alan Richardson, about shifting left and its meaning, consultancy speak, testing at all points of the software development process, and finding ways to improve our testing without resorting to consultancy speak)
  • How We Work #4: Known and Unknowns (by Basecamp, on creative work, known and unknown tasks and why it’s more important to track them rather than estimates, and using the hill chart)
  • A Better Technical Interview: 2018 (by Josh Greenwood, representing Test Double, about the binary hiring process existing in most industries, setting job and interview expectations, thinking about making the life of candidates better including the ones we don’t end up hiring, saying ‘Not Yet’ and providing constructive feedback, and the Bridge Agent)
  • How Open Source has Made Me and the Stuff I Make Better (by Kent Dodds, on open source software, remote work, improving technical and interpersonal skills, documentation, and asking better questions and learning from other people)
  • Office Politics for the Thin-Skinned Developer (by Justin Searls, about politics in the workplace, crazy organizational growth, building awareness, targeted empathy, being in the same page, how to make a difference, and allowing others to fail)

Notes from Rolf Potts’ “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”

I’m not inherently a person who likes to travel a lot, although I have been to a few places within the country in recent years because there were specific experiences I’ve never done before and wanted to try, like going on an airplane ride, visiting an interesting museum, or learning how to surf. I enjoyed those experiences, even though those were mostly brief getaways with friends. Rolf Potts, however, in his book titled “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel“, wants us to consider travelling in the long-term rather than living for hurried weekend trips and why.

Some favorite lines from the book:

  • Travel isn’t just for changing what’s outside, it’s for reinventing what’s inside.
  • For some reason, we see long-term travel to faraway lands as a recurring dream or an exotic temptation, but not something that applies to the here and now. Instead – out of our insane duty to fear, fashion, and monthly payments on things we don’t really need – we quarantine our travels to short, frenzied bursts. In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called lifestyle, travel becomes just another accessory – a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture.
  • The more we associate experience with cash value, the more we think that money is what we need to live. And the more we associate money with life, the more we convince ourselves that we’re too poor to buy our freedom.
  • No combination of one-week or ten-day vacations will truly take you away from the life you lead at home. Vagabonding involves taking an extended time-out from your normal life – six weeks, four months, two years – travel the world on your own terms.
  • Wanting to travel reflects a positive attitude. You want to see, to grow in experience, and presumably to become more whole as a human being. Vagabonding takes this a step further: it promotes the chances of sustaining and strengthening this positive attitude. As a vagabond, you begin to face your fears now and then instead of continuously sidestepping them in the name of convenience. You build an attitude that makes life more rewarding, which in turn makes it easier to keep doing it.
  • Vagabonding is not like bulk shopping: the value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home – and the slow, nuanced  experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.
  • If there’s one key concept to remember amid the excitement of your first days on the road, it’s this: slow down. You must keep in mind that the whole point of long-term travel is having the time to move deliberately through the world. Vagabonding is about not merely re-allotting a portion of your life for travel but rediscovering the entire concept of time. At home, you’re conditioned to get to the point and get things done, to favor goals and efficiency over moment-by-moment distinction. On the road, you learn to improvise your days, take a second look at everything you see, and not obsess over your schedule.
  • When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.
  • Shortly after arriving at your initial destination, find a beachhead (be it an actual beach, an urban travelers’ ghetto, or an out-of-the-way town) and spend a few days relaxing ad acclimating yourself. Don’t strike off to hit all the sights or actualize all your travel fantasies from the get-go. Stay organized and interested, but don’t keep a things to do list. Watch and listen to your environment. Take pleasure in small details and differences. Look more and analyze less; take things as they come. Practice your flexibility and patience – and don’t decide in advance how long you’ll stay in one place or another.
  • Don’t set limits on what you can or can’t do. Don’t set limits on what is or isn’t worthy of your time. Dare yourself to play games with your day: watch, wait, listen; allow things to happen. Wherever you are, be it the Vatican gift shop, a jungle village in Panama, or downtown Ouagadougou – keep aware of the tiniest tics and details that surround you. Anything that is remarked, even little flowers or leaves picked up off the ground and shown to a child, even a shoeshine or gravel pit, anything is potentially an attraction.
  • The greater value is not in what you’ve seen and checked off the list, but in what you’ve learned deeply, the hard way.
  • Once you have learned the basics, it becomes clear that having less work is easy. It’s filling the void with more life that is hard. Finding excitement, as it turns out, takes more thought than simple workaholism. But don’t fret. That’s where all the rewards are.
  • What I find is that you can do almost anything or go almost anywhere, if you’re not in a hurry.

Our Scrum Masters

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.

One Room, Working Together

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.

Takeaways from Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People”

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.

We Find Out What Works For Us As We Go, Together

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.