What’s Your Operating Rhythm?

Another good piece from First Round Review giving some very useful advice for new Engineering Managers in particular (a topic I’ve covered here), and people starting a new job in general:

This 90-day Plan Turns Engineers Into Remarkable Managers

The two parts that I liked the most, covered what I’d like to refer to as the manager’s “operating rhythm” – the repeatable way in which you put structure around how you spend your time to be effective.

The first talked about the one tactical aspect of how each week is structured:

“Each week, I have my meeting with my boss on Monday morning, then my full team meeting on Monday afternoon, and then each 1:1 starting on Tuesday. The order intentionally facilitates top-down communication, so that engineers doing the work have as much context as possible. Otherwise, I become a bottleneck and information will come out in dribs and drabs — from me or someone else. Up-and-down communication is the easiest place for a manager to get lost.”

The second, talks about creating an “event loop”. Many of the important actions that a manager needs to take, marry themselves to some natural cadence: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly. The less frequent activities, tend to get lost in the noise and be forgotten altogether.  The “event loop” is a cadence-based checklist to ensure that this doesn’t happen. The particular example provided in the original post looks like this:

event loop

You can probably see by now why I like these two pieces of advice in particular. If  you zoom out a bit – they have nothing to do with engineering management. As a matter of fact, they have nothing to do with management. They’re applicable to any role, and can probably be used outside of a professional setting as well.

There are a few other easily-generalized bits like this in the article, making it a very good read overall.

 

 

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What’s Your Operating Rhythm?

Applying the Universal Scalability Law to Organizations

#math-alert

Adrian Colyer wrote a great piece on applying the Universal Scalability Law (USL) to management:

Applying the Universal Scalability Law to Organizations

He starts by two insights stemming directly from USL:

C(N) = N / ( 1 - α(N-1) - β*N(N-1) )

Where C is the organizations’ capacity (max throughput), N is the number of people, α and β are the contention and coherence coefficients respectively.

  • Contention – measures the impact of waiting/queuing for resources on capacity, more commonly known as a the “bottleneck factor”. The contention coefficient reflects your ability to effectively delegate work and not become a bottleneck. Smaller coefficient reflects better delegating ability.
  • Coherence – measures  the cost of getting agreement of what is the right thing to do. The coherence coefficient reflects the decision making autonomy within the organization. The more people need to be involved in making a decision, the higher the coefficient will be, and the capacity return from adding more people will decrease and may even become negative.

 

When trying not to become a bottleneck, we have to fight against our natural tendency to try and be helpful to anyone who asks us to help or contribute to a project. Little’s Law shows how by doing so we’re not being helpful at all:

average_wait_time = work_in_progress / throughput

Since our throughput is fixed (there are only that many hours in a day), the only thing we control is our “work in progress”, the number of concurrent projects we take on. The more projects we take on, the longer our average wait time gets and we become more and more of a bottleneck on these projects…

This gets compounded by the fact the request don’t come into our queue at a uniform rate. We know from Kingman’s Formula:

kingmans formula

 

 

 

That as our utilization (ρ) increases, wait time increases exponentially. Working too close to 100% utilization will grind things to a halt. Adrian suggests choosing a WIP limit that will result in spending about 60% of your time on operational activities – ones that will slow down the rest of the org if you don’t process them promptly. The rest of those operational activities should either be delegated or discarded. The remaining 40% should be used for more strategic activities that will not have a negative cascading impact on the organization if they are put on hold during short-term periods of high operational load.

Applying the Universal Scalability Law to Organizations

It’s not a Promotion – It’s a Career Change

Lindsay Holmwood wrote a lovely piece about the common misconception of management being a promotion rather than a career change:

It’s not a promotion – It’s a career change

Lindsay covers two contributing factors for first time managers being woefully unprepared to their roles and managers:

  • Systemic undervaluation of non-technical skills , which is probably most pervasive in Engineering, but almost just as common in other disciplines.
  • The Dunning-Kruger cognitive bias (90% of people think they are “better than average” drivers”)

Which unfortunately tends to have a multiplied impact given the role of a manager.

He also suggests focusing on three key levers for improving your skill as a manager: professional training, mentors and self-education.

A highly recommended read, especially for aspiring managers and managers who often times get frustrated about not being able to do “real work”.

I know this all sounds rather trivial, but in places where management is not proactively positioned as a career change, and a an “individual contributor” promotion path is not well defined, management easily gets perceived as the “only way up”. Which is, as Rand Fishkin suggests, not a good situation to be in:

If Management is the only way up, we’re all F’d

It’s not a Promotion – It’s a Career Change