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Book notes: The Manager's Path

Book notes on "The Manager's Path"

These are my notes on Camille Fournier’s The The Manager’s Path.

I specially liked that the book is IT specific and that it lays down all the different levels on the management ladder, so you can get a feeling of what you will be expected to do at each level and decide which level is the one that you would like to aspire to.

Excellent read.

Key Insights

  • The only person you can change is yourself.
  • Asking for advice is a way of showing trust and respect.
  • Listening is a precursor to empathy.
  • If you want autonomy over your work, you must gain mastery over your time.
  • Create a safe environment for disagreement to work itself out.
  • Practice continuous feedback.
  • Real potential in people show itself quickly.
  • Be kind, not nice.
  • Delegation is essential for career growth.
  • Ways to say no:
    • “YES, AND …” state what would require to say yes or what it will impact.
  • As a manager, your first team is not the people that report to you but your peers.
  • As a manager, ask yourself:
    • Can I do this faster (by cutting scope)?
    • Do I need to be doing this at all?
    • What value am I providing with this work?
  • Management is a very culture-specific task.
  • Managing outside your skill set: be curious, ask questions, learn.
  • Boring meetings are a sign of dysfunctional teams.
  • We learn the most from failures.
  • Process is risk management.
  • CTO shape business strategy through the lens of technology.
  • You will be measured against the company’s values.
    • If your values are not those of the company, you will struggle.
  • You have to be able to manage yourself if you want to be good at managing others.
    • For this, you need to understand yourself.

TOC

Chapter 1 - Management 101

  • What to expect from a manager:
    • Grow your career:
      • Help find the training/conf/books.
      • Find “stretch” projects.
    • Feedback.
    • Figure out what you need to learn.
    • Understand what to focus on and enable you to have that focus.
    • Take your manager’s job.
    • Find a sense of purpose in day-to-day by connecting what you do with the overall picture.
  • 1-2-1 purpose:
    • Create human connection.
    • Discuss privately.
    • Not a status meeting.
    • Must be regular.
  • Feedback:
    • Public for praise, private for criticism.
    • Behavioural feedback.
  • How to be managed:
    • Spend time thinking about what you want.
    • You are responsible for yourself.
    • The only person you can change is yourself.
    • Asking for advice is a way of showing trust and respect.

Chapter 2 - Mentoring

  • Listening is a precursor to empathy.

Chapter 3 - Tech Lead

  • Not a point in the ladder, but a temporal role.
  • At least 30% time coding.
  • Main new skill: project management.
  • Learn how to balance your time of tech work vs management work.
  • If you want autonomy over your work, you must gain mastery over your time.
  • Tech Lead roles:
    • Software developer.
    • System architect.
    • Business analysts.
    • Project planner.
    • Team leader.
  • Expect the tech lead position to be a big increase in responsibility and workload.
  • Project management is a necessary pain:
    • Break deliverables into small tasks.
    • Sort task in the most efficient way.
    • Push through unknowns.
  • Successful team leads excel at communication:
    • Read/write.
    • Speak/listen.
    • Note taking.

Chapter 4 - Managing People

  • New hire:
  • 1-2-1 styles:
    • TODO list:
      • Professional and efficient but cold.
      • Forces to think beforehand.
      • Items to discuss should be worth the face to face time.
    • Catch-up:
      • Listen to what report thinks is most important.
      • Careful with too much complaining.
    • Feedback meeting:
      • Quarterly enough for career development.
      • Review process towards goals.
    • Progress report (when managing managers).
  • Get to know your report at a personal level.
  • Take notes in a shared document.
  • Delegate effectively:
    • Do not “intervene” if:
      • Team is making progress on its goals.
      • System’s are stable.
      • Product manager is happy.
    • If a team has no goals, use what you want to monitor to help them create one.
    • Gather information yourself from system instead of asking the team.
  • Continuous feedback:
    • You must know your people.
    • Forces you to pay attention to individuals.
    • Makes it easy to foster talent.
    • Practice tricky conversations in the small.
    • Weekly for everyone who reports to you.
    • Start with positive feedback.
  • Performance reviews:
    • Include the whole year: summarize the 1-2-1.
    • It is not a one hour process, but much longer.
    • Use concrete examples to avoid bias.
    • Spend plenty of time on accomplishments.
    • Keep the areas of improvement focus.
  • Real potential in people show itself quickly.
  • Keep an eye out for opportunities for your team members to stretch themselves and grow.

Chapter 5 - Managing a team

  • New set of skills and challenges.
  • Engineering managers:
    • Must be technically credible to get the respect of the engineering team.
    • Keep contributing to code so you can see the bottlenecks.
  • Dysfunctional teams:
    • Not shipping: Tools/processes poor.
    • People drama: negative, brilliant jerk, gossip.
    • Unhappiness due to overwork:
      • Pay tech debt.
      • If time-critical release:
        • Play cheerleader.
        • Cut features.
        • Push back date.
        • Contribute.
    • Collaboration problems:
      • With other teams:
        • Regular catch up with peers to work through issues.
        • Actionable feedback.
      • Within the team:
        • Team building activities.
  • Learn enough about the product and customers.
  • Long term vision of technology and product.
  • Create a safe environment for disagreement to work itself out.
  • Managing conflict:
    • Don’t rely exclusively on voting.
    • Set up clear process to depersonalize decisions.
    • Don’t turn a blind eye on simmering issues.
    • Don’t take it out on the other teams.
    • Be kind, not nice.
    • Don’t be afraid of conflict.
  • Psychological safety: you are willing to take risks and make mistakes in front of others.
  • Don’t hire brilliant jerks as it is too difficult to get rid of one.
  • Get rid of the people that don’t respect you as a manager, or the team.
  • Non-communicator:
    • Raise his habits asap.
    • Find the root cause of the hiding.
  • Advanced project management:
    • Use agile for short term.
    • 10 productive weeks per quarter.
    • Budget 20% for tech debt.
    • Cut features as deadline approaches.
    • Spend time planning and estimating.

Chapter 6 - Managing Multiple Teams

  • No more coding. You will miss coding.
  • Be fluent in at least one programming language before taking this role.
  • Manage your own time: Eisenhower Matrix.
  • How much time did you spent on non-urgent but important tasks?
  • Delegate:
Frequent Infrequent
Simple Delegate Do it yourself
Complex Delegate carefully Delegate for training
  • Delegation is essential for career growth.
  • Ways to say no:
    • “YES, AND …” state what would require to say yes or what it will impact.
    • Create policies that clearly define what is needed for a yes.
    • “Help me say yes”: ask questions.
    • “Not right now”: you must do something later.
    • Ask a peer to say no in your behalf.
    • Don’t delay saying no.
  • Your technical focus at this level is to improve the system of work that your developers are operating within.
  • Durable teams are built on a shared purpose that comes from the company itself, and they align themselves with the company’s values.
  • As a manager, your first team is not the people that report to you but your peers.
  • Ask yourself:
    • Can I do this faster (by cutting scope)?
    • Do I need to be doing this at all?
    • What value am I providing with this work?

Chapter 7 - Managing Managers

  • Same as managing multiple teams, but an order of magnitude bigger. New set of skills.
  • Things are obscured by the additional level of abstraction.
  • Skip-Level meetings:
    • Critical to build trust and engagement.
    • Either quarterly 1-2-1 or group lunches.
    • Prompts in page 129.
  • Open-Door policy does not work.
  • Managers should make your life easier, by bringing clear problems before they turn into raging fires.
  • Make managers accountable for their teams.
  • New managers need a lot of coaching:
    • How to do 1-2-1.
    • How to let go previous work.
    • How to not become a control freak.
    • Find external training.
  • Management is a very culture-specific task,
    • Hence is better to promote people that has been in the company for long and already understand the culture.
  • Culture fit more important than industry-specific knowledge.
  • Hiring managers - Page 140:
    • Do reference checks.
  • Managing outside your skill set: be curious, ask questions, learn.
  • Boring meetings are a sign of dysfunctional teams.
  • People need to feel an understanding and connection with the purpose of their work.
  • Your technical responsibility is to optimize tech investments by matching it to future product or customer needs.

Chapter 8 - The Big Leagues

  • As tech senior managers, we bring a willingness to embrace and drive change as needed.
  • Be a leader; your company looks to you for:
    • What to do.
    • Where to go.
    • How to act.
    • How to think.
    • What to value.
    • Make hard decisions without perfect information.
    • Understand current business landscape and plan for possible futures.
    • Hold individuals/teams accountable.
  • 4 tasks:
    • Information gathering or sharing.
    • Nudging.
    • Decision making.
    • Role modeling.
  • Possible roles:
    • R&D.
    • Tech strategy.
    • Organization.
    • Execution.
    • External face of technology.
    • Infrastructure and tech operations manager.
    • Business executive.
  • CTO must care about business and shape business strategy through the lens of technology.
  • CTO without management responsibilities will have little influence.
  • To make something top priority, ou need to explicitly kill or postpone in-flight work.
  • You need to communicate things three or more times before it sinks.
  • Setting strategy:
    • Improve operational efficiency.
    • Expand features.
    • Grow the business.
    • It entitles:
      • Tech architecture.
      • Team structure.
      • Understanding direction of business.
  • Delivery bad news:
    • Do it by individuals or small groups.
    • Must be in-person.
    • Don’t force yourself to delive if you cannot stand behind it.
    • Be honest.
  • CEO as a boss:
    • Getting 1-2-1 time is a challenge.
      • Bring topics, set up agenda.
    • Bring solutions, not problems.
    • Ask for advice.
    • Don’t be afraid of repeating yourself.
    • Be supportive.
    • Look for coaching and skills development in other places.
  • Your team:
    • Peers in other functions.
    • First focus on the success of business, then on their departments.
    • You trust them as experts in their areas.
    • You trust they are not trying to undermine you.
    • Disagreement in leadership team is ok, but once a decision is made, team shows a united front.
  • You need to detach from your previous team:
    • Avoid having favourites.
    • People to take you seriously.
    • People will copy your behaviours.
    • Your presence will change the behaviour.
    • Do not discuss uncertainty with your old peers.
    • Care even more about individuals.
  • True North: core principles that a person in a functional role must keep in mind as he does his job.

Chapter 9 - Bootstrapping Culture

  • You need an hypothesis to learn from new processes and structures.
  • Structure allow to scale, diversify and take on more complex long-term tasks.
  • We learn the most from failures: examine failures to decide what structure needs to be added.
  • Culture is how things get done, without people having to think about it – Frederick Laloux.
  • You will be measured against the company’s values.
    • If your values are not those of the company, you will struggle.
  • Culture:
    • Map company values to tech team, maybe adding a couple that are specially important.
    • Reinforce by rewarding people that exhibit the values in a positive way.
    • Use when hiring.
  • Create a career ladder - Page 202.
  • Process is risk management.

Conclusion

  • You have to be able to manage yourself if you want to be good at managing others.
    • You need to understand yourself.
  • Masters of working through conflict.
  • Meditate.
  • Get curious.
  • Look for the other side of the story.

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