Word of the month — “Shit Umbrella”

People who are familiar with me have heard me use this term quite often. As company or team grows — so does complexities, tasks, meetings, to-dos, etc. Things get thrown at you all the time and you are constantly swimming against a barrage of shit. I am sure this problem is not unique to me or our team and many of you may feel the same way. The question to ask yourself as a leader, manager, PM, contributor, engineer — Are you a shit funnel or a shit umbrella? What is that you ask? Read on…

“You can either be a shit funnel or a shit umbrella” ~ Todd Jackson, Gmail Product Manager

What he means by that is that as a product with hundreds of millions of users (and a company with thousands of employees) there’s a lot of stuff constantly being hurled at the team — as a shit umbrella, the product managers protect the engineers from getting distracted. It’s not enough to be a “shit funnel” where they would pass some of the junk down to engineers, they need to fully protect the engineers.

Source: TechCrunch

At Google, where I used to work, it was quite common to define effective management in terms of being a “shit umbrella”. The idea is that you have a team of people trying to do their jobs, and there’s all sorts of shit flying at them and getting in the way of that. As a manager, the shit reaches you first, and at that point a good manager will be a shit umbrella, shielding their team from the worst excesses of what’s out there in the big bad world. A bad manager, conversely, will act as a “shit funnel” making sure that their team endures a perpetual and constant stream of crap.

Source: Management Patterns

I mean, I get that that the phrase is meant to poke a little fun at the distractions that seem endless — the ceaseless avalanche of meeting requests and customer demands and executive decisions and personal opinions from Maximus who works in building 37. I understand that there’s a certain comfort to feeling like there’s somebody on the team (maybe you) who, in a gesture of noble sacrifice, throws herself to block the onslaught of Shit so that everybody else can focus on the hallowed art of Doing Good Work.

Source: Julie Zhou, Facebook Designer

Being a shit umbrella for your team (pardon my French) is a critically important part of being a good manager. Being the umbrella will be the most unappreciated, and unnoticed, thing that you’ll do as a manager. When you’re doing it right, your employees don’t notice anything at all — they just notice that they enjoy their jobs more. Over time, they may talk to their peers at other teams or companies, and realize that they’re in a pretty good situation — no pointless meetings, no unnecessary interruptions, no random changes of course, no new problems from on high dumped in their lap each month.

Source: Kevin Gibbs, Quip Founder