#79 - 20 Aug 2021
Strategic planning basics; minimum viable governance; syncing up when async isn't working
I’ve been thinking a lot about strategy in other contexts lately - some of you will have noticed that I’ve been back on my nonsense on twitter, about the importance of having a focus. The very insightful comments and suggestions you sent last week about how we can help more teams were very on point, and I think combine to a feasible strategy.
Because within this newsletter community we’ve built together, we have a number of strengths:
An engaged readership,
A wealth of expertise and experience - I’m guessing we have multiple person-centuries worth of research computing team management experience,
A diverse range of expertise, spanning a large number of fields and sectors, and
An interest in contributing back
And the wide underserved community of reseach computing and data team managers, technical leads, and those thinking of becoming one, could really use our help.
For areas to focus on, readers mentioned the lack of resources available for new managers, especially those put in the hard position of managing yesterday’s peers; lack of ongoing mentorship; and near total absence of people talking about management in a way that sounds relatable to research computing professionals.
There was wide willingness to contribute:
via online communities,
possible one-on-one mentorship or group calls,
jointly putting together resources, and
writing guest posts here and elsewhere
And some suggestions for things we could contribute together that would be valuable:
Lists of curated resources
Library of talks, ebooks
Make it easier for others in the readership to give talks out in the community
So if we have a goal of helping other research computing teams and their managers by providing material and mentorship relevant to them, with priorities around building resources that others can easily use and the tools for others to reach out to local communities, I think the next step is to start making a plan of action.
I’ll be speaking with some people in the coming weeks trying to put together some plans. If this sounds like something that would be of interest to you, as an observer or a active participant, or can think of other ways this community could help other research computing teams, mail me - hit reply or email email@example.com - or arrange a fifteen minute call with me. Either way, I’d love to hear from you.
And now, the roundup!
4 Practical Steps For Strategic Planning As A Leader - Anthony Boyd
One hard things for new leaders to really come to terms with is that they typically have a lot more freedom in what their team does and how their team does it than might be comfortable.
Defining a strategy for how to do whatever your team is charged with doing is a big responsibility. And it’s a lot scarier than staying focused on the day-to-day of routine work. As a result, I see lots of teams or organizations with no discernible strategy whatsoever, muddling along with whatever tasks come their way - or, maybe worse, following through with zealous dedication on some idea that three years ago someone said seemed like a good idea.
So I keep an eye out for resources on defining strategies. Lots of them are way too “big” - focused on enormous organizations. Or they’re hyper-focused on things like SWOT Analyses or Business Model Canvases or Wardley Maps - which are all, you know, great, but they’re just devices to nudge thoughts and discussion into directions that might be fruitful. A 2x2 matrix or canvas or map isn’t a strategy. A concrete set of goals and priorities, informed by the context of the team and the environment in which it operates, that’s a strategy, that’s something that can help guide the routine day-to-day decisions you and team members make, and serve as a nudging guardrail to make sure you and your team are moving in the right direction.
In this article, Boyd describes a very down-to-earth process for defining and following through on a strategy, that he learned and developed during his time as a union leader. It’s simple and pedestrian and it’s all that strategy is - routinely spending some time thinking of the big picture and its context, so that the day-to-day work is steered properly.
Boyd’s steps (followed by a course correction step) are:
Think laterally - brainstorm with a large number of ideas before falling in love with any; “Use lateral thinking to create as many strategies as possible then sort through your options and use vertical thinking to drill down into the best option. “
Set goals - without clear goals for your team, unit, or organization, you have no way of knowing if you’re doing well or not, or if any small decision is taking you closer to or further from your goals
Set priorities - which is going to mean saying “no” or “not now” quite a bit
Develop and implement a plan of action
Make adjustments according to changing conditions
This can be done by yourself or with the team, and involving your manager; or you can get feedback from your manager before striking off in a direction.
For brainstorming, whether by yourself or with others, the steps laid out in another article I saw this week, Shopify’s Brainstorming Session Template, can help - in particular the iterative approach of brainstorm, assess, brainstorm …. distill. And yet another article I saw, more for large organizations, about running a strategy offsite for a leadership team, is worth skimming if only to see that it’s the same as Boyd’s steps, but done in a group. One line I like from that last article - “Choose clarity over certainty”.
How to break out of the thread of doom - Tanya Reilly, LeadDev
5 situations when synchronous communication is a must - Hiba Amin, Hypercontext
We’re all spending a lot more time in written communication than we were before, and there are huge advantages! But there are some common failure modes, including having interminable conversations that don’t actually result in some conclusion. Reilly has three hints for winding up those discussions:
Rollup: distill a long thread into the state of the conversation - “To summarize: the problem is X. Possible paths forward are A, B, C. Sounds like we’re leaning towards A. Have I missed anything?” This is an incredibly useful tool to have at your disposal for long-running synchronous conversations too.
Maybe this is a stupid question, but…. - if the conversation isn’t going anywhere, it can be because people are talking past each other, and there’s some point which isn’t clear or isn’t understood the same way by all parties. Being willing to ask a question that seems obvious is very useful.
Move to synchronous mechanisms like a quick call - sometimes the loss of non-word signals that come across in voice or video, or just the long turn-around of async communications, is slowing things down. At some point it may be easier to hop on a quick call.
Speaking of that last point, Amin talks about some situations where you shouldn’t even try to communicate asynchronously if you can avoid it - they’re all areas where building relationships is the goal, or higher-bandwidth-than-just-text communications are necessary:
Onboarding new employees
Managing Your Own Career
How to Plan Your Ideal Hybrid Work Schedule (So You Can Live Your Best Life) - Regina Borsellino
We’ve talked a lot about the challenges of arranging hybrid work for your team members, but you’re a team member too. What will work best for you?
Borsellino’s article goes into much more depth than most I’ve seen, walking you through 37 questions to help you make some decisions, under categories of:
what requirements does your employer have
what schedule will help your productivity the most
what schedule will give you access to the professional opportunities you want and need
what hybrid work schedule will give you the optimal amount of social interaction
what schedule will help you live your best life, at work and home
There’s too much to summarize here, but if you haven’t yet started working through your work plans and they might be hybrid, this is a good starting point.
Because of an immune condition, I’m going to be way on the late side of coming back into the office. I like the idea of coming in 1-2 days a week, or maybe 3 days a week but just the afternoons (say) - and spending the rest of time either working from home, or some coffee shops in the neighbourhood. With our team distributed across the country, I can meet my managerial obligations that way comfortably, and it will give me a nice blend of productivity and peace of mind. The exact schedule, well, we’ll have to experiment a bit and see. What are your current plans - and what would your ideal plans be?
Want the code in your IDE to look kind of like (to my eye) the default TeX serifed fonts, computer modern roman? Try New Heterodox Mono, I guess.