#30 - Link Roundup, 21 Aug 2020
Keeping yourself organized; responses on Manager READMEs; Make decisions quickly; Remote work-life balance; Reviewing your progress
Our AMA (Ask Managers Anything) question last week was:
What tools do you use to keep yourself organized? As a research software developer I had two or three tickets on a JIRA board to keep track of, now as a software development manager I have what feels like dozens of things to be on top of.
We got a number of answers:
OmniFocus 3.9.1 on Mac, OF 2 on iPhone and iPad (their calendar event and todo display in OF3 for iOS/iPadOS is too broken to contemplate using); Full Focus Planner (paper) from Michael Hyatt. Every time I try to use anything for project/task management that doesn’t include context views (a la GTD), it fails and I end up working on a single project for a long time rather than all the tasks that require a given tool or location.
I’m glad to hear you’re starting to play with Trello for organization, it’s helped me a lot to be able to put tasks in various buckets and move them as needed. I like to have “this quarter”, “this month”, “this week” and “today” columns, and that helps me keep an eye on medium term goals along with day-to-day work.
I started using a bullet journal and I love having everything in one place - just have to keep your indexes updated!
I also got some thoughtful pushback on my take on Manager READMEs, suggesting that my main reason for not liking them was the wrong one, and I think I’m convinced:
I agree that they’re controversial, but I disagree that we’re paid to adapt to the team members’ communication preferences. […] We’re paid, as managers, to deliver results and to retain (and grow) competent staff. If a manager’s preference is for reading (JFK) rather than listening (LBJ) or talking/writing (Churchill), then having a bunch of direct reports talking at her/him without any write-up is ineffective. If the manager is a listener, a stack of reports, no matter how brief, will be ignored.
My problem with Manager READMEs is that it serves as an unchanging documentation of how a new staff member will understand to communicate: “But the README when I was hired in 2014 said…” The README cannot address every situation that a manager and staff member will experience, and so is incomplete while looking like LAW to the staff member. This reason is why I don’t have one. I will tell all my staff that I prefer reading to listening, with an opportunity for follow-up discussion, that I will not email them outside of work hours and expect responses before their next shift, and so on. A README constricts, rather than explains, how the manager-report relationship forms by its written nature.
I like this approach, that the reason to write up these ideas is for your own clarification and to share with team members verbally, not as a document.
We haven’t gotten many new questions submitted to the AMA, so we’re down to our last two. The current top question is:
are you doing anything to maintain team morale during this challenging time? its definitely hard on some of my directs
I don’t have any good answers to this one; I’ve been trying, but being extra diligent about celebrating wins, thanking people, being flexible with people as they go through problems, and listening particularly closely during one-on-ones is all I’ve got, and I’m not sure it’s enough. Our and other teams have tried general team-togetherness things - virtual get-togethers - and it wasn’t wildly successful.
What have you been doing to maintain team member’s morale? Please send in your responses by email (just reply), and contribute new questions for the community at http://ama.researchcomputingteams.org !
And now on to the link roundup.
Why Minimize Management Decision Time - Johanna Rothman
I’ve mentioned before that my wife, trained as an emergency-room nurse, and myself, trained as an academic, have very different default approaches to decision making under uncertainty. I fall more under the “I’ll just do a quick literature review and read these two books first” school. She has what Google calls “a bias towards action”. Both are perfectly good approaches in the right context.
Unfortunately, as a manger, my default stretching out of decision making - and savouring every minute of it - isn’t great for the team, for a number of reasons. Many of us brought up in the research side of research computing likely suffer from the same problem. As Rothman’s article points out, it has real costs for the team:
Every request for more information interrupts the team’s current work.
More importantly, the team starts to explore future work, not finish the current work.
The managers lose their context to make a decision quickly.
The last is subtle but real - one can get too wrapped up in the analysis and lose sight of the immediate problem at hand.
This article discusses the “why”s of minimizing decision making time. As a “how”, I’m trying to give myself strict time limits for decisions, with shorter time limits for decisions that can easily be undone, and longer limits for those that can’t.
Managing Your Own Career
How to Stop Remote Work from Stealing Your Life - Karin Hurt and David Dye, Let’s Grow Leaders
Besides just thinking about ergonomics now in the long haul, we also need to think about our routines so that as managers we don’t let remote work overtake us completely. The article talks about the power of rituals, which many of us have read about already, in terms of setting boundaries between work and home. The other two points - force ourselves out of crisis mode, and embracing experiments - are really good ones.
Many of us have been in crisis mode one way or another for a while, and it’s easy to let that become the norm. We can’t let that happen, for us or our team members. The article provides a couple ways to shake that off.
The idea of embracing experiments, which we often do in work but maybe less often in our own life, is a great idea. Try lots of things, one at a time, that seem like they might work in improving work-life balance and setting boundaries; and routinely evaluate them and drop them if they’re not working after some decent amount of time.
This is an article about reviewing your own time and accomplishments, rather than your team members. There are concrete steps for doing a GTD-style weekly review, where you look back on the week to assess how well you met your goals, and at higher and higher levels, monthly, quarterly and annual reviews.
This is the blog of a product, and of course they point out how useful their product would be for such an activity, but it’s still a useful article. I do something like the weekly review mainly because for sharing updates to my bosses’ weekly staff meeting, but I must admit I don’t really track it against weekly goals, and don’t do the higher-level work of monthly, quarterly, or annual reviews in any systematic way. Does anyone else? Has it been helpful?