← All the Books

Michael Lopp

Managing Humans

# PART I: The Management Quiver

# Don't be a Prick

  • Managers are not actually pricks, but they are often mechanical and disconnected
  • A great manager is someone who can make a connection regardless of the relative positions in the org chart
  • See the people who work with you
  • Understanding different needs - chaotic, beautiful snowflakes
  • It is your full time job to listen to your people and mentally document how they are built
  • Silicon Valley is full of widely successful dictators in spite of being world-class pricks
  • Companies are messy and chaotic, constantly shifting.

# Manager Summary

  • Where do they come from? Everywhere: engineering, sales, product
  • How do they compensate for their blind spots? recognize personal weaknesses
  • The job is to figure out how to scale the skills they have.
    • Accentuate their strengths; reinforce where they are weak
  • Does your manager speak the language?
  • How does your manager talk to you?
  • How much Action per Decision?
    • Does problem definition & discussion lead to action?
  • To scale you need to delegate, but pure delegators become irrelevant as they are removed from the loop
  • Real work is visible action managers take to support their vision for the organization.
    • Does your manager make something happen?
  • Where is your Manager in the Political Food Chain?
  • What happens when they Lose their Sh!t?
    • Behavioural shifts between when things are going great and when they are terrible
  • Your manager's success is your success

# Stables & Volatiles

  • Launching version 1.0 splits the development team into two groups: Stables and Volatiles
  • Stables happily work with direction, appreciate plans, calmly assess risk and mitigate failure, and tend to generate process
  • Volatiles have issues with authority, seek a thrill in risk, build a lot but nothing stable or beautiful, aren't reliable, and leave a trail of disruption
  • Volatiles turn into Stables by building process and carefully describing how things should be done, because they have the scars and experience
  • These new Stables hire people who are familiar, who are predisposed to be Volatiles, which in turn leads to new disruption.
  • A Stable's choice of disruption is within the context of the last war, while a second-generation Volatile will remind you "there is no box."
  • As a leader, you need to figure out how to let the Volatiles disrupt, while constantly negotiating a temporary peace treaty with the Stables.

# How to Run a Meeting

  • 2 people talking => it's a conversation
  • 3+ people talking => it's a meeting and needs rules so people know when to talk
  • Alignment meetings are regular meetings with tactical communication exchanges
  • Creative meetings focus on solving a hard problem
  • Agenda: answers the question of how can everyone get out of the meeting so that they can get back to work
  • The referee has to make sure the meeting accomplishes the requirements of the agenda and the expectations of the participants
  • The referee identifies attendees who aren't engaged
    • Anything other than listening is not listening; re-engage these people:
      • a question relevant to the current state of the topic
      • referee silence
      • change the scenery
  • Improvise:
    • let someone ramble who is onto something
    • cut a meeting short because progress is blocked
  • Listen to stories (incomplete & single POV), map them to your own experience, and ask questions and demand specifics when they trigger your intuition.

# Lost in Translation

  • Beginners are not burdened with the complexity and depth; they shine brightly with enthusiasm until The "Fall"
  • The first question you want to be able to answer about an employee: "What does this person want?"
  • Start with WHERE they want to be, then focus on HOW to move them there
  • If you feel communication is suspect: clarify.
    • You make a statement that might be ambiguous => ask "What did you hear?"
    • You listen and the topic or intent isn't abundantly clear => restate "Okay, what I heard was..."
  • Agenda Detection
  • Informational Meeting: talkers and listeners; there is no problem to be solved other than the transmission of information
  • Conflict Resolution Meeting: some problem needs to be solved, and agenda detection is more complex
  • Players want something from the meeting; Pawns are components of the meeting
  • If you can't identify any Players, the meeting is doomed - get out!

# Information Starvation

  • For each piece of information you encounter, you must correctly determine who on your team needs that information to do their job.
  • Gossip: (1) what is actually being said; (2) what informational gap is being filled by this gossip.
  • Biggest loss of essential information is when managers rely on their brains as to-do lists.
  • Your team is always going to tell you what they need to know. Employ some aggressive silence to bring it out of them.

# You're Not Listening

  • The most basic rule of listening is: If they don't trust you, then they aren't going to say anything.
  • Eye contact is the easiest way to demonstrate your full attention, and it's also the easiest way to destroy it.
  • Keep asking stupid questions based on whatever topics until you find an answer where the other person lights up
  • To stop on a point, repeat their last sentence by saying "What I hear you saying is..." and repeat your version of their thought.
  • When you can't find the question, segue, or words to bring out what the other person wants to say, disrupt the conversation with silence.

# Saying No

  • When the team no longer questions the decisions of a manager, that manager feels like his decisions are always correct, which is statistically impossible.
  • Saying no forces an idea to defend itself with facts, and for your manager to stop and think.
  • Saying no is saying "stop"; when everyone thrives on movement, the ability to strategically choose when to stop is a sign of a manager willing to defy convention.
  • Don't be paralyzed by the fact that you're one big, bad decision from being out of a job. Embrace the confidence of being "the boss."
  • You are responsible for making great decisions, and the best way to do that is to involve as much of your team as possible in those decisions.
  • By including your team in the decision process and creating an environment where they can say no, you're creating trust.

# PART II: The Process is the Product

# The Process Myth

  • Engineers don't hate process. They hate process that can't be defended
  • Don't create or defend process created as a means of control. Focus on building documentation of culture and values for the next employee
  • HR is good at defining process and bad at explaining the culture. Process should be written by those who are also experts in the culture
  • When cultural bellwethers leave, so does their cultural context and understanding of the root pain that defined all the bullet items in formal processes
  • A healthy process is required to stand up to scrutiny, and when a process fails to do so, it must change.

# How to Start

  • 3 phases of starting:
    1. worrying about starting
    2. preparing to begin
    3. you've begun
  • Stress is a creativity buzz kill. When you're stressed, you're in survival mode, but elegant solutions require offense
  • 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
  • Mornings allow you to flex the creative side of your brain; evenings, when you're tired, allow you to flex the logical side
  • A hard thing is never done by reading a book or an article about doing it; a hard thing is done by figuring out how to start

# Taking Time to Think

  • Schedule a brainstorm meeting and a prototype meeting in the same week, so that no one forgets everything over the weekend
  • Assuming you have an idea of what to talk about, invite those with an educated opinion; otherwise invite people chosen at random
  • Avoid inviting "obstructionists" who map every new idea against previous experience and then declare the idea "unoriginal"
  • Leave the first meeting with five hot topics that people want to address. Create prototypes, wireframes, etc. in the second meeting
  • Red flags as weeks pass are constantly revisiting decisions, the same list of attendees, people venting for too long, and the to-do list always growing
  • These meetings will slowly die off as you move from design to development. In general, questions should be getting answered, not created

# Hacking is Important

  • Hacking creates new things which is a disruptive act, which scares the reasonable people who represent the majority.
  • Those who are responsible for maintaining and building on success will not understand why hacking is important.
  • A healthy product company is a contradiction: it seeks normality and predictability but must also build something new to disrupt the desired consistency.

# Entropy Crushers

  • A project manager is responsible for shipping a product
  • A product manager is responsible for making sure the right product is shipped
  • A program manager is a combination of both that handles multiple interrelated projects, such as an operating system.
  • Each new person on your team increases the cost of communication of ideas, making decisions, and detecting and fixing errors.
  • If you're a full-time engineering manager of growing team, but you're also serving as a project manager, then you're half-assing one of those jobs
  • A good project manager will measure, control, and crush entropy. They own execution of the machine ensuring that everything gets done.
  • A good engineering manager will promote entropy in strategic areas and ignore others. The challenge is differentiating them.

# PART III: Versions of You

# Bored People Quit

  • Boredom is not initially catastrophic. It shows up quietly and appears to pose no immediate threat, making it both easy to address and easy to ignore.
  • To detect boredom, look for changes in daily routines, ask if they are bored, or they'll tell you and you just listen
  • Every second someone is bored, a second passes on an internal clock, and after some amount of time they give up and quit
  • For each person on your team you must be able to answer:
    • Where are they going?
    • What am I doing to get them there?
  • If someone doesn't have a project that makes them light up, let them experiment. Your job isn't just building product, but building people.
  • Share the crummy work fairly. Be aware of who's doing it, communicate that you're aware, and tell them when they're going to be done.
  • Promising productive and creative time that is only taken away by urgent tasks only accelerates the boredom clock.
  • Remove daily distractions that pull people away from their work. These are more costly than they appear from the overhead of context switching