Nadav Spiegelman

Managing Humans

Michael Lopp
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I trust that, like me, you’re an optimist and you believe that everyone in your company is busily working on whatever they do. I also believe that because you don’t understand what they do, you are automatically biased against them. You believe that because you understand your job intimately, it is more important than anyone else’s.
I ask the same question in every interview I have: “Where do you need help?” Whether it’s an individual contributor, a manager, or my new boss, I’m always curious where people see their weaknesses.
A manager’s job is to take what skills they have, the ones that got them promoted, and figure out how to make them scale. They do this by building a team that accentuates their strengths and, more importantly, reinforces where they are weak.
My first piece of advice to all new managers is: “Schedule one-on-ones with direct reports, keep them on the same day and time, and never cancel them.”
Your job in a one-on-one is to give the smallest voice a chance to be heard, and I start with a question: “How are you?”
Mornings have the gift of optimism because nothing has screwed up your day, yet. Evenings are dark, repetitive reminders that no matter what you do, time is going to pass and you’ve likely wasted some of it.
conveyance of status is not the point of a one-on-one; the point is to have a conversation about something of substance. Status can be an introduction, status can frame the conversation, but status is not the point. A healthy one-on-one needs to be strategic, not a rehashing of tactics, status, and data that can easily be found elsewhere.
I’ve built a lot of teams that have built a lot of software. I know that what we receive as a complete design is usually 80 percent of what we actually need, because I’ve been the engineer staring at the Photoshops in the middle of the night with two days to feature complete, thinking, “It’s sure pretty, but what about internationalization? And error cases? You know that’s work, right?”
In a normal getting-to-know-you situation with an employee, the first question I want to be able to answer is, “What do they want?” What is their core motivation with regard to their current gig? Are they working on a promotion? Are they just figuring out the gig? Are they adrift? Are they OK with being adrift?
One of your many jobs as manager is information conduit, and the rules are deceptively simple: for each piece of information you see, you must correctly determine who on your team needs that piece of information to do their job.
“What did you just hear?”
How long would it take to throw together a prototype that shows off what we were thinking?” My engineer: “A week!” Good time to point out how enthusiasm reduces all engineering estimates by a third.
As a manager, your job is that of a bullshit umbrella. You need to decide what crap your team needs to deal with and what crap can be ignored. That means that you need to rapidly acquire information from a variety of people. In that rush, managementese can help you talk with your fellow managers to figure out what the hell is going on, but you’re only half done. You still need to communicate to your team.
Beginning is a three-phase commit: you’re either fretting about starting, you’re preparing to begin, or you’ve begun.