#89 - 29 Oct 2021
The importance of the basics; Hour-long standups?; Getting answers to questions; Coordination models
At least one reader’s group has also taken to providing some interview questions ahead of time. In response to the discussion in last issue, Titus Brown wrote in on twitter:
We’ve also started giving out interview questions in advance. Like you, we’ve found it leads to better discussions. I actually posted one set here, and [Rayna Harris] blogged about her hiring experience on the other side of this, here. Don’t remember where the idea came from initially, but we like being open about things so :shrug:
I’m really pleased the newsletter has grown to the point that we can have back-and-forths about topics like this, because I think we need it in this community.
This week I heard one team memberleaving a group because they weren’t getting the kind of work they found meaningful - partly because their manager only every really talked with them at the institutionally mandatory annual review time to talk about work goals and plans for the future.
Our work is important, and so are the teams doing that work. But no one ever really teaches us as leads or managers managers about how to support those team members and lead those teams effectively. It’s bad for us, and bad for our team members - who deserve good support/
The thing is - and stop me if you’ve heard this - in research, we pretty much know the advanced skills of managing and leading - building a multi-institutional collaboration, creating a clear vision of a necessarily somewhat nebulous research project, communicating over over different kinds of domain knowledge. But the basics - how do we hire, how do we set performance goals and nudge people towards them, how do we make sure we have open lines of communications with our team members (one-on-ones), when does it make sense to delegate - no one ever tells us this stuff. Hopefully with this newsletter community we can build some of that shared knowledge together.
Let me know (just hit reply, or email email@example.com) if there are any particular basics you’ve struggled with that we can talk about. In the mean time, on to the roundup, and have a happy Hallowe’en:
Stand-up Meetings are Dead (and what to do instead) - Ben Darfler, Honeycomb Blog
What if daily standups, but for an hour?
Darfler describes how Honeycomb has switched their standups - from the usual short round-table format to a daily hour long gathering (a “meandering team sync”) that includes social time, and then a collaboratively-edited catch all agenda of work items. Rather than being formulaic, it becomes the standard place for team-wide discussions (technical or process) and also explicitly includes a social component. Darfler finds that it reduces total meeting time by always providing a venue for discussion of any given topic (much the way regularly-scheduled one-on-ones typically reduce interruptions - for both team member and manager - by providing a bucket for topics to go into). Darfler recommends starting with 30 minutes to see how it goes.
I think almost any meeting format can work for a team as long as there’s regular check-ins about the success of the meeting format and opportunities for course correction. I’m not sure our team would switch to this format any time soon, but it’s an interesting idea and I’d be curious to see how it worked.
What sorts of meeting rituals do you use in your team? Do you have anything other than the weekly staff meeting and sprint rituals like standups, sprint planning, and retros? What’s worked well for your team (and alternatively, what did not work?)
Long time readers won’t learn much from this article but it’s a short read:
The first step to adequately address consistent performance issues (emphasis on the “consistent”) is to ensure that you have a clear and transparent standard for good performance for each role.
It’s “easy” but takes a lot of work to have have shared, common expectations about performance. As a manager or lead you can help that with sharing your expectations regularly with your team members, via feedback, and helping the team develop its own explicit expectations of each other.
Then comes the work of nudging people towards performance if they’re not there yet - if the issue is one of behaviours, then feedback and coaching on behaviour; if its one of skills, then training; and if it’s one of knowledge, then documentation (which often is a whole-of-team effort itself).
Managing Your Own Career
How to get useful answers to your questions - Julia Evans
Evans gives advice for how to get useful answers to questions - the context she uses is technical questions, but honestly the approach works just as well for getting your boss or collaborators to answer questions in email, or anything else.
She offers two pieces of advice for making it easier for the question-answerer to give you the answer:
Ask yes/no questions
State your current understanding
And two pieces of advice for getting more out of the answer:
Be willing to interriupt
Don’t accept responses that don’t answer your question
Take a minute to think
The new M1s look like they have really interesting multithreaded floating point performance.
Prolog, but instead of values being true/false, they have probabilities.