#36 - Link Roundup, 2 Oct 2020
The breadth of skills we need; The management flywheel; Your DEI performance problem
It’s been a good week here to remind me of the breadth of skills we need as managers. I’ve had to meet separately with several groups of research stakeholders, and with a legal team on topics of licensing and privacy, helped a team member debug a service, clarifed the scope of multiple tasks, put together a budget for a project that might never be, helped configure some authentication, give a presentation, and coached a team member on presentation skills.
One of the things I’d like this newsletter to grow into in year two is a bit more of a community where we can exchange tips, best practices, and knowledge on the dizzying number of sills we need to have at our command. To put it mildly, my training as an astrophysicist did not prepare me for this.
But it was nonetheless a great week! The team continued on without me with zero issues while I was away for two days (an experiment I’ve been needlessly hesitant to try since the pandemic started), progress is outstanding, and efforts with other stakeholders started months ago are starting to pay off. Our skills from our previous careers do carry over, and we can be successful - sometimes it just takes more trial-and-error than it would have if we had a bit more of a community of research computing team managers.
We got some more tips on email-handling from a reader:
Absolutely, Inbox isn’t a ToDo list device.
Using Gmail, I heavily use filters to pre-tag incoming email so that once I read it (and create an action in OmniFocus if warranted), I hit archive and it already has a tag to cut down on search time/effort.
I have used Active Inbox for awhile (Chrome extension), but they’ve wandered from the original, and now I basically only use the tags (S/Action, S/Waiting For, S/Read (for long-form items like Schneier’s security mailing or Paul Graham’s work), and S/Someday (which I don’t actually use). I mostly use Waiting For, and it is duplicated in OmniFocus, but Waiting For is the category of work I’m most likely to forget rather than Action.
When I was a sysadmin, I received ~126k emails in a year, with all the dept’s systems reporting in daily. I got through it all, Inbox Zero, every day. A bit tougher now that I have a lot fewer emails, but many require replies (but I do try to minimize replies).
As always, we’re happy to hear any productivity tips you have - just hit reply.
And now, the roundup!
The Management Flywheel - Camille Fournier
One of the huge challenges for managers - which can be overwhelming for some new managers - is that changing people systems is hard. And all problems are people problems. Fournier points out that managers that try to get out whatever problem their team is facing by saying “We’ll Just Use Technology X” or “We Just Need The Right People” are probably not going to succeed. In her experience, and mine, there’s no big-bang change of people or technology that is going to get a team or an organization out of a rut.
Changing how teams or orgs work isn’t a single-step process; “team’s working well” and “ team isn’t working well” isn’t a big on/off switch. Fournier uses Jim Collins’ analogy - it’s a flywheel. A flywheel can be stopped dead. If you apply some force to it, it’ll spin for a while, but start losing momentum. If you turn your back too long, if you don’t keep strategically applying force, it will slow down dangerously. But you do keep giving it a push, again and again, there’s no single point at which you can say “before this, the flywheel wasn’t really spinning, now it is”, but over time it will have very clearly picked up momentum - and now maybe there’s a few more people helping keep it going.
This can be enormously frustrating for new managers. There’s no single moment where you can just step back and say, “yup, that push sure did it all right, now it’s fixed”. But once you get that flywheel going, jeez, there’s no telling how long it can go with a little nudge here and there.
You Have A Performance Problem - Adrian Howard
If people keep telling you our team’s code had a performance problem, we’d do something about it. Given that that’s the case, Howard has a short and pretty scathing article asking us why we’re not doing anything about the diversity, equity, and inclusion problems that people keep pointing out.
A video recording of a talk from 2019 on various sustainability models - or even just sustainability definitions - for open source projects.