Building a Team - a lesson from ETSY

Photo by Eric Ziegler
As I was reading the blog post from the retired CTO, Kellan Elliot-McCrea, from Etsy, I became interested in more about who he was and what made him so special.  So I did some research and came across this awesome article.

How Etsy grew their number of female engineers by 500 % in one year

Yes, you read that title correct. Etsy grew the number of female engineers by 500% in one year. As part of their efforts, Etsy launched "Etsy Hacker Grants" to provide need-based scholarships to talented women engineers enrolling in Hacker School (a three-month hands-on course designed to teach people how to become better engineers).

As part of their hiring, they setup the parameters for success:
  • Be serious but inviting
  • look for balance
  • optimize for building together
  • optimize for data gathering
  • normalize within your organization
  • conduct your experiment publicly
What I found interesting was that these ideals and principals can be applied to people of all cultures and teams. You can apply this to engineering teams or teams doing operations work. And you can apply these principals to not only hiring and helping others, but you can apply these principals to how you team should and could work together. 

What I also found interesting was their philosphy that a team should either have 0 women on it, or 2+ women on the team. One woman on the team ends up making her a woman engineer vs just being an engineer.

Making False Assumptions

Most of what you see and think is a lie. When I first read the title of one of John Stepper's blog posts (John is of Working Out Loud book fame, I wasn't sure what I would find. The title, The man singing falsetto in the ladies' room, definitely attracted me to reading his blog post.  And when I read it, what I read was not what I expected, which is exactly what John was trying to do with the title of his blog.  If you have not read the article, go read it, it is totally worth the 5 minutes it will take you to read it.

In John's blog post, he highlights that most people will make assumptions about the intentions of an action by another person.  We take lots of little pieces of information in based on our observations and then fill in the rest with our imagination.  Basically, what we do is fill in all the missing pieces. And by filling in the pieces, we often get it wrong. 

While it is not possible in all situations, if you catch yourself making assumptions about someone else or guessing what someone is thinking based on their actions, take a step back and try to assess the full story, ask questions and be thoughtful before making a mistake based on false assumptions. 

Go read the article, it is worth it and the punchline is awesome.

Continuous Intelligence

Continuous Intelligence
Photo by Eric Ziegler

Where is business intelligence really going? Is it just about the data or the analytics or is it about the true business value that can be obtained by doing better and faster analytics in real time.  At the recent Amazon Web Service conference, re:Invent 2015, Sumo Logic talked about the idea of continuous Intelligence. This quote from the article highlights what I am referring to
 Shifting from rear-view insights to anticipating the insights to the questions not yet asked because those unknowns will make the difference between the next generation winners and losers.
The true business is all about getting ahead of where our customers might go and helping them by predicting ideas, thoughts that they might come up with. The goal is to look forward and anticipate our customers needs and desires. if you think of a sales organization, can you help them know who they should be talking with?  can you help them know what they should be talking to their clients about? What would it take to get there? And are you basing that information based on just the information you have or based on a broader view of the full client?

Visions - what are they and what to do with them

As you read my blog, I think everyone might be figuring out that I do a lot of reading and I like to highlight the things that I find most interesting. Mostly this writing is to help me synthesize my thoughts and to write down concepts I want to reference again later.  By posting them publicly, and sharing the blog posts openly, my hope is that others will gain something from it. Not only do I read a lot, I also listen to podcasts

One series of podcasts that I listen to is specific to leadership. While there are several very good podcasts, I like listening to Andy Stanley and his podcast,  Andy Stanley's Leadership Podcast. He has a perspective that is not unique but what I find to be very insightful. In a recently episode of his podcast, he talked with the former CEO of Home Depot, Frank Blake. In this episode they get into a deep conversation about visions of companies and what it means to the company and the employees.

A conversation with Frank Blake on Vision.

They did not get into what a vision is or how to create one, but rather, how to make a vision stick. how to get people to understand the vision and to make the vision the rallying call for the company. Andy has an entire book on how to create a vision, live the vision, and celebrate the vision. You can find his book, Making Vision Stick, on Amazon. I have not read the book yet, but if you do, please share your thoughts back here.

Becoming a more effective team

Best Friend
Photo by Eric Ziegler
Are you part of a team? I am guessing you might answer this question in the positive. Are you part of a great team? If not, why not? No matter how you answer that question, most likely your team become even more effective

3 Ways to Encourage Smarter Teamwork is great article from Harvard Business Review. The article shares 3 characteristics that that all individuals should embrace to ensure the entire team is more effective.
  • Active listening - pausing and listening to your peers and allow them to share their ideas and their perspectives. in addition, pausing to listen to understand, taking notes so you don't forget, etc. All good skills to embrace
  • Giving and receiving honest feedback - if you are going to truly collaborate with your peers, you need to be willing to share where you think their ideas are good and bad, and be open to receiving that feedback. And you know that idea of being "recognized" that often means getting a pat on the back or a thank you from a colleague, because recognition can come from anywhere.
  • Valuing team contributions, not stroking egos - you should be giving and serving your peers, on the team and in the community. if you do this, you will be recognized that you have influence and you will be seen as a leader.Remember my preivous post? you don't need to know all of the answers, and you should not expect others to have all of the answers. and if that is the case, then as a upstanding member of the community and the team, you should share and contirubte to the whole.

Leaders make mistakes - really

Photo by Eric Ziegler
3 Common Mistakes GOOD Leaders Make

Everyone makes mistakes. Managers, leaders, school teachers, police officers, clergy, etc. If you were to ask the question, what mistakes do you make, what would you say? In the blog post from "leader chat", they asked coaches and leaders, what mistakes do good leaders make. Based on the responses, they recognized three themes of mistakes. And the interesting part is that these are mistakes that anyone could make, not just a "leader" or not just a "manager".

What are the 3 most common misakes?
  • An over-focus on the people aspect and avoiding difficult conversations.
  • Trying to solve all of the problems of the people they work with or who work from them.
  • Neglecting your own personal growth - if you don't keep on growing you
While these on the surface might appear to be manager specific, they are not. These are great things to avoid if you are a leader or an aspiring leader. If you are not currently a manager but lead others and aspire to manage people, and if you avoid these pitfalls, you will end doing things that will enhance your ability to become the next great leader.

Successful Coaching Conversations

Bright Star at Sunset
Photo by Eric ziegler
Coaching is a technique to improve. You can improve in sports from good coaching. You can improve at school from good coaching (or teaching as they like to call it). You can improve at work from good coaching. And coaching can come from anyone. You can be coached by your kids. You can be coached by your peers. You can be coached by your manager or your managers manager. In fact, you can even coach others. Are you a developer? System Tester? BSA? Have you been asked to help others with their +1 skill? Have you helped others with their +1 skill? Then you are coaching.

For me, coaching is one of the most rewarding experiences. And for any person that is a coach or is being coached, there are some things you should keep in mind to ensure you each get the most out of the experience being shared. In this article, they highlight 12 things you should always do, and then some things you should avoid.

12 Secrets for Successful Coaching Conversations

For me, some of the items that struck a chord most include:
  • Relax. Lower defenses. Be your curious self.
  • Embrace silence. Don’t feel pressure to fill the silence. Wait a bit longer than feels comfortable. Allow coachees to fill the silence.
  • Develop next steps. Always identify next steps in behavioral terms. •What will you do? • How will you know you’re taking a next step? • How will colleagues know?
And then things to avoid:
  • Fixing and helping. Control your inner fixer. Successful coaches give responsibility and ownership. They don’t take it.
  • Interrupting.
  • Asking two questions at once (I do this one all the time, note to self, stop doing that)

Software Testing Club - go Join

Software Testing Club - Go Join
Photo by Eric Ziegler

Testing, Devops and Continuous delivery are all topics of interest for me as I have transitioned into a a software delivery role. How can we become more effective in how we deliver value to the clients, is a question you will very often hear me ask. So of course, because it is a topic of high interest to me, I have been keeping my eye for interesting content about these topics.

One great site that I found was the Software Testing Club website. In the site you can find a forums and some of the best blog posts about how to do testing well. You really do have to check out the blog posts on this site, they are pretty good.

Some of my favorites are:

If you are a tester or a developer or someone that interacts with building software, you should check this site on a regular basis. If you are so inclined, at to the community and share your insights about testing.

Its about the team, not the Individual

Who's accountable?
Photo by Eric Ziegler (@ericzigus)
When I first joined my latest team, I specifically went and met with each team that reported up to me. As I did my introductions, I let my teams all know that I am a big fan of soccer, so much so that I even play.

Because I am who I am, I read many different blogs and listen to many different podcasts that cover topics that span topics such as leadership, soccer, and technology. I read and listen to podcasts to stay up on the latest trends and to keep abreast of the latest things happening on things I am passionate about.

Recently, I was listening to the soccer podcast, Men in Blazers (@meninblazers +Men In Blazers) .(btw, I highly recommend listening to these gentlemen if you like soccer. Not only are they informative, they are rather funny). During a recent podcast, they were interviewing Jose Mourinho, the current manager of Chelsea. As I listened to the interview, he provided insights that I believe apply to any team anywhere, especially teams that in companies.

These insights were about how the team is the most important thing, and that individuals are important as part of the team. This sentiment is absolutely important for any long running successful teams.
"It's about the team, not the individual"
"The manager is no more or less important than the individuals on the team"
Why would he say these statements? He hints at holding the individuals accountable for their actions, even the manager.

He uses an example in the podcast to get his point across, There is a section in the podcast where he talks about the bus leaving on time. You could take it as a control from the top, but listen carefully on how he talks about the situation. He says that the team has agreed that at 9 am the bus will leave. And if you are not on the bus at 9 am, the bus leaves without you, because the team agreed it would leave at 9am. And if the manager is not on the bus at 9am? the bus leaves without the manager.

While you might think this is a power game for Jose, I look at it differently. What he is saying is that the team is important, and to hold the team back because someone was not holding themselves accountable to being on time is not acceptable. Hence, each person is accountable for their actions and accountable for making sure the team meets the team goals.

Patience when values and actions don't align

Sunset in San Diego
Photo by Eric Ziegler
What would you consider to be your personal #values? Do you have specific things that you know are always true, because that is who you are? Those things are most likely a value you hold tightly and is what make you who you are.

How often does your values and your actions align? As is discussed in this podcast, Aligning our values to our Actions, there are times when your actions will not align to your values. While the podcast talks about values and money, this applies to a much broader subjects and is really about any type of action, be it an action related to money, or an action on how you react to something your best friend said to you.

Why are there gaps between your values and your actions? Because we are human. So remember that when another person is involved, understanding their perspective is always a first good step. Have you ever seen a peer, a friend, or your manager do something out of character and outside of their values (at least what you understand to be their values)?  Sometimes the gap is there for a reason, so pause and try to understand. In some cases you might never understand why the gap is there.  But it is always important to realize that there is more to the gap than what you see on the surface.

You don't have all the Answers - deal with it

In San Diego
Photo by Eric Ziegler
A friend recently passed along a blog post from Harvard Business Review ( +Harvard Business Review @harvardbiz) along with a note where he said:

"I seem to recall back when I took the ABC role that you said something along the lines of "you don't need to have all of the answers - you just need to know where to go to find them" - this article helps crystallize that advice a bit more for me"

No matter your role, your job is not to know everything. Your job is to help others in a way that provides business value. And to deliver that software, you need to take one step at a time with the goal that you complete each task in the most efficient way possible. Sometimes we make it hard on ourselves, because we hold ourselves accountable to know all of the answers. More often than not, we are most effective when we know what we are good at and what we know and are honest with ourselves when we admit to what we are not good at and what we don't know. 

When you are able to recognize both, the next step is to incorporate others into providing that business value.  So sometimes it takes more than one person to accomplish your goal.

Check out this article leading people when they know more than you do

(btw, you are all leaders in your own right, leading is not about just managing people)

Signal to Noise Ratio

How much signal can you get out of a message when there is too much noise. Did I lose you? While signal to noise ratio is typically a electronic communications issue, signal to noise can also be a problem with communications. How many companies do you know that when they communicate something to its employees, that they all heard it. Too often that message is sent using only one channel, the intranet, or an email. But to do communications really well, communication must occur over multiple channels over a period of time. And of course, too often it not good either (too much noise).

Why? I believe a section in David Amerland's book, Semantic Search, can help shed some light. No matter the channel used, every message sent and received has three basic pieces, the emitter, the signal and the receiver. Let me use a simple internet example. The person that tweets, is the emitter, the tweet is the signal and the receiver is anyone that is following the "emitter".

Depending on the channel, the noise to signal changes. An email signal to noise ratio is different than using a intranet content. To be successful, the emitter needs to take the amount of noise on the channel into account to ensure the message is received clearly and concisely.

In addition, the channel that is chosen needs to be chosen carefully. As with internet marketing, there is many ways of getting a message out (commercials, twitter, facebook, print, etc.). As with the internet marketing, the enterprise communications team needs to choose the correct channel(s). Choosing the correct channel(s) over a specific time period is critical to ensure that the message is received by as many employees as possible. And remember, sometimes noise can obscure the message, especially if the emitter is someone that sends too many messages out to its audience.

This note was inspired +David Amerland book, Google Semantic Search - Amazon location 2129.

Knowledge graphs built from Enterprise Social Networks

Knowledge graphs built from Enterprise Social Networks
Photo by Eric Ziegler
More and more companies are building social networks in the enterprise. For those keeping track, the common term used today is Enterprise Social Networks (ESN).In almost all cases, the reasoning for implementing an ESN is to improve collaboration, break down silos, ease the flow information, etc. One that is often missing is how it could influence search results in the enterprise.

In the internet, social networks play a huge role in helping with search results. This help does not come in the straight up indexing of the content and adding to the overwhelming amount of content already being indexed, but rather from the building a a social or knowledge graph from the social networks.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc. have built algorithms to mine the content in social networks and to try to understand the relationships between the interactions happening in the social networks. While this information is used for many purposes, the mining of the data is used build out what is called a social graph and to extend knowledge graphs (think really big taxonomies or ontologies).

There is a big opportunity for companies to leverage their ESN implementations to improve their search results. This concept goes beyond the idea of ESN and could even be applied to any location people interact with each other (online meetings, Chat sessions, even corporate email).

By mining the information from these interactions, a social graph of related to topics and concepts can be built, that will improve how people search and eventually find the information they are most interested in.

This note was inspired  +David Amerland book,  Google Semantic Search - Amazon location 2111.

Marketing Enterprise Procedures/Processes/reference material

As I read David's book, I quickly realize that the internet content creation preparation checklist tips he provides at location 2075 (Kindle edition of the Google Semantic Search book) are similar items for how to create content in an enterprise. Basically, if you want your content (a policy, procedure, reference material) to be found, you need to use some simple marketing techniques (yes, marketing techniques, build and they will come does not work) and a great place to start is to adapt the checklist that David has in his book.
  • Identify the types of content you are producing (policy/procedure/etc.)
  • Decide what message you want to send to the different target audiences
  • Explain how your policy/procedure/content reflects what you want to get across to the target audience
  • Explain how the policy/procedure is consistent with the values of your department/division believes in
  • Explain your content creation strategy, including frequency of updates, interactions with employees about the content, etc.
  • Identify your main content /communication channel
  • What other channels do you plan on using to get your message out about the policy/procedure?
  • How do you plan on measuring success? (e.g. how do you know the policy/procedure/etc. reached the correct people?)
  • Explain how you will identify the main traffic drivers in terms of the content produced for your policies/procedures
The ideas that David refers to in his book are often easy enough to translate from being specific to internet marketing and search strategies to enterprise marketing and search strategies. And in this scenario, this still holds true. Do you have a policy or procedure you need to communicate (market) to your employees? You are going to need to follow some of these basic tenants to be fully successful.

This note was inspired by +David Amerland  book, Google Semantic Search - Amazon location 2075