The Weekly Hagakure #28

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned I had engaged in a regular meditation practice using Calm. It’s still early days — progress in these things should be measured in months and years, not days or weeks — but I can already discern the beginnings of a positive outcome: an increased awareness of my inner state outside of the practice. As someone once said, “meditation is training for life”.

Being more aware of how I’m feeling is leading to two tangible benefits. One, I realize more quickly when I’m in a bad mood. This allows me to do something about it earlier, and being a better person to be around most of the time. Two, it’s creating space in numerous small daily situations for me to ask myself: “Is this the best you can do?” The mere occurrence of this internal dialogue helps me do the right thing more often, instead of running around on auto-pilot or telling myself stories to justify laziness or lack of discipline.

Together, these two things are crucial for me to be in a better position to lead others, truly be there for them, with calm and presence, leading by example. You have to lead yourself first.

Let’s dive into this week’s picks. ✍️💈📚

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3 Articles

✍️ Why We Need WIP Limits

WIP limits can provide the discipline, structure, and opportunities for communication that we need to be able to see and eliminate our most costly sources of waste. They teach us how to stop starting and start finishing, because ultimately, work has no value until it is in the hands of the customer.

Limiting work-in-progress is an excellent of a positive forcing function in teamwork. This article by Rachaelle Lynn is a good primer on why that's the case. (Also check out this post for a very visual illustration of why limiting WIP works.)

✍️ How To Be Successful

Self-belief must be balanced with self-awareness. I used to hate criticism of any sort and actively avoided it. Now I try to always listen to it with the assumption that it’s true, and then decide if I want to act on it or not. Truth-seeking is hard and often painful, but it is what separates self-belief from self-delusion.

I always find Sam Altman insightful and this post is full of goodies. I suggest you peruse as a mind-nourishing buffet that you come back to every once in a while.

✍️ Collaborative Single Player Mode

The core of the idea is simple - everyone should be able to execute without depending on other people. Especially in a remote environment, when people work at different times, this is essential.

Every Engineering Manager (including VPs of Engineering and CTOs) should obsess about how to remove constraints and enable flow of development for their teams. But talking is not enough — principled action is required. Radoslav Stankov, Head of Engineering at Product Hunt, unveils his team’s “secret” weapon for delivering a lot more than the average team is able to.

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💈 Technical debt is probably the most divisive topic between Engineering and Product/Business, often due to the lack of a common language (i.e. people talking past each other). I definitely agree with Juan Pablo Buriticá here that Engineering needs to get better at “selling” non-functional work, switching from an output-view to an outcome-view. Yep, exactly, just like Product Managers.

💈 Most of us don’t spend too much reflecting on how we make decisions. But we should. 80% good decisions leads to a much different place than 40%. This short thread by Todd McKinnon, CEO of Okta, packs a punch — a small set of principles sure to improve your good/bad decision ratio in the long run.

1 Book

📚 The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

It’s ridiculous to admit it, but it took me years to read this book. For some reason, the cover always made me think it was some sort of boring business textbook. Shame on me.

If you read the more recent The Phoenix Project or The Unicorn Project, then The Goal is like the paternal figure here. Like the other two, it makes its point through a fictional narrative, a so-called “business novel”. If you didn’t read any of these and it sounds weird, trust me — it’s not. In fact, I was about surprised how The Goal actually gripped me from start to finish, its cast of characters having more depth than many typical fiction books.

The point being conveyed here is author Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s “Theory of Constraints” — the realization that systems operate as a whole and are always constrained by one of its parts. Optimizing any other part sounds good in the name of local efficiency, but is a killer of global throughput. Sadly, even if The Goal has manufacturing as a backdrop, the vast majority of tech teams and companies still didn’t make the connection and continue to hire massive numbers of people and push everyone to do as much work as humanly possible.

Ultimately, I loved this book as yet another perspective on something that I deeply believe in: that it’s possible to do more with less, as long as we invest in understanding the systems we have and the rules they govern them.

Eliyahu Goldratt passed away in 2011, aged 64, but his legacy will endure. I just hope he forgives me for passing over this book for so long. As they say, never judge a book by its cover.

I should know better.

🙌🏽 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