Categories: Leadership

Notes on “The New Manager Death Spiral”, a presentation from Michael Lopp/Rands In Repose

Here are some notes from the event that I attended where the VP of Engineering at Slack, and more famously, the writer behind the Rands In Repose blog (and author of three books), Michael Lopp presented on becoming a manager and the mistakes that will be made by new managers.

Some of the talk was based on the blog post written by Mr Lopp.

The Notes on the New Manager Death Spiral

Began with some questions about who’s a manager, designer, engineer, introvert or extrovert. Talk described as anti-advice. Walks through the manager journey, beginning with hey congrats you’re now a manager. Lopp asked how many people have formal managerial training. Personally started with “taking care” of a few team members, started with setting up one on ones.

When starting out as a new manager, you will assume that you are still an individual contributor. You will forget that you’re responsible for the team, forget to delegate tasks or you will be hesitant to give away some power. The first failure mode is that the quality of work drops, which leads to being behind schedule.

The overarching goal behind management and why it’s important

Your job as a manager is to get things done at scale.

Delegation and Delegating Tasks

Fake delegation is giving not enough context and not enough power to shape things. Successful delegation builds trust in the team. Saying, “Go figure it out….or else” is when the team starts talking to each other about the manager not being trusting of the team.

The manager’s job is to delegate aggressively.

Opinions become facts, and team is demoralized (within the new manager death spiral).

Management can be seen as a career restart. With our industry’s habit of not formally training people…

Lessons learned…let others shape your thinking…augment your obvious and non obvious weakness with a diverse team… delegate more than is comfortable.

Notes on the Q&A

How do you recognize management potential in software developers? Empathy tied into emotional intelligence, can the engineer read the room and being situationally aware, it’s a good leading indicator.

How to build trust with management above? Managing up is the same as managing team, clear communication and trust. During rapid growth, bad politics happens a lot within companies.

What’s the biggest management mistake you’ve made in the past year? Would assume data literacy of team but didn’t frame the narrative and shared too much data which led to drama, thought was doing right thing through transparency.

How do I get team to give critical feedback? Started with one on ones, always have an agenda. Dial it up and give feedback that is positive and negative. Slight increase every month and then ask whether they have feedback for you. At some point they will trust you enough to give feedback. Just listen, don’t try to understand, stop and say it back “what I heard was this”. Then they correct, and it builds trust. Anecdote it took a year to get this feedback and to build that trust. “Feedback is a gift.”

Recommendations for newly promoted to manager? What if you are promoted above your friends? First couple of months with friends, be explicit about friend hat and manager hat, same person just changing the context. Set boundaries. You can’t fire your friends but as manager you can fire them. You have to be deliberate about this.

Measure manager, 4 things to look for. Vision, can you describe a compelling future. Strategy, can you design the road signs and deconstruct the vision into road signs to guide the team. Tactics/execution…Judgement and decision making, you’re coming to crossroads all the time so why choose one path or another and how well do you explain it. Subjective and kinda objective.

Asks team leads about plans they have for growth of team.

Serial lack of training, where to get it? More important is getting company culture to train internally and usually first question he asks is how do we train managers. If small set up mentorship circles or use external resources.

How do you interview for judgment? My job is soup tasting (metaphor) what I’m looking for is how you explain path A or path B selection and need you to explain to me why did you choose that path. If you can explain it well and your strategy around that choice is explained well and you walk through it, is how he susses out judgment, was it a flip of a coin or decision with real consideration.

Do we need managers? Holacracy isn’t working out at Zappos or Medium. He thinks that managers serve a force multiplication function. Managers are there as information conduits and to lead growth of team. Self managing teams at scale need some form of management even if it isn’t called that.

From coaching and trust standpoint, how to build trust on remote team? It’s hard to do this, has bias to look face to face to know what’s really going on. Tries to travel a lot to meet the team. Depends on culture of team, how they answer questions and deference to managers. Moment when it blows up is if remote employees start to feel like second class citizens. Avoids remote, being able to see the whole team gives ability to read the room better.

Should managers be direct contributors? There are four roles to grow into, be CEO CTO VP of engineering or chief architect. Aspiration to be CEO moves to see other parts of business. VP of engineering is people and process. CTO is operations and still coding. Chief architect is still writing code. You need to be able to draw a clear path to each of those roles.

When you learn how well you’re doing is when there’s an emergency, it’s okay to fail and reflect and learn. Fail faster and make managers feel safe. Say what happened, and say it’s ok if you screw up, and work on the problem instead of worrying about the failure.

How do you efficiently delegate? At a small startup under 20 people you have the team and don’t need managers, but when you get past 20 to 50 or more, you need to start bringing in managers with good judgment to connect things together. They give the scaling function to the organization.

When you delegate, do you focus on delegating to people’s strengths? Sometimes things need to go fast and needs velocity, delegate to strength, tends towards growth mindset and will delegate based on learning/growth.

How do you improve reading the room as a skill? Advise extroverts to listen, introverts already listen more.

How do you manage people who don’t take feedback well? They need to have a safe environment of feedback, the manager needs to show that this is a valuable transaction and valuable communication.

Technical details…A minute a slide? Something like that. Slide text was at bottom and hard to see.

Categories: Leadership

ACM partners with Social Coder: volunteer software development

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has announced that they will be partnering with Social Coder. Social Coder is where software developers can volunteer their skills to help charities and non-profits.

Social Coder aims to match software developers with charities that are working on causes that they care about such as the environment, international aid, education or homelessness. Volunteer software development projects are not only a way to help but a way to build up your own skills and to become more valuable in the job market and in your community. There are a lot of charities that need some technical help. With your software development experience, charities can accomplish much more. You, as a developer, can help make every donation they receive go further in helping others.

I’ve been a member of the ACM since May 2012, so almost 5 years and what caused me to join was their extensive Digital Library which gives you access to some of the most important computer science papers in the industry. I was also sold on the access to Safari Books Online and to the Communications of the ACM which is highly relevant to computer scientists and software development professionals alike.

Join Social Coder To Volunteer Your Skills

I just signed up for Social Coder and encourage other developers to do the same. It’s easy to get started in volunteering. Also, it’s a good way to build up more skills and to practice them in volunteer software development projects.

If you are looking for other volunteer opportunities, check out some local hackathons. I participated in the ArthritisHack, hosted by Hacking Health, which focused on healthcare, charities and volunteering.

Categories: Leadership

4 Things To Know About Teamwork

Here are the four things to know about teamwork:

  1. When the situation is tense, call a timeout, it’s the only thing that will work
  2. Information needs to be as close as possible to the team members that can make use of it
  3. Be aware of the message you’re sending as a team leader, senior developer, CTO because it affects how the team works together
  4. Some team members want to learn new things and develop their skills, you absolutely must help them do that whenever possible
Continue reading “4 Things To Know About Teamwork”
Categories: Leadership, Portfolio

Quoted in “The Secrets Behind Great One-on-One Meetings”

I was recently quoted in the free ebook from O’Reilly, “The Secrets Behind Great One-on-One Meetings”. As an aspiring interview coach for software developers, it feels great to offer advice especially on the subject of one-on-one meetings.

It’s a great short ebook and very useful for those wanting to see the value of one-on-one meetings. Teams function more smoothly when team leads and managers take the time to have one-on-one meetings. While it can be tempted to put them off or to try and broaden your reach by using surveys instead, a one-on-one is more useful and personal.

Check out the book and look for my quote!

Categories: Leadership

From 0 to 90 Days: Forming Your Team

Dave Kellogg has written a solid article about the 90-day rule and leadership. This is the rule where it takes 90 days for the team you’re leading to become your team. As a new team leader, it can take some time to get used to your team and to figure out who the great team members are and who are the ones that need some mentoring, coaching or training.

In project management, they talk about forming, storming and norming your team. Within 90 days, your team will pass through each of those stages. Initially, the team forms. Then, there is some storming and conflict that is resolved to build up a better functioning team. Finally, with your leadership, the team is in the norming stage where everyone works well together.

Leadership is Investing Your Time Understanding Your Team

Kellogg has great tips on how to handle this situation, where you have inherited a team and are expected to lead them:

Invest a lot of your early time in understanding your team.  Their strengths and their weaknesses.  What their internal customers think of them.  What you think of their work.  What coworkers think.  Understand their backgrounds, interview them, and go review their LinkedIn profiles or CVs.

He suggests that team leaders understand the personal wants and needs of their team. As a result, you become a more effective leader because you are using empathy to relate with your team. Also it can lead to your becoming a better coach and mentor, because you understand what they’re looking for in a career:

Remember that it’s about personal wants and needs.  Where do your team members want to be in a few years?  Do they see a way to get there from here at your company?  Are they happy with short-term constraints or are they struggling to get out of meetings in time to hit childcare before those draconian fines kick in?

You can read the full article here, highly recommend it.

Categories: Leadership

How to apply cause and effect diagrams in IT and Software Development

Cause and effect diagrams, also known as Ishikawa diagrams, are one of 7 basic tools of quality. You won’t see them used very often in software development or IT projects though they should be. So today we’re going through what cause and effect diagrams are, why they’re useful, an example diagram, and case studies.

You will learn:

  1. What a cause and effect diagram is
  2. The usefulness of cause and effect diagrams
  3. Using industry-wide common causes as a starting point
  4. Common causes in the IT & software development industries
  5. Example cause and effect diagrams
  6. Case studies, example cause explorations based on real-world experience
  7. Applying cause and effect diagrams, applications of the diagrams to explore root causes
Continue reading “How to apply cause and effect diagrams in IT and Software Development”
Categories: Software Development

Lessons from “Producing Open Source Software”

The free book, Producing OSS / Producing Open Source Software, is one I’ve referred to now and again when thinking about how free/open source projects should be run and lately I’ve been thinking about how a big company like Red Hat works when they’re based around free/open source projects.

Here are some choice quotes that I think can serve as useful lessons for open organizations.

Continue reading “Lessons from “Producing Open Source Software””

Categories: Leadership

Effective Technical Leadership

Some notes from the Effective Technical Leadership talk given by David Byttow.

Attributes of an effective technical lead

  • Knowledge: “A strong tech lead’s knowledge is broad and deep…A tech lead should be a master of several technologies.”
  • Speed: “be ultra-responsive and capable of making instant decisions, always kicking the ball forward”
  • Awareness: “You should be able to keep the current state of the entire project in your head at all times.”


Some key actions

  • Help create and stack rank project priorities
  • Define best practices for issue tracking
  • Coach other engineers
  • Review code in detail and provide useful feedback
  • Shield engineers from management when needed
  • Explain why decisions are made
  • Fight for the right design decisions
  • Load-balance work among the team
Categories: Leadership

Leadership Influence Techniques From The Army

The United States Army has a field manual on leadership and leadership influence. In it, they describe multiple techniques for influencing your team/squad to accomplish tasks and fulfill mission objectives.

Leadership Influence Techniques

It has a great list of leadership influence techniques that would benefit managers or team leaders in office settings:

  1. Pressure
  2. Legitimate requests
  3. Exchange
  4. Personal appeals
  5. Collaboration
  6. Rational persuasion
  7. Apprising
  8. Inspiration
  9. Participation
  10. Relationship Building


Some good ideas on applying pressure,

Pressure is applied when leaders use explicit demands to achieve compliance, such as establishing task completion deadlines with negative consequences imposed for unmet completion. Indirect pressure includes persistent reminders of the request and frequent checking. This technique should be used infrequently since it tends to trigger resentment from followers, especially if the leader-exerted pressure becomes too severe. When followers perceive that pressures are not mission related but originate from their leader’s attempt to please superiors for personal recognition, resentment can quickly undermine an organization’s morale, cohesion, and quality of performance. Pressure is a good choice when the stakes are high, time is short, and previous attempts at achieving commitment have not been successful


This is what happens when the leader explains why a request will benefit the team member, it is known as apprising. You apprise a person and let them know the advantages, the worth, potentially what a blessing the request could be.

Apprising happens when the leader explains why a request will benefit a follower, such as giving them greater satisfaction in their work or performing a task a certain way that will save half the time. In contrast to the exchange technique, the benefits are out of the control of the leader.

For example; suggesting that a team member takes a training course. The benefits are out of the control of the leader, you can’t guarantee that they will learn a lot or that they will enjoy. However, as a leader you can convince them and apprise them of the benefits of additional education, such as opening doors to promotions or new projects.

Participation and Inspiration

In a democracy and in collaborative workplaces the inspiration technique is vital to get people moving in the same direction. Inspiration aligns people to accomplish the same goals without using coercion. With inspiration, you inspire the team to do the tasks that will accomplish the mission objectives.

The participation technique is commonly suggested when change is being introduced to a team or organization. The team or organization is invited to participate within the change. They are invited to craft the change to suit them. This technique is highly valuable. It should be used as often as possible to get buy-in from team members on the goals and tasks that need to be done.

Participation occurs when the leader asks a follower to take part in planning how to address a problem or meet an objective. Active participation leads to an increased sense of worth and recognition. It provides value to the effort and builds commitment to execute the commitment.

Other Leadership Training Material

They also cover other things such as:

  • creating a positive environment
  • developing others
  • providing direction, guidance and priorities in order to accomplish a mission

You can download the full PDF of their guide here:

10 Leadership Influence Techniques

Continue reading “Leadership Influence Techniques From The Army”