Mailbag: Resources for Engineering Directors. @ Irrational Exuberance

Hi folks,

This is the weekly digest for my blog, Irrational Exuberance. Reach out with thoughts on Twitter at @lethain, or reply to this email.


Posts from this week:

- Mailbag: Resources for Engineering Directors.
- Generating a daily snapshot of Twitter Search results.


Mailbag: Resources for Engineering Directors.

Recently I got an interesting question from someone looking for resources for Engineering Directors, as distinct from general engineering management:

I was wondering if you’ve written any posts geared towards engineering directors or have any recs for posts others have written I’m mainly looking for advice on how to manage projects from two layers away. How do I give managers creative freedom to manage however they like while also stressing the importance of deadlines?

A few books that initially came to mind on the more general topic of “stuff written for Directors rathern than line managers” were Team Topologies, the later sections of The Manager’s Path, and my own An Elegant Puzzle.

However, none of those book are particularly focused on the second, more specific part of the question: how do you foster execution on teams you indirectly manage?

There are three interesting pieces to think about here:

  1. Understand what’s happening on indirectly managed teams
  2. Adding things necessary for execution
  3. Remove things getting in the way of execution

What’s actually happening?

Tools I’ve found useful here:

  • Business Review Template – these templates are great, and force folks to really analyze what’s happening on their team. They setup you, as a Director, to actually diagnose what’s happening on a team. They also give you a great chance to realign a team that’s going a bit sideways in their execution or interpretation of what really matters
  • Monthly or quarterly roadmap review – what’s actually happening y’all, and what are the delivery dates? (This is tricky, easy to end up in The Build Trap.)
  • Skip-levels – this matters even more as your organization grows beyond managing one layer of managers, but even with just one layer you’ll often find that individual contributors and managers have a very different perspective on things

Adding missing pieces

Necessary pieces that are often missing:

  • Strategy can be unclear, unstated, or unknown. If folks don’t know why a project matters and how it connects to other projects, it’s hard to move it forward. Some resources on strategy: Writing engienering strategy from Staff Engineer, links in Engineering Strategy section of StaffEng’s reading materials, Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy
  • Urgency to complete the project. The one sentence version of driving urgency is: folks work urgently in areas that leadership says are important, connect to the strategy, and pay active attention to. This goes wrong a lot, though, whether it’s micromanagement or the forever unpopular, “do it because the CEO said so.” Probably worth a dedicated article of its own
  • Cross-functional priority to complete the project. Particularly, the cross-functional priority to bypass permission gates, e.g. someone on Legal team to navigate contract language on a new feature.
  • Capacity to sustain execution over the course of many projects, specifically adding headcount budget or equivalently reducing expectations work volume. Importantly, this is looking at getting the team to a steady state of staffing for its ongoing workload, not trying to change staffing strategy for a single, specific project. Teams are more durable than projects, inverting the two leaves you, and your team, with a mess

Remove things getting in the way

Things that sometimes need to get removed:

  • Excessive visibility / misaligned priorities – sometimes there are simply too many leaders providing direction to a team, e.g. three of four lightly misaligned executives driving a focal project, and you can help clean that up by being a trusted intermediate
  • Thrashing priorities – if a team is shifting back and forth on focus or approach, figure out what’s causing that thrash and work to remove it. This is more often than not too many, somewhat misaligned, strategies, rather than the total absense of any strategy
  • Fixation on resources – sometimes a team has convinced itself that it will be given permission to blamelessly fail as long as they say that they want more headcount staffing. This is a judgment call for you to make, but personally I’ve seen a good number of teams spend more time convincing themselves they need headcount without spending time trying to find a faster, shorter path to solve the problem with the team they have. Even if you’re evaluating increasing headcount, get the team out of the perspective of “waiting for staffing”
  • Weak or negative cross-team or cross-functional relationships – sometimes a team isn’t working well with necessary partner teams for a given project, and you can debug and start the proces of cleaning that up

Anyway, lots more to think about here, but these are the first key points from my perspective!


Generating a daily snapshot of Twitter Search results.

Over the past few years I’ve gotten into the unhelpful habit of checking Twitter search to see if folks have mentioned my writing. I don’t actually do anything with that though, beyond perhaps leaving a “like”. I enjoy using Twitter, but this part of how I use Twitter is just an unhelpful habit to waste time, so I wanted to try automating it away.

I got started by creating a new Twitter Developer account, and then wrote up a simple script, github repository, and github action in lethain/social-context.

You can see the key pieces at:

  • retrieve.py: script that calls Twitter API, parses it, and write each results to a text file
  • .github/workflows/scrape.yml: configuration for Github action to run this script once each day
  • If you go to “Settings”, “Secrets” and then “Actions”, you would see that I’ve added a repository secret named BEARER_TOKEN that is my Twitter API Bearer Token issued by Twitter

The search queries are driven by L9-L13 in retrieve.py:

WEBSITES = (
('lethain.txt', 'lethain.com -from:lethain_bot -RT'),
('staffeng.txt', 'staffeng.com -RT'),
('infraeng.txt', 'infraeng.dev -RT'),
)

If you wanted to run this for your own search queries, you’d just replace the tuples with the file to write into and the Twitter search query you want to run.

If you open up one of those files like lethain.txt, you’ll see entries like:

author: thebaffledengg
Staff engineer reflects on overwork and expecting better from peers https://t.co/FiebOfkf2k
url: https://lethain.com/hard-to-work-with/
https://twitter.com/thebaffledengg/status/1512083389062418432

Altogether, this works well! A new commit lands if there are new tweets, and otherwise nothing happens. I have it set to run every day because I’m trying to check less, but you could certainly run it more frequently.

The only annoying bit is figuring out how to send a useful notification. Right now I’m getting email notifications when new commits occur (e.g. only when there are new search results), but the emails don’t include the actual changed files, so I’ll have to keep iterating on this a bit.


That's all for now! Hope to hear your thoughts on Twitter at @lethain!


This email was sent to you
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences
Will Larson · 77 Geary St · co Calm 3rd Floor · San Francisco, CA 94108-5723 · USA

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Older messages

Stripe's model of product-led, developer-centric growth. @ Irrational Exuberance

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Hi folks, This is the weekly digest for my blog, Irrational Exuberance. Reach out with thoughts on Twitter at @lethain, or reply to this email. Posts from this week: - Stripe's model of product-led

Platforms change but cool URIs don't. @ Irrational Exuberance

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Hi folks, This is the weekly digest for my blog, Irrational Exuberance. Reach out with thoughts on Twitter at @lethain, or reply to this email. Posts from this week: - Platforms change but cool URIs

Monday, day#146

Monday, May 23, 2022

Continuing our streak! ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Monday Musings (The City-Country Spectrum)

Monday, May 23, 2022

Read in your browser here. Hi friends, ​ Greetings from Austin! ​ I'm launching a Write of Passage newsletter. It'll be 100% focused on the craft of online writing. Every edition will be

A blameless world

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Strategy Toolkit - May 2022 edition ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Can't someone else do it? 😵

Monday, May 23, 2022

View in browser ⭐ Join us for Creative Show + Tell (free!) on Thursday 5/26 at 4pm PDT! Come share your work for friendly feedback and encouragement, even if (especially if!) if it's not finished

The Long Game 106: Nootropics, Rituals & Purpose, Not Taking Things Personally, Build, Genetic Variants

Monday, May 23, 2022

📸 How the Intention to Share Can Undermine Enjoyment, Reversion to the Mean, Talent, Food Catastrophe, Taiwan, and Much More! ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

People are endlessly fascinating

Monday, May 23, 2022

Daniel Asamoah Yeboah, Patrick Neate, and Michael A. Gayed. ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Now I Know: The Eye Shield That Keeps the Grumps Away

Monday, May 23, 2022

Another reverse-emotion trick? View this email in your browser · Missed one? Visit the Archives Hope you had a good weekend! -- Dan The Eye Shield That Keeps the Grumps Away If you're in the

Spotify sells booze to alcoholics; spammed by sex workers

Monday, May 23, 2022

New tools launched and brighter news enclosed 3.9 mins to read · Your daily briefing for podcasting and on-demand, with 23020 subscribers; issue #1301 · Subscribe to Podnews free; and join your peers

The worst person in the world

Monday, May 23, 2022

Good morning fellow humans - here's to having a fantastic week. Trevor Tony Fadell talks about the original iPods (video) This was super cool - they did x-rays of 3 different iPods, and Tony talks

🧙‍♂️ When sponsorships...don't go well 😬

Monday, May 23, 2022

Do THIS vs. sticking your head in the sand! ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌