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#1: The primacy of communication.
Communicating well is one of your most important arts. Large and sustained success come only through others; you reach others only through communication. And since you are ultimately accountable for your own successes, it is your job to be understood.Read more →
#1a: The secret to clear writing.
The secret to clear communication, at least in writing, is to use simple sentences. The reader you aim to persuade is not intrinsically interested in your idea, so you must minimise the effort required for your idea to be understood.Read more →
#1a1: Write truthfully.
Give your reader no reason to mistrust or doubt you. Be truthful and confident. Avoid overstatement, lest your reader find all your words before and after such overstatement suspect.Read more →
#1a2: Good writing comes from the right words.
Good writing comes from the right words. Don't write more than you need to — ensure each word serves a relevant purpose. The same is true for sentences and for paragraphs.Read more →
#1a3: A writer's style.
A writer's style is an expression of self. They reveal something of themselves in their use of language. This has two important implications.Read more →
#1b: Be concise in speech (especially in meetings).
As with writing, so with speaking — keep your sentences short and to the point. This is especially important when considering the context in which a lot of communication happens: meetings.Read more →
#1c: Communicate clearly.
When you have something to say, make sure you have said it. Be clear. Clarity is a virtue when communicating.Read more →
#1c1: Share with purpose.
As Strunk and White wrote, a word may be in the dictionary, but that doesn't mean you have to use it. Same too with ideas — not every idea is worth sharing.Read more →
#1d: Consider what people hear (not just what you say).
When considering good communication, keep in mind this maxim: "it's not what you say, it's what people hear.Read more →
#1d1: How to communicate with the media — a short primer.
How you communicate depends on your audience. Consider the media. Like any other audience, you must tailor your message for them. What is your general mode of interaction with them? Often infrequent and for a specific purpose.Read more →
#1d2: Start your speech with the "why".
Don't just start with the end in mind, start with it in speech. Connect your audience to the "why" early. Let them know why it matters.Read more →
#1e: The importance of buy-in.
Gaining buy-in is a key reason for communicating well. As you rise in an organisation, the outcomes expected of you outpace the growth in your capacity as an individual contributor.Read more →
#1e2: Why should you scale your communication?
In some situations, you'll find yourself needing to not only communicate to people but through people. As a front-line manager, you can directly communicate a vision and strategy with your team. Yet it's likely that this strategic direction was communicated with you by someone higher up.Read more →
#1f: The power of the written word.
The written word is powerful. A blog post, strategy document, or proposal all lend their ideas more weight by virtue of being written. Writing makes ideas real, makes canonical what was previously ephemeral.Read more →
#1f1: How written word leads people to misguidedly believe something is true.
Written documentation fosters shared meaning. So does giving something a name. But this can lead people to misguidedly accept that some things are true and unchangeable.Read more →
#1f2: The deception of words.
Words cannot entirely depict reality. They are a map, not the territory.Read more →
#2: How a culture of meetings proliferates.
An abundance in both the number and duration of meetings, while not inevitable, is strongly correlated with company size and age.Read more →
#3: The team, not the individual, is the smallest unit in an organisation.
At least amongst those who "do the work" (in an engineering organisation, these being engineers, designers, and product managers — individual contributors), the smallest atomic unit of work is the team.Read more →
#3a: Disassembling a team considered costly.
If the team is the smallest atomic unit of an organisation, by analogy it follows that disassembling a team is expensive. This is particularly true for high-performing teams.Read more →
#3b: A manager is not a full member of her team.
Managers are not part of their team the same way the people they manage are.Read more →
#3c: Why do teams break down past a certain size?
Small teams are, in most cases, preferable to large teams. This is in large part due to the web of human interactions that comprise a team.Read more →
#3d: On team alignment.
Only when a team is aligned is it more than the sum of its parts. When you provide a team with multiple — and competing — aims, you incentivise the creation of sub-teams within. The benefits of an aligned team cannot come from a fractured team.Read more →
#3d1: Create an ideal team by seeing the micro from the macro.
In Plato's Republic, Socrates frames the vast social enterprise of a city as a magnification of a person.Read more →
#3d2: Teams exist for goal alignment, not goal attainment.
Teams are beneficial but not necessary in enabling individuals to attain a goal. The individual, not the abstract concept of the team, does the work. And while collaboration and shared knowledge benefits goal attainment, these can occur outside team boundaries.Read more →
#4: Data is not always essential to decision making.
Data, while a valuable tool, should in most cases not be the limiting factor in decision making. The cost involve in moving from 90% confidence to 99% generally outweighs the benefit.Read more →
#4a: Pre-change vs. post-change data.
Consider data available before a change is made (pre-change) and after (post-change).Read more →
#4a1: A vicious cycle of big bets, the virtuous cycle of small bets.
The larger the change, the more confidence you need in that change to offset its risk. Even more so if the change is irreversible. Often, you'll seek to gain confidence by collecting more data to support your decision.Read more →
#4a2: Small bets vs big bets, in practice.
Compare the approaches of making many small bets and making few big bets. In a simple, non-interacting model (unlike our complex world) with infinite time and resources (which you no doubt lack), the expected results of both approaches are the same. The real world is not such a model.Read more →
#5: At scale, your systems will break.
Systems will break past a certain scale; this is inevitable. In the case of software, systems generally survive one order of magnitude of the growth — for example, in network traffic.Read more →
#5a: Organisations and their capacity for change.
Since systems are designed for certain scales, and most companies pursue continued growth, most systems within successful organisations will inevitably break. This failure can be mitigated through deliberate change management — but some caution is needed.Read more →
#6: Strategy vs. vision.
Strategy is not vision. Strategy has more in common with the minutiae of tactics than the aspirations of vision. Strategy provides a clear assessment of the situation — being strategic means to confront reality.Read more →
#6a: The strategic importance of key players.
Part of strategy is assessing and understanding key players, both available and missing. For each of the components of strategy — diagnosis, policy, and action — people are crucial.Read more →
#6b: Mission, vision, and strategy.
Mission is the "what" of your organisation, vision the "why", and strategy the "how".Read more →
#7: How to decouple career growth from organisational growth.
When considering your career development, you don't need to depend solely on what roles your organisation has available. Consider the next step up your career ladder, be that manager, Director, or VP. Instead of manoeuvring to land one of these limited roles, assess your skill gaps.Read more →
#7a: Growth through the optimal level of discomfort.
Growth comes from stretching yourself beyond what is comfortable, and finding the optimal level of discomfort. At work, this can be through a stretch assignment — diverse, complex and challenging. This is categorically not "your current role, but with more staff".Read more →
#7a1: Cross-functional exposure as a means to growth.
Cross-functional training and exposure benefits both employees (at all levels) and their companies. Working in a new function, such as an engineering lead working in marketing, naturally stretches the individual. It places them in an entirely new and unfamiliar context; they are required to learn.Read more →
#7b: The value of being a beginner.
The beginner has an advantage over the expert, the amateur over the professional, the student over the teacher. In execution, they often have more options — they display Shunryu Suzuki's "beginner's mind", taking chances, questioning established wisdom.Read more →
#7c: Professional transitions and their challenges.
While your personal and professional growth may enable you to land a new role, it far from guarantees your success. The transition into a new role is a period of vulnerability for you as a leader; success or failure in your first few months is a strong predictor of overall job success.Read more →
#8: Decision-making within an organisation.
Decision making within an organisation — deciding areas of focus, making trade-offs — requires broad context to be done well. If you only think of what's best for yourself, your team will suffer. Focusing only on your team similarly produces local benefits but can be a detriment to other teams.Read more →
#8a: How the needs of information sharing shapes an organisation.
The need for broad context to guide good decisions shapes an organisation's structure. As an organisation grows, fewer people possess a broad enough context to make optimal decisions.Read more →
#8a1: Silos are inevitable.
Despite the need for shared alignment, cross-functional knowledge, context, and expertise, silos still form within an organisation. Silos are natural and inevitable.Read more →
#8a2: Siloing, and the benefits of networks.
Siloing is defined by the level of cross-group communication. The higher the ratio of internal to external communication, the more siloed that group is. At the heart of siloing is communication, relationships, and networks — and both individuals and teams can benefit from expanding their network.Read more →
#8b: Good (and bad) decision-making processes.
As the manager of a team, you have great influence over the decision-making process for any particular decision. This assumes both a clear chain of command and unity of command: your team unambiguously reports to you, and you alone have ultimate decision approval power.Read more →
#8b1: Benevolent dictatorship as a decision-making process.
Alongside consensus building, the other main decision-making process you should use as the leader of a team is the "consult and decide" approach; I prefer to call it "benevolent dictatorship".Read more →
#9: The definitions of leadership.
Leadership is predicated on people following; no leader is an island. And since leadership is defined through followership, there is no single prescription for it.Read more →
#9a: Leading with and leading without authority.
Compared to leading with authority, leading without authority is a stronger form of leadership. Since there is no explicit social contract or threat of punishment, followers choose freely to follow and hence follow more fervently.Read more →
#9a1: The role of strong connections in building influence.
The more general form of "leading without authority" is "creating change without authority". The ability to create change is enabled by influence. Influence is not a direct function of the count of your connections; rather, it comes from having strong connections.Read more →
#9a2: Your role in shaping positional authority within the organisation.
At higher levels in an organisation, positional authority becomes less important than influence. There are more politics and ego, and fewer concrete answers. Yet this does not mean you can ignore the impact of this type of power in your organisation.Read more →
#9b: Options and constraints inherent in different sources of leadership power.
The source of a leader's power provides different options to achieve the same goal in any given situation. What matter is their leadership type — leading with or without authority — not their style, which is unique.Read more →
#9c: Management vs. leadership.
Making it possible for people to work, getting a team to perform, and improving systems (through advancing organisational learning): these are key roles of a manager.Read more →
#9c1: Management is not a promotion.
Despite being fundamentally different fields, a career change from making (such as engineering, design, or product management) to managing is considered by many in the software industry to be a promotion.Read more →
#9c1a: The (software) industry shift in the "management as a promotion" mindset.
The "management as a promotion" mindset has, fortunately, been shifting in the past decade. More companies are creating and fairly compensating both a management track and technical track for their skilled knowledge workers.Read more →
#9c2: The conflicting priorities of a manager and her team.
A manager's work fundamentally differs from the work of her team in many respects, including the reduced reliance on her own creative output for her success. These differing needs may cause a manager to create an environment where her team is more likely to fail.Read more →
#9c2a: How managers set up their teams for failure.
The conflicting priorities of manager and her team present themselves in several ways. A manager may optimise her time by assembling her team to present status updates — at the cost of the team's time.Read more →
#9c3: Management should be well-defined.
The role of leadership is to inspire. The role of management is to execute. Leaders may exist at all levels, and their role as a leader may not necessarily be formalised. But management should be well-defined.Read more →
#9d: Leader as organisational architect.
The higher you climb in your organisation, the more you must take on the role of organisational architect. You are responsible for creating and aligning the key elements of the organisational system.Read more →
#10: Networks and their benefits.
Networks provide information; they are not solely a mechanism by which you exert your influence and spread your ideas. For individuals, a diverse network can lead to new and better ideas due to access to novel information.Read more →
#10: Technology companies are human communication companies.
Almost all the companies in the business of technology are, primarily, in the business of human communication. Success of failure of a company relies not as much on the quality of its technology as on the quality of its communication at all levels.Read more →
#10a: Growing a network.
Effective networks favour few strong connections over many weak connections. How do build this network? This is a matter of who you know — but who you know largely depends on who you are and what you do.Read more →
#10b: Build your network before you need it.
The best time to build your network is months before you need it. Whether in a crisis or when you need more mundane support from a colleague, these are the moments you should be drawing down your balance of favours, and reaping the benefits of your relationships.Read more →
#11: Negative incentives and subpar business results.
People rebel against rules to assert autonomy.Read more →
#11a: Dissent isn't all bad.
Dissent can be a positive force for change. You should prefer to hear people speak openly on what they feel needs to change — or to voice their opposition to change — than to hear false assent. As least you know where these people stand.Read more →
#11b: Why are some people unwilling to express a dissenting opinion?
Those who blindly follow any change — or do not express their opinions on a matter relevant to them — are not allies to change. As they hold no attachment to a particular change, they are unlikely to put themselves on the line to protect it.Read more →
#12: How team-level engagement drives company-level performance.
Employee engagement drives business performance. Yet there is no single value of employee engagement within a company; engagement varies across individuals, teams, and functions.Read more →
#12a: Exceptional product quality is driven by its creators, not by the market.
Above a certain level, product quality is not, in and of itself, important to the market. Any increase in the customer base attributable to an increase in quality is offset by the additional time (and hence money) spent to deliver the product.Read more →
#12a1: How do companies who sell a high quality brand succeed?
If the market does not reward exceptional product quality, how do we reckon with companies whose brand is one of high quality?Read more →
#12a2: Time, money, and quality are competing factors (to the detriment of quality).
Production is constrained by three competing factors: time, money, and quality. You cannot optimise for all three at one: time and money, for example, cannot both be minimised while quality is maximised.Read more →
#12b: The high cost of high employee turnover.
High employee turnover is one of the greatest threats to the long-term success of business. Consider, first, the monetary cost of an employee leaving. Around 20% of all people-related expenses are attributable to turnover:Read more →
#12b1: Do you know your company's retention rate?
Despite the dire consequences of high turnover, a company's retention rate is rarely known by its talent team or senior leaders. It is even more infrequently shared across the organisation.Read more →
#12c: How high turnover damages performance and culture.
More damaging than direct loss of investment in your employees, but less visible, is the effect of high turnover on team performance and company culture. A team that loses a key member not only loses their expertise, but also suffers a loss of cohesion.Read more →
#12d: Low retention leads to low employee training leads to low retention leads to...
In addition to the short-term bias on strategic product and development decisions, high turnover can also affect how a company treats its people. A high turnover company can fall into a vicious cycle by deciding to spend less on training for its employees, leading to further reduced tenure.Read more →
#13: Company values, organically created.
Within a company, the values of its culture are not those that are written but rather the values that are regularly modelled and rewarded. Note also: what is not rewarded? What behaviours are punished?Read more →
#13a: Culture, values, and performance variation across companies.
An employee's at work experience is greatly affected by their local environment, yet a company's performance does not comprise only the sum of its employees' individual experiences. Performance variation has been found to be stronger across companies than within them.Read more →
#13a1: To improve individual performance, improve team performance.
Individual performance follows a power law: the best outperform the worst by an order of magnitude. A manager is unlikely to change her people in a meaningful way, so it is unlikely for low performers to become high performers and shift the distribution (at least, within a company or team).Read more →
#13b: What is culture?
What is culture? It is a consistent set of patterns for thought and behaviour. It is your company's shared language. It is your group's norms — for example, how meetings are run, or how feedback is given.Read more →
#13b1: How understanding company culture helps you succeed.
Culture is multi-layered and pervasive; this has several implications for how to succeed within a company.Read more →
#14: The importance of behaviour change.
Behaviours are the most important and effective area to focus on if you want to produce change — for an individual, team, or organisation.Read more →
#14a: How action drives change in an individual.
Repeated actions create habits. Habits drive behaviour change. Behaviour change drives a change in belief. Hence through repeated action can a person change themselves.Read more →
#14a1: Repeated actions change organisational beliefs.
The connection between repeated action and belief change is not only true for an individual but also for an organisation. New ways of thinking and acting brought from the outside, or internal mobilisation to respond to a changing world, drive organisational change.Read more →
#14a2: Viewing technology as a driver for behaviour change is hazardous.
Habit, not a tool or technology, is what's important for change. Yet we often consider technology adoption a goal in itself.Read more →
#15: Be authentic.
Authenticity is a virtue. The best style for you is what comes naturally. Being yourself attracts people, because in expressing yourself you reveal parts of yourself that others can connect with.Read more →
#16: Incremental change is the predominant form of change.
Success and failure are not absolutes. Goodness — in art, in expertise — is a spectrum. The world changes in increments. There are few major leaps in any endeavour; most progress comes incrementally.Read more →
#17: Take a portfolio-based approach to risk.
As with shares on a financial market, projects carry compensatory risk is proportion to their value. The greater value — or reward — a successful project would deliver to an organisation, the greater the risk of failure; the easy yet valuable projects are likely to have been already completed.Read more →
#17a: To reduce risk, aim for small, single-purpose teams.
From consideration of a portfolio-based approach to managing organisational risk and of the efficacy of single-purpose teams, it follows that a company should prefer to comprise many smaller teams — each managing a single project — over few, larger project teams.Read more →
#18: How organisations learn.
Organisations learn, yet organisations are made of individuals. These individuals are organised in a semi-static structure with the team as the fundamental unit.Read more →
#18a: Turnover loses not just the person but their knowledge.
Since organisational knowledge lies within its people, there is great hidden cost in layoffs and high turnover. Laid off staff take with them part of the organisation's learning; this partially offsets whatever expense is saved in salary cost.Read more →
#19: High quality worktime and creative productivity.
Creative work depends far more on the quality of work time than its quantity. From times of deep work and in a state of flow come breakthroughs.Read more →
#19a: The perils of distraction on productivity.
Software development is a creative field, and so the engineers, designers, and product managers whose creative output comprise most of their work depend greatly on the quality of their work time.Read more →
#19a1: How managers suffer less from distracted environments (to the detriment of their teams).
Managers, unlike their team, face little of the deleterious effects of interruption. Their work is by nature fragmented; it relies less on creative output and hence deep work.Read more →
#20: Don't just learn your role, learn the system.
To succeed in a role, it is often not enough to learn your job. You must also learn the system.Read more →
#21: The goal of process is to remove itself.
The goal of process is to remove itself. Process should not be an end in itself, but a means.Read more →
#21a: How to help your team internalise a process.
After being introduced to a team, process may sometimes persist overly long and fail to become internalised. This may be due to process creator (often the team's lead) being invested more heavily in the process itself than the problem it aims to solve.Read more →
#21a1: Why your team isn't adopting a process.
Your team is unlikely to adopt a process they don't like or believe in. Seek to understand their perspective. If your team is not buying into a process, chances are it was implemented without sufficient consultation. They may disagree with the specific approach.Read more →