Anant Jain

LeadDev Live 2021 Notes


I'm a big fan of discussion panels where 4-5 experienced leaders come together to answer questions about a topic. As an attendee, I usually find them a better use of time than individual prepared talks. The unfiltered nature of advice found in these panels is usually hard to come across in talks or books, which are too "processed" to be interesting beyond one or two new insights. With that, I recently came across LeadDev Live conference, and a couple hours listening to the three discussion panels I found there. In interest of oversharing, here are my notes :)

Seeking and receiving feedback as an engineering leader

  • Don't fall into the "new EM trap"
  • Think about constructive feedback as a gift.
  • Build a relationship of trust.
  • "Yes, and" mentality over shutting things down.
  • Do you have any feedback for me? Ask someone for feedback, and publicize it.
  • Anonymous feedback may be useful.
  • Failure if you learn *significantly- new information in the semi-annual feedback cycle process. This should be a lagging indicator.
  • Continuous feedback: Recency bias is real.
  • Informal skip-level meetings is a good use of time.
  • Always ask: "Do you have any feedback for me?"
  • Don't have personal feelings about the feedback — the feedback is about the role, not the person.
  • Follow up after negative feedback from a report: additional report, what you're going to do about it.
  • Indirect feedback: Say, if someone quits.
  • People disagree, but they don't say so. In such cases, they just don't end up doing the said thing.
  • Rely on body language.
  • Walking around the floor: withdrawn colleagues => best way to find folks who you should work with.
  • What can I do to help you or What can I do to make your life better?
  • Exit interviews with skip levels.
  • Celebrate feedback – THANK the person for giving you feedback.

Crafting efficient on-call processes

  • A broken on call process is one without a positive feedback loop: the tickets need to be actioned on by the team on time.
  • On call isn't a punishment. If you don't have a system where the engineers don't improve the system, then you're missing out.
  • Switch on Fridays instead of Mondays.
  • Psychologic safety — how do you apply psychological safety in day to day?
  • Talk about what happened on call.
  • Such a huge component of work-life balance — follow up on a personal level, and give lot of autonomy.
  • Candidates always ask about on call since it's part of the work-life balance.
  • Burnout happens due to lack of control. Give folks who don't do well in group settings to express their opinion.
  • Always do on call retros.
  • Have spare capacity (80% resources committed, and no more)
  • Think of a group of people as a machine.

Cultivating effective cross-functional relationships

  • Misalignment of priorities.
  • Try to find a common goal with this person so that it doesn't feel file a transactional exchange.
  • They are on different hierarchies / reporting structure.
  • Be a clarity bringer.
  • Be a partnership modeler: set the model for how a partnership should be.
  • Compromise. Sometimes you may not win.
  • We're all here for the success of the org.
  • Different work styles: point of high trust, vs. micromanagers.
  • Meet the other person where they are — be clear about the expectations around output, processes, etc.
  • Get the best people in the room together, and get out of their way.
  • Understand how different departments think and value things (sales vs. engineering vs. marketing)
  • Understand their language and what motivates them.
  • Build cheat sheets of various cultures.
  • Working with product managers:
    • Relationship with product is paramount.
    • Your first team is product, design, etc. — leadership of that group.
    • The PM is your co-pilot.
    • Have a regular touchpoint, weekly 1-1 with product manager + designer.
    • Keeps the feedback loop shorter.
    • Product is the end decision maker, but the whole team owns the product.
    • Product is the voice of the customer? No, everyone is the voice of the customer.
    • Engineering has people management responsibilities, but product managers do not. This is a potential power imbalance that has to be addressed — even more important to treat product's voices. To product managers, it should not feel like engineering is doing its own thing.
    • Engineering is the executor. Increase your humility to listen more to product/design/data.
  • Understand the other person's style — how do they prefer to receive information? Is it:
    • No details?
    • Summary now, details later?, or
    • Details now?
  • Legal is also part of your team.
  • What do you do when you have a dysfunctional relationship?
    • Disarm.
    • Build empathy.
    • Get alignment on the common goal.
    • Build relationship before there's a stressor.
    • "You should dig your well before you're thirsty".
  • Recognize people's contributions: give people their flowers!
  • Warm fuzzies.
  • Lead with empathy. Come with an open heart.
  • Sales:
    • Building right vs. building fast.
    • Build trust before hand.

All in all, a Saturday was spent well.