I am leaving Redacted Financial Services* in November to manage an IT team at Microsoft. I am changing the focus of my career from the day-to-day tech toward management–strategy over tactics. I’ll be bringing what I know about software engineering into the IT space as well as learning an entirely new set of disciplines.
I’ve worked at Redacted for 6 years. In that time I’ve enjoyed working with a motivated, dedicated group of Software Craftsmen. Other than getting my start writing software, it’s the best time of my professional life. I grew professionally in that time in no small part due to a manager who made room for me to explore my interests and found ways to capitalize on them for the benefit of the company. It is my goal to match his example.
One of the things I accomplished there was founding an internship program which became a feeder program into our development organization for up-and-coming developers. It had the unintended side-effect of creating a mechanism people within the company who had shown an interest in writing software could use to explore a career-change. I’ve worked with close to 30 interns. Some have stayed and worked with us. Others have gone on to companies like Visa, Google, Nordstrom, and Tableau. I’m proud to have played a part in their career development.
I took control of the hiring process for interns which expanded to include running the hiring process for our entire development organization. I learned that the largest impact I could have on my organization is through who I choose to hire. My wife works as an agency recruiter for accounting and finance professionals and with her help I learned how to work with agency recruiters to find the candidates I needed quickly. Hiring is hard and people are seldom properly trained how to do it. The end-result was that we spent less time sorting through resumes and interviewing dud-candidates. Instead, nearly every candidate we talked to was brought on-site. For the most part we were able to hire quickly with only a few cycles through the process.
A couple of years ago our DevOps initiative was going sideways. Known to be a passionate advocate for Software Craftsmanship, I was asked to ride-along with the DevOps group and make recommendations that would get us back on track. I ended up leading that group for the last year and a half. The improvements we made include tracking work in one place, identifying and eradicating root causes of common problems, clearly identifying our customers, identifying standard practices for common work, establishing a customer-centric mindset for the team, and practicing what we preach with respect to quality software. It’s a DevOps team, but we write tests for our scripts and services. In that time the stability and reliability of our production deployments increased dramatically.
In addition to being a technical leader on my team, I began managing other people. I always thought of this responsibility in servant-leadership terms. My role was to collaborate with the employee to make sure s/he is feeling challenged and growing. I learned to be free with my praise and politely direct with my critical feedback. I learned never to give critical feedback without also giving concrete examples of different behavior. I was able to coach my reports through some challenging scenarios and save them the effort of learning everything the hard way.
While I’m the one who did the work to learn these things, I was enabled by a phenomenal manager who gave me room to grow and challenge myself. He listened to my interests and made room for me to explore them–ever confident that it would pay off for the team. It did.
I was also challenged by a group of quality-focused engineers who accepted my ideas when they thought they were good, and who had the courage to speak up when they thought I was off the deep end. Some of my favorite people are my worst critics–and good friends.
Finally, I was aided by a wonderful wife with the highest emotional intelligence of any person I’ve ever encountered. I learned from her how critically important successful communication is and endeavored to apply that learning to my career. I’ve learned that I need to adapt my communication style to my audience–although putting that into practice is still a challenge!
I feel a swell of pride for having these people in my life and at the work we’ve accomplished together. To all of these people I feel a great debt of gratitude.
Thank you All.
The goal is the thing you are trying to do.
The metric is how you are measuring your progress toward the thing you are trying to do. Metrics are only as good as their ability to measure progress toward the goal.
Don’t confuse them.
Imagine a sales team for an organization selling widgets has a goal to increase sales of a particular product line by 10%. The Sales Manager decides that the best way to achieve the goal is for the sales staff to make a certain number of cold-calls over the following months. After a few weeks, one of her sales staff is falling way behind in cold-calls. The wrinkle is that this salesman is the top biller in the department. Should the sales manager berate her top performer for not doing enough cold-calls?
Absolutely not. No manager should ever punish their reports for doing well (provided the means used are legal and ethical of course).
Punishing the salesman would send the message that billing isn’t the goal, but cold-calls are. Do you want a salesman who makes lots of cold-calls but can’t bill? Since sales staff are compensated via commission, punishing the salesman would introduce a division between his performance and his pay. In the best case, the salesman simply ignores the manager and continues to bill and get paid–benefiting the company in the process. In the worst case, the salesman leaves the company for greener pastures, depriving the company of it’s top biller.
The mistake here is that cold-calls are simply a form of measuring progress toward the goal–increased sales. Cold calls themselves are not the actual goal–they are a proxy for the goal. Further, they may not be the only possible proxy. Their value as a proxy is proportional to the relationship between cold-calls and increased sales. If a salesman is generating increased sales without cold-calls then there is either another possible metric or cold-calls are a poor metric.
It’s one thing to say that cold-calls are a proven way to generate increased sales. It’s quite another to ignore that there are other possible ways to do the same thing. It’s flat wrong to take the position that cold-calls are the only way to increase sales.
What is the appropriate response? Find out how the top biller is selling so well without cold-calls. Is the top biller doing something that no one else is doing? Is there something for the other sales staff to learn? Are there new, better metrics that can be introduced? Of course, it’s also possible that the top biller could bill even more if he did more cold-calls. Finding out will require collaboration between the salesman and the manager–but this is a process of active investigation instead of passive authoritarianism.
If the manager focuses on the metric instead of the goal, she is taking on the responsibility of having all the answers and dictating them to others. The proper approach is to adopt a learning stance toward the team’s work. If the team is doing well but the metrics aren’t being met, what can the manager learn from this? If the team meets the metrics, will they do better? If not–what good are they?
When choosing metrics it’s important to consider that people will game the system. If you’re a software engineering manager and you make Lines of Code or Test Coverage the metric, people will write verbose code and create meaningless tests. A good metric will encourage people to game the system by focusing on the thing you want to achieve. I recently heard of an example in which the Product Owner threw out story sizing as part of their Scrum process. The only thing developers got credit for was the number of stories they completed. It didn’t matter how large or small–credit was only given when the story was completed an in production. The developers began gaming the system by reducing the story size to the smallest thing they could deliver.