🌹 What am I grateful for this week?
My favorite meeting of the week had to be with Julia, who made a surprise appearance at our product away day and offered to catch up again in the new year. We used to chat about nurturing my interest in product management, and potentially pivoting to a more product-focused role in the long term. But I found her surprisingly disarming when we spoke, and in turn found myself admitting to her (and myself!) that last year I’d gotten more caught up in thinking about job titles and external validation rather than the actual “doing” of product leadership.
In reality, I got a great deal of product exposure in my current role last year — helping train others in our company’s product strategy process, supporting the NHS project team in story mapping and backlog management, and line managing members of our extended product team. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to stretch into a new direction while they do the role they have, and if it wasn’t for our conversation I might have missed the bigger picture on this.
🍀 What surprised me this week?
Still coming to terms with Monika no longer being part of the team. She’s been an amazing source of guidance and support over the years and I’m really going to miss working with her. With Joe gone as well, and our cell merger completed, it really does close the books on the ragtag crew that was once Cell C’s leadership team. Long live the old motto: “reproduce and sustain.”
A more pleasant surprise was getting the shout-out from Donut that apparently I hit #1 for Donuts across the company last year (18!). I should probably thank the FutureNHS team for our early adoption of said Slack bot, which surely helped catapult me to glory. 🏆
🌵 What do I wish could have gone differently?
So I got into a tricky situation where, with a few parties involved, I didn’t follow the golden rule with all of them considered. I could’ve handled things better. Once I realized my mistake, I did my best to apologize and figure out how I could avoid tripping up again in the future. And got some good advice about boundary setting to help remind me where I shouldn’t overstep.
The golden rule isn’t as obvious as it would seem, in certain contexts. Usually it’s something I think about in a 1:1, reciprocal dynamic, but when you’re assessing a complex 1:N situation, you almost need to solve for all cases before you take your first move.
🔮 What do I still need to take care of?
Still working through cell leadership alignment — it’s mostly about putting the time in for the next couple weeks. We’ll be focusing on team and go-to-market plans and have a longer strategy day planned for the week after next.
Speaking of workshops, I’ve got a couple new ones on the radar to facilitate next week with Mission Beyond. Our social value task force is rebooting in the background as well, and I’m keen to support. Last Monday’s SLT retro was useful but seems a world apart already — is this the side effect of last week being my first full week back? At least I seem to be over my jetlag.
💡 What do I need to remember?
Partly from the chat with Julia and partly from reading Wes’ article about the prestige trap, I’m seeing how Goodhart’s Law applies to your CV if you’re not careful. It can become a race not just to rack up prestigious brands, but also the types of roles and positions you’ve held. Why? Because “success.”
My example: I remember how much I was striving to get to Senior PM back in my 20s, probably hilariously soon after I’d first started at Microsoft. Throughout school, I’d always found myself successful when judged by “the system” and I don’t think my experience was uncommon in seeking the same sort of success appraisal from the workplace. So I found it pretty unsettling to have my manager at the time try to stack rank me in the bottom 10% on my first year’s performance review.* Following that experience, I really wanted to prove him wrong. But I also hadn’t developed good internal measures of success at that point. So I looked to the system for a guiding answer.
I’m glad I can feel content with where I am now. But I’m really honest with myself, like I was with Julia, there’s still a part of me that’s susceptible. I suspect that constant vigilance is needed to ensure those external validators don’t overwhelm the internal ones you have.
Goodhart’s Law can also take hold of your resumé. Don’t fall for the prestige trap.
📚 What did I discover?
I have to hand it to Raph for finding this awesome video to restart our delivery breakfast series with. I wrote a few words about Little’s Law on the Badger blog previously, but Daniel does a great job stressing the preconditions (it’s not just WIP being stable throughout the calculation, but average age of WIP, too!). Worth a watch for the agile aficionados out there.
Ted’s got some really spicy takes on middle management — all quite interesting to study. The system he lays out in this article feels like a bit of a pipe dream, but I do like the idea about separating the skills of managing “up” versus “down” and considering what it would mean to split the org chart along those lines as well.
What if middle managers didn't have to be direct reports themselves?
I'll be straight up with ya: I am not a fan of middle managers, writ large. I've encountered 1-2 good ones in my days…
I’m always a sucker for a good “this not that” article — here’s one with plenty of tangible examples for giving better feedback at work.
10 Constructive and impactful employee feedback examples | Officevibe
At the center of an employee's personal and professional development is feedback from their manager. And in the…
Given that I often need to remind myself to say no more often, this is right up my alley. Basically a product-specific example of a more general approach where you reframe your counterparty’s view of the world until they are able to accept your ‘no’ as the logical conclusion.
Tactfully Rejecting Feature Requests
Master the art of communicating a “positive no”
Another good reminder of the power of questions to change behavior, this time from Airbnb staff and in the context of design research.
A research tool for conscientious creatives How can you design for everyone without understanding the full picture? To…
Several folks have asked me how my quarantine is going since I got back to the UK. No human contact for 10 days is better than 14 from a personal perspective, and I’ll be all-clear by the middle of the week. That much is just an annoyance. But being apart from Lisa is doubly hard when there’s nobody else around — I’m impressed with how long she managed in Geneva during lockdown last year.
Mainly, self-isolation comes with more time to think. I’m still bullish on weeknotes as the right middle-ground medium for me to think aloud in at the moment, but I also see the allure of writing every day. Many of the authors I’ve discovered recently on the web and admire seem to have this in common. I’ve not yet built the muscle to turn thoughts directly into readable prose, but I’m getting better at collecting scraps throughout the week so I’m not starting from a blank page on Sundays. Maybe it’ll get easier with continued practice.
Writing weekly is still a positive habit I’m happy to have (re)built in 2020. And habit building in general fascinates me, especially when you think about how it can shape and inform our beliefs. In that vein, I decided to give Tiny Habits a try next week to see if it helps me introduce some positive microbehaviors into my lockdown routine.
*In time, I realized I didn’t do myself any favors that first year — I wasn’t at my desk enough, though I did get pretty good at ping-pong with my colleagues 😆. Still got the work done, yes, but I didn’t appreciate the outsized impact that signals like that would have when a manager is facing a tough choice on how to stack rank their employees in a certain band.