I became a manager of a fantastic team in February.  My standard response to a new role is to read many books and talk to a lot of people who are have experience is this area so I have the background to be successful.  Nothing can prepare you like doing the actual day to day work of being a manager, but these are some concepts I found helpful from my favourite books on this topic:

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  1. Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Operations by Nicole Forsgren, PhD, Jez Humble and Gene Kim.  The main topic of this book is not leadership, but many of the chapters deal with how lead effective teams.
    • Lean management practices entail:
      • Limiting work in process (WIP) and using these limits to drive process improvement and increase throughput
      • Creating and maintain visual displays showing key productivity metrics and the current status of work that are available to both engineers and managers
      • Use data from application performance and infrastructure monitoring to make business decisions on a daily basis
    • Definition of burnout:

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  • Complex and painful deployment strategies that must be performed out of business hours lead to stress and lack of control, which can increase burnout
  • Tips to improve culture and support your teams
    • Build trust with counterparts on other teams
    • Encourage people to move between departments
    • Actively seek, encourage and reward work that facilitates collaboration
    • Create a training budget and advocating using it
    • Ensure your team has the resources and space to engage in informal learning and explore new ideas
    • Make it safe to fail.  Many projects fail.  Learning from them and holding blameless post-mortems allows people to understand that failure is okay and allows them to feel safe to take risks
    • Share information with others
      • lighting talks, lunch and learns and demo days allow teams to share their work and celebrate what they have accomplished
    • Allow teams to choose their tools
    • Make monitoring a priority

 

  1. Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke is a book about OKRs  and written in a similar fable format to the The Phoenix project is written about DevOps.  It’s the story of a struggling startup and how they had to focus on priorities.  IMG_6999
  • If you were hired as a new CEO, what would you do?  Is this a different direction than the current strategy the company is pursuing?
  • How to specify OKRs with measurable results
    • “You don’t need people to work more, you need people to work on the right things”  Look at the work you are doing every week and see how it will impact reaching OKRs.
  • OKR fundamentals
    • The sentence that describes the Objective should be
      • Able to inspire a sense of meaning and purpose. Use the language of your team to write the objective
      • Bound by time – able to be completed in a set amount of time, like a month or a quarter
      • Accountable by the team independently.  Completing it shouldn’t be blocked by the work of another team.
  • The Key results answer the question – “How do we know we met our results?”
    •  Measurable – You can measure opposing forces like growth and performance or revenue and qualify.  For instance, a growth metric doesn’t matter if you customers don’t continue to use the product after using it once

 

  1. Be the Best Boss Everyone Wants to Work for by William Gentry.

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I read this book as part of the management book club we have at Mozilla where we discuss a chapter of a book on management every two weeks.

  • The overarching theme of this book is to “flip your mindset”.  As an individual contributor, your role was to do your individual work to the best of your abilities.
  • As a manager, it’s not about you, it’s about your team.  Your role is to make your team the more effective it can be, and help the individual team members learn new skills, develop their careers, all while meeting the company’s business objectives.
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  • An effective team has
    • Direction
      • Team members should agree on the same goals and that this work is worth pursuing
    • Alignment
      • Everyone on the team knows their role on the team and what others are doing.  Everyone knows what “meets expectations” means and what “excellent” performance looks like.  If people feel isolated in their work and don’t know what is happening or have different opinions constitutes excellent performance, the team is lacking alignment.
    • Commitment
      • Each person is committed to the team and dedicated to the work.

 

  1. Turn this Ship Around by David Marquet is an account of managing the staff of a nuclear submarine that were under-performing and their path to becoming one of the most improved ships in the fleet.

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  • The main theme of this book is to push decision making down to lower and lower levels of the organization.
    • The mechanisms to strengthen technical competence are:
      • Take deliberate action
      • We learn all the time and from everywhere
      • Don’t just brief people on what to do, certify that it has been done
        • The person in charge of the team asks questions.  At the end o the certification, the decision is made whether the team is ready to perform the operation.
      • Continually and consistently repeat the message
      • Specify goals, not methods
    • I liked the chapter on clarity a lot.
      • Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid errors
      • Build trust and take care of your people
      • Use guiding principles for decision criteria
      • Immediate recognition to reinforce desired behaviours
      • Begin with the end in mind
        • For instance, if you wanted to reduce the number of operational errors, quantify the end metric you want to reach
      • Encourage asking questions instead of blind obedience

 

  1.  The First 90 days by Micheal D. Watkins. It describes the skills you need to learn to transition to a new job in management, whether it be as a line manager of a team or as a new CTO.

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  • The purpose of the book to describe how to successfully accelerate through leadership and career transitions
  • Traps during career transitions
    • Using skills from your previous job that don’t apply to your new one
    • Changing things before gaining trust of your team or understanding the scope of work
    • Neglecting relationships with peers
  • Keys to a successful transition
    • Figure out what you need to learn, learn it quickly, and prioritize
    • Match your strategy to the situation
    • Secure early wins
      • expands your credibility and creates momentum
    • Negotiate success
      • You have a new job with new responsibilities, how is success defined, how will you be evaluated in your new role?
  • Being hired is a external leader is more difficult than being promoted from within.
    • Lack of familiarity with internal networks, corporate culture, lack of credibility
    • To overcome this take a business orientation to understand the business, develop the right relationships and align expectations.  Understand the latitude you have to make changes.
  • Businesses are in different states and this impacts the strategy you employ (STARS strategy)
    • Startup
    • Turnaround
    • Accelerated Growth
    • Realignment
    • Sustaining Success

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  • It also includes a checklist on managing yourself as a leader

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  1. The Progress Principle by Therasa Amabile and Steven Kramer.

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This central these of this book is that “the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress—even small wins.”

  • “People are more creative and productive when they are deeply engaged in the work, when they feel happy, and when they think highly of their projects, coworkers, managers and organizations.”
    • This translates into performance benefits for the company.
    • Ongoing progress makes people more motivated
    • On days when there are setbacks leads to apathy and lack of motivation
  • As an aside, I always think of this when onboarding new employees or interns.  If you can get them to land a small change in the code base in the first few days they will feel like they are making progress.  If you hand them a giant project that hasn’t been broken down into smaller projects, it can become overwhelming and lead to a lack of progress and frustration.
  • How to nourish a team

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  1. I have written previously about Camille Fournier’s The Manager’s Path. I really enjoy the structure of the book, as it describes the path from individual contributor to CTO. Also, it also addresses specific issues related to engineering management. I have recommended this book to many people and refer to it often.

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  1. I also wrote about How F*cked up your Management? by Johnathan Nightingale and Melissa Nightingale in this blog post. Delightful yet raw stories of management in the trenches of various tech companies.

What books on management have you found insightful?

5 comments on “Management books in review

  1. Nice list. Thanks for sharing on Rands.

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  2. Thanks for posting this. It’s a great list and summary. Can’t wait to dig into these resources.

    Like

  3. Very useful list!

    Another one I found to be a very good read for managing engineers is “The Geek Leader’s Handbook” by Paul Glen and Maria McManus.

    In particular they cover the psycological differences of engineering vs sales/marketing and why it often leads to conflicts between those groups.

    It really helped me appreciate the different viewpoints and has some good ideas on how to reduce frustrations and encourage more succesful colaboration across departments.

    Like

  4. Ooh, I love book reviews/recommendations even if I might not be their target audience. Thanks for posting this!

    Like

  5. Pingback: Professional Development – 2018 – Week 23 – Geoff Mazeroff

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