Hug your manager
“the real action in any administration is executive in nature: knowing what regulatory buttons to push, which enforcers can really go for blood, who to put where, and how to manage them.” - Emily Stewart via Ezra Klein
Most of our work life, we think of managers as overseers: people who enable individuals to do their jobs and enforce how they’re done. Usually doing a job is following a set process moving towards a defined goal. In the post-DevOps world, we think of that as some open ended form of bottoms-up creativity, something far from Burger King employees following a set process for moving burgers from truck, to grill, to wrapping, to the burger chute, to a try, and to my mouth sitting down at an over the highway food court in Basel. (The burger was good, but they wouldn’t give me extra pickles: “your way,” my ass!)
But, even in DevOps/agile think, there’s a strict process and direction: often even more strict and deliberate than what came before. The cloud native approach to software has many, many rules. When I was learning and applying XP and Scrum I had an epiphany: sure, these are good processes, but a large part of why they improve things is because we weren’t following any process previously. The RUP people accused agile people of being directionless cowboys back then, but it was really the “waterfall” people who were just doing whatever in Word docs that were the aimless “cowboys” - or cow_pokes_ as we’d de-gender now.
Managers enforce that process and that goal. Employees will go cowpoke if they’re not given that tunnel of direction. They can seek to self manage and all that, and that can work (maybe?), but they still need management, esp. in large organizations.
Anyhow! There’s another thing managers and “executives” do that’s even less observed: building organizations. I’m now in a new business unit at a large company: pretty much all the managers are doing now is building the organization, the teams who Do The Things, the philosophic theory of the process, how teams coordinate with each other, the - I’m never sure what this word means - ethos. Just as a product manager and developers define and build an app, these managers are defining and building an organization.
It’s thankless work, and a lot of it. Well, that’s not accurate: the company thanks them by paying them more and giving them more authority and perks. But, as with DevOps, those managers are responsible for the organization and have to wear a pager. Managers have to check their email all the time and fix the problems in “production” quickly. Think of all the PowerPoint. They’re full stack managers. Still, building an organization is thankless because the employee in the organization don’t really see the work done or realize that someone has to do it.
And, as with software, all of this is just the first release cycle. You build the organization, push it to production, and then the whole cycle begins on Monday (or, Sunday night in most cases). It never ends.
I observed this continuous management a lot when I did M&A and as an analyst. Organizations that sought to set up a “machine” often failed. They spent a lot time upfront defining what the organization would look like and how to would run. There were lots of meetings, meetings for meetings (“pre-wiring”), and consequential walk-and-talks. Then a PowerPoint called something like “new-org-FINAL-14.pptx” was emailed around, team managers were told to “go over it” with their teams. And then the organization was put into action! EBIT(A)!
Sound familiar? We call that “waterfall,” and I’d guess it has the same success rate as in software (I’d guess something like 15% to 25%, if not worse).
In contrast, managers that follow a more agile process, coming up with theories, testing out if they actually work, and changing things as they learn more seem better positioned.
Again, back when I did M&A you’d have an overall theory (a strategy!) of what the business would look like and how the gestalt of the existing organization and the acquired company would work better together than apart (you see, this is why us M&A-wonks use the term “synergy” without snickering, otherwise we’d have to learn how to spell “gestalt”).
As an individual employee I’ve always assumed that management had, like, a plan. They knew exactly everything that was going on. When they asked me to help define what to do and left the goals ambiguous, it was a frustrating mystery. When I was programmer in my 20s (there should be a whole book series about “how to not be a jerk naif programmer in your 20s.” I could have used that.) I thought this meant that “no one knew what was going on,” that they were “idiots.”
Some times this is the case, but more often it’s that management is in the state of a good product team: they generally know what the app should do, who the user is, and are working on a long backlog. But they learn and adapt each release cycle. They start with little and hope to create something good. (I’m not sure how long a management release cycle is: a quarter, a year? Probably something like six months.)
I think the word “culture” is starting to do a disservice to a technical appreciation of organizational building, both at the product team level (the people building the software) and especially at a management level. Good culture is required, but it’s not the core execution engine that keeps a company going. Culture isn’t the thing that moves pixels on the screen, writing code does. And culture isn’t the only thing that determine how an organization runs each day, well, managing does. The work begins after you get a good culture in place.
Management builds the organization structure, procedure, policy, and governance. They mediate conflicting priorities, set strategy and goals, and deal (primarily) with people issues. People issues from individuals to groups: often just people who are anxious and need to be reassured (this is me once a year), most difficulty, with people who need to start following, start taking advantage of new procedures and organizational assets (so called “frozen” people which, I don’t know, is usually an artful way of saying “old”).
Good management, again, will look at the organizations and how it runs as an ever evolving product, just like a good team does with software.
That ongoing product management and building of the organization is the most important thing a manager does, especially when starting a new business. But, it’s also the least visible, least rewarded aspect of what managers do. For many, it seems like the most boring thing one could do. I hate (and I’m not using that word in the playful, flippant way, I really have “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury”) doing that work, despite spending the last five years studying and telling people about it. (As they say, those who can do, those who can’t give conference talks.)
- Continuous management - if you’re a manager, be conscious of and systematize that you’re building and forever learn and tweaking the org. Maybe be a little more transparent about this, do retrospectives and post mortems on your releases and lessons learned - tell people what went wrong and how you’ll prevent it in the future. Tell them how well things are going because (you can’t say out-loud, but make sure people get it) you figured out how to build the organization, this release cycle at least.
- Give your manager a hug - if you’re an individual employee, realize that your management is probably going as crazy as you, is driven by as much fear and stress of the unknown as you, and just like you think those managers are breathing down your neck and don’t understand how software is actually made…managers have “know nothing” executives breathing down their necks. (And, you know, executives have “know nothing” shareholders breathing down their neck. Upward recursion!)
Even Bono has a boss. We’re all cogs, hoss. Just try to actually do something instead of aimlessly spinning.
This week’s Software Defined Talk episode:
VPNs, Windows 7 EoL, & Crapplications - This week the title says it all. There’s also some more bread talk.
The curated trees of Amsterdam
There are so many paths like this in Amsterdam. My understanding is that most of the trees were chopped down right after WWII for wood fires. So, they had to replant trees. That’s why so many of them are artfully straight, why there’s such a variety. Like the rest of the city - and The Netherlands - so much is carefully, artfully, and practically planned out AND executed.
This is just one instance. There’s thousands.
- Everyone has to benefit from the system succeeding, or they’ll just locally optimize so they get paid when when their part of the system succeeds.
- It’d be fun to reverse engineer “the ideal Apple life” from Apple’s products. Like, am I using that Walky Talky function in my watch cause I’ve left my phone at home during my jog or photowalking along the beach?
- Bruno Munari, in Design as Art: “Instead of pictures for the drawing-room, electric gadgets for the kitchen. There should be no such thing as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use. If what we use every day is made with art, and not thrown together by chance or caprice, then we shall have nothing to hide.”
Apple News and the holy URL
My generation of web users (the first) is worships the URL as a sort of freedom, independence, and, I don’t know, Truth. URLs encrusted with parameters (the utm_ carbundles) and shortened are not true and, if you sway to the mid-2000’s Doctorwian wings of the URL party, evil.
Apple News hides its news articles behind apple.news URLs that are used to blinder you and shuttle you from the open web to…a desktop GUI. This is evil, my people would say.
I don’t know. I’m tired. I just want to link to articles like. This is a way of saying: sorry for the apple.news links: ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Relative to your interests
- “You cannot scale if you don’t have the ‘basics’ right.”
- Forced Internet break - “our alcoholic neighbor burned down his flat and we didn’t have internet for a year and a half because the fire burned through the cables. Needless to say, I was forced to reevaluate my relationship to this technology.” Also: “Make-Believe has always been about imagining a world that doesn’t exist and pretending it’s so for reasons of play (fun), experimenting with what could be (future), and simply survival. These are all super important and underrated life skills that as much as possible I try and bring to the fore.” And: “In the workplace people mute who they are and what they care about because that’s the culture. So you can look around at a group of diverse people and not necessarily see any diversity. I believe that self-suppression, which is very much a part of corporate culture, is doing way more harm than good, giving the false impression that diversity brings nothing to the table. I hope slowly this will start to change.”
- Selling a subscription vs. a license - “In the [ARR] model, if customers do not fully consume their subscription, or worse, if they decline to renew, it is the vendor who is left holding the bag. Extracting business value from the purchase, therefore, has become a mutual concern of both the vendor and the customer. This has led vendors to re-conceive Customer Support as Customer Success, with a charter to focus on value realization—i.e. achieving the business objectives that warranted funding the purchase in the first place.”
- Sex books sell - “At its peak, two copies of the first book sold every second; for a time, the UK ran out of silver ink, thanks to its use on the books’ covers.”
- When owning a house is a luxury - ‘In 1990 a generation of baby-boomers, with a median age of 35, owned a third of America’s real estate by value. In 2019 a similarly sized cohort of millennials, aged 31, owned just 4%. Young people’s view that housing is out of reach—unless you have rich parents—helps explain their drift towards “millennial socialism”.’
- Gefühlsfrage and “the schoolteachers-to-billionaires overclass” and people upset over sugar water and immigrants.
- Making fun of Gen X women, a vocabulary - ‘Generation X has been relegated to several versions of moms. Predominantly, Gen Xers are “Karens,” who head their local PTAs and ask to speak to the manager. “Lindas,” who are enemies of “Karens,” are gluten-free and wear pantsuits. “Susans” are really nice, unproblematic, smell good and get into the wine.’ Also: “People forget how it felt to grow up. They judge kids according to the values they’ve adopted as adults.”
- They and y’all - above all, be polite by believing people are what they believe they are, not what you want them to be.
- Constant weighing considered not helpful - another Dutch oddity: when you go see a doctor, they don’t weigh you and take your blood pressure for every visit, like doctors do in the US. I guess it’s cause, like, that’s not needed?
- As of December, roughly 7 out of 8 Australians said they had no interest in trying a digital alternative to the country’s four biggest banks
- Nice zero
- Mind blown - “Perception of control is the most powerful consumer motivator.”
- Trust debt - making use of everyone’s health data takes a lot of trust, especially if you’re knowing for making use of their data to target ads. Meanwhile, it’s not like privacy in healthcare stuff is assured otherwise.
- Working on large systems requires a lot of thinking about the drawbacks of coordination - for example, “A significant source of failure demand for meetings and status updates is the desire of organizational leaders to keep abreast of who’s doing what. This situational awareness is indeed important, but trying to maintain it by calling meetings, messaging people on Slack, and catching people on the hallways is a significant systemic drag on organizational productivity.... A better model for staying informed of developments as the organization scales is for groups to publish status updates as part of the regular cadence of their work. Leaders can asynchronously read these updates and, should the need arise, initiate additional, synchronous conversation to ask questions, provide feedback, etc.”
- Cloud Platform Strategy - “Every Platform team should be asking themselves: what is our differentiator? What do we offer that makes it worthwhile for our company to invest in our team, rather than throwing those engineers at the product?”
- Starting a project.
- Getting out the vote - “the emotional quality of social media as a way of exciting voters to take on a stronger, purer stance”
- Stop doing team-building exercises - “Why not build a team by introducing its members and explaining what you want each of them to do? It is a lot cheaper. It also wastes a lot less of everybody’s valuable time.”
- “Even rich people often live in terribly ugly homes.”
- Give up on boring books so you can read more books - “My third resolution is to stop reading a book if it doesn’t vibe with me, give it to someone else, and to remember that guilt is a wasted emotion.”
- How many developers are there?.
- HEB - “HEB understands how loyal Texans are to Texas. They understand [Texans’] identity is linked to being from Texas. It’s why their best-selling items are Texas-shaped tortilla chips & that they sell 20 different kinds of queso.”