The Weekly Hagakure #24

"People who succeed worry about input. People who don't succeed worry about outputs.” — Tucker Max

In his book Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, author and historian Robert A. Caro says of silence:

Silence is the weapon, silence and people’s need to fill it – as long as the person isn’t you, the interviewer. When I’m waiting for the person I’m interviewing to break a silence by giving me a piece of information I want, I write “SU” (for Shut Up!) in my notebook. If anyone were ever to look through my notebooks, he would find a lot of “SUs” there.

Most of us talk more than we listen. To do otherwise, we have to work at it. That seems to just be human nature.

Too many leaders and managers, despite best intentions, are guilty of this. I’m certainly at fault here myself, my head constantly full of opinions begging to be let out. But in doing so, without realizing it, we are not affording the space our people need to give us that critical “piece of information” that helps us help them.

Caro let the silence linger so he’d have a chance of getting what he was looking for. We must also learn to be OK with the silence — the empty space — and instead of rushing to fill it, offer it to the person across from us, almost like an invitation. And if, like Caro, writing down “SU” only for ourselves to see is what it takes, then so be it.

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3 Articles

✍️ Are We Clear?

If I had to pick one and only one takeaway from my Engineering leadership career so far, it would be the importance of creating clarity. There are many other concerns and responsibilities but a lack of clarity undercuts everything. With this in mind, I wrote a few words which I hope you find useful in creating that clarity and helping your teammates succeed.

✍️ A framework for focusing your learning goals

There is always going to be more stuff to learn than bandwidth and, ultimately, time on this earth to do so. This can be overwhelming, especially for driven yet inexperienced folks. If this is a problem you have (and most of us do, if I'm being honest), Sally Lait's critical questions in this post will help you better leverage the time you do spend investing in your own learning.

✍️ 20.5 Years of XP and Agile

Henrik Warne takes us 20 (and a half) years back to his own personal aha! moment of discovering Kent Beck's Extreme Programming approach. I suspect only a tiny sliver of developers out there today, despite talking "scrum" and "agile" all day long, know what XP is. I loved this short post because in telling his story, Warne concisely highlights what XP (and being agile) really is about.

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2 Videos/Podcasts

🎧 Neil Pasricha: Happy Habits

I love podcasts that make me see existing things from a different perspective. Neil Pasricha's appearance on the always insightful The Knowledge Project was all about that for me. What's a fact vs. what's a story. The personal flywheel instead of work-life balance. Failure vs. perceived failure. And much more. I also learned a nifty gratitude-inducing trick called "Rose Rose Thorn Bud" which I'm already applying at home together with my girlfriend. But you’ll have to listen to this great episode to learn what that is. (Thanks to Arthur Mor for pointing me to this one!)

📺 Game Theory: The Science of Decision-Making

I'm a firm believer that luck plays an enormous role in everything we do, and in all success and failure we experience. All we can do is try and tip the odds in our favour. The basics of game theory can help us reason more effectively about many decisions we face, and be more often on the right side of those odds. This short video is a good primer on it.


1 Book

📚 Build What Matters, by Ben Foster and Rajesh Nerlikar

For a newsletter focused on helping tech leaders build more humane workplaces, I sure share a lot of product management stuff. Well, the reason is simple: knowing others’ world better helps us have more empathy. And more empathy leads to better, more productive and happier relationships.

Build What Matters checks a few boxes, including helping engineers and EMs understand PMs better. And if you’re a PM reading these lines, the recommendation stands just as strong.

We hear a lot about being customer-obsessed, customer-first, etc… but how does that actually manifest? Unfortunately, most companies and their employees are too far removed from their customers, despite working really hard at churning out features — but to the benefit of whom?

Ben Foster and Rajesh Nerlikar don’t reinvent the product management wheel here as much as they bring a greater clarity to it. They claim that you should work backwards from a key customer outcome — the true value your product is creating for them — but that’s nothing totally new. What’s refreshing is the simple, yet complete system to put that in practice — the Vision-Led Product Management framework — which helps you go from good intentions to actions.

As I said in the beginning, though, I found a lot of value for engineers and engineering managers in this book, too. As an example, Foster and Nerlikar argue that all work falls into one of three buckets: innovation, iteration and operation. How much you spend in each bucket can and should be a conscious and explicit decision, and how you split it (the bandwidth allocated to each bucket) depends on the stage of your company and what your goals are. This can both help PMs fend off ad-hoc requests from random stakeholders, as well as help engineers discuss and agree on necessary space for non-functional (e.g. tech debt management) work.

And speaking of tech debt, the authors argue that a lot of the issues stem not from rushed development but rather from product managers not involving tech earlier enough. From my experience, I think they have a good point here.

For these and other reasons, I found Build What Matters to be an important read for anyone working in tech startups, executives included. It also goes well with Melissa Perri’s closely titled Escaping The Build Trap, which I recommended here a few weeks ago. It’s high time more companies put their money where their mouth is and truly start working for the customer and not just (blindly) for the business.

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🙌🏽 Thank you for reading! Enjoyed this week’s edition? Have feedback on how I can make this more valuable to you? I’d love to hear it — my DMs are open on Twitter or just write a comment below.

✍️ Find some of my own ramblings on tech and org stuff over at The Evolutionary Manager.

👉 You can also follow me on Twitter @prla