My excellent colleague and great friend, Georgie Smallwood reminded me of this book. I read it many years ago, when I first stepped into consulting. A great and short business novel focused on characters going through change. You meet the little people, Haw and Hem as well as the mice Scurry and Sniff. Each represent a part of our own persona and how we view change.
A powerful story that is particularly useful in an ever-changing world.
A book full of tips and tricks with how to deal with social media. You can tell the company that employees Kawasaki was definitely a sponsor in this book. Take the advice with a grain of salt. It’s a short book, full of practical advice about how to use social media. The tips are obvious but could be useful for some. Although published in 2014, the book already shows it’s age (e.g. Google+ closing down in 2019)
A fascinating biography of a visionary person who I didn’t know too much about. Several points jumped out for me during this book. During Tesla’s lifetime, it seemed like there were a lot of innovations and research. Each finding resulted in many patents – very different from today’s open source world.
Tesla had an amazing array of discoveries, many of which are still not understood today. Many of his papers disappeared with his death. He also didn’t share many details with others, having had bad experiences with others.
The author portrays Tesla with a rich and vibrant character. Not only did he have the quirkiness of the inventor. He also had the flamboyance of a socialiate and showman. For someone in his time, and the number of experiments, he lived to quite the ripe age (87!)
This book gives you an insight into many of the amazing predictions Tesla made. It also gives you an idea of how much impact he had on society with the inventions he also created and shared with the wider world.
Careers ladders are all the rage in software firms. They create structure and shared expectations around different levels. Like any model, career ladders have pros and cons. Career ladders are a starting point for shared expectations across an organisation. However career ladders cannot be comprehensive, as people are unique, like snowflakes. People bring their different strengths and experiences to what they do. Everyone will do this differently. As a result, I like to explain that levels in a career ladder do not represent a checklist. Rather, levels reflect how people can have a different impact in an organisation in different ways.
In my most recent talk, “Talking with Tech Leads,” I explain how, some companies have a two-track career model. Two tracks are great, as they allow for more development and growth in different areas. Most of the research I did seemed to focus on two main tracks. In Silicon Valley they refer to these as Individual Contributor (IC) and Management tracks. I actually don’t think a two-track ladder is enough. This is why I present you the Trident Career Model below.
The Trident Career Model has three tracks. Each track represents where people spend most of their time or energy.
The Management Track
In this track, people spend a majority of their time (70-80%) on management activities. This still includes leading people, supporting people, managing structures & processes and organising. People in this track must still have some background in the topic they are managing.
Most importantly, their main value add is not necessarily through making decisions related to the specialist field (e.g. system architecture). Instead, they manage the surrounding system & structure to ensure people closest to the work have the best context and information to make better decisions. They provide enough support, time and/or budget to enable others to do what they do best.
Example roles in this track: Engineering Manager, VP Engineering, IT Manager
The Technical Leadership Track
In this track, people spend a majority of their time (70-80%) leading people on a technical topic. People in this track must have relevant hands-on technical skills and experience. They should have good but not necessarily the best skills in the team they are leading. People in this track draw heavily on refined leadership skills to be successful. Classic activities for this role (in the field of software) include:
Establishing a Technical Vision
Managing technical risks
Clarifying/uncovering technical requirements
Ensuring non-technical stakeholders understand technical constraints, trade-offs or important decisions
Growing technical knowledge and cultivating knowledge sharing in and across teams
Example roles in this track: Lead Developer, Tech Lead, Principal Engineer, Software Architect
The True Individual Contributor (IC) Track
In this track, people spend a majority of they time (70-80%) focused on “Executing/Doing”. Software engineers early in their career reflect this very well. This track still requires people to have excellent communication and collaboration skills. People in this track have impact through the deep/detailed knowledge or skills they offer. Most small companies do not need a deep IC track, as there is no need for specialisation. As an organisation grows, they may need more of these roles. The number of these roles will always be smaller than the other two tracks in a well-functioning organisation.
Example roles in this track: DB Specialist, Performing Tuning Specialist, Domain Specialist.
This model is indeed a simplification. In real life, the Management and the Technical Leadership tracks are not always so clearly separate. I know some companies where Engineering Managers also take Technical Leadership responsibilities, or where Tech Leads or Lead Developers are also expected to take on Management responsibilities. This is not necessarily wrong.
I have personally found that, at scale, it is often hard to find people who have deep skills and experiences at both of these areas, and that it can be useful to have a discussion around where someone’s focus, passion or development progression lies.
As the famous quote goes:
All models are wrong, some are useful.
George EP Box
I have found this Trident Model a useful starting point to contrast differences in roles or expectations. Considering using this model:
To develop skills in an area you may want to work
When building out your own company’s Career Ladder
To explain differences/focuses on existing roles and responsibilities
I hope you found this post interesting. Please leave a comment about your thoughts of the Trident Model of Career Development.
I took part in a three day course before Christmas to better understand Large Scale Scrum (LeSS). LeSS’ tagline is “More with LeSS”. I’m pessimistic about most “Scaling Agile Frameworks.” Many give organisations an excuse to relabel their existing practices as “agile.” Not to fundamentally change them. Bas Vodde (one of the founders of LeSS’) invited me to take part in a course just before Christmas. I took him up on the offer to hear it “From the horse’s mouth.”
This article summarises my notes, learnings and reflections from the three day course. There may be errors and would encourage you to read about it yourself on their LeSS website, or post a comment at the end of this article.
About the Trainer
I met Bas Vodde about a decade ago. We met at one of the Retrospective Facilitator’s gathering. He is someone who, I believe, lives the agile values and principles and has been in the community for a long time. He still writes code, pair programming with teams he works with. He has had a long and successful coaching history with many companies. He worked with huge organisations where many people build a single product together. Think of a telecommunications product, for example. Through his shared experiences with his co-founder, Craig Larman, they distilled these ideas into what is now called LeSS.
What I understood about LeSS?
LeSS evolved from using basic Scrum in a context with many many teams. I took away there are three common uses of the term LeSS.
LeSS (The Complete Picture) – The overview of LeSS including the experimental mindset, guides, rules/framework, and principles. See the the main website, Less.
LeSS (for 2-8 teams) – Basic LeSS is abbreviated to LeSS and is optimised for 2-8 teams. They have LeSS Huge for 8+ teams, and modifications to the rules. See LeSS Huge.
Practices & Rituals in LeSS
LeSS has a number of practices and rituals as part of its starting set of rules. Some of these include:
A single prioritised Backlog – All teams share a single backlog with a priority managed by the Product Owner.
Sprint Planning 1 – At the end of this, teams have picked which Backlog Items they work on during a sprint.
Sprint Planning 2 – All teams do this separately. Like in Scrum, Sprint Planning 2 focuses on the design and creation of tasks for their Sprint.
Daily Scrum – Each team runs their own Daily scrum as per standard Scrum.
Backlog Refinement – Teams clarify what customers/stakeholders need. Good outcomes include Backlog Items refined into sizes where teams can take 4/5 into a Sprint. LeSS encourages groups, made up of different team members, to refine Backlog Items. This maximises knowledge sharing, learning and opportunities to collaborate.
Sprint Review – Teams showcase their work to customers/stakeholders for feedback. The Product Owner works to gather feedback and reflect this in the overall Backlog. Sprint Reviews should not be treated as an approval gate. It’s about getting more input or ideas.
Sprint Retrospective – Each team runs their own retrospective. As per standard Scrum.
Overall Retrospective – Members from every team plus management hold a retrospective. This retrospective focuses on the system and improving the overall system.
Shared Definition of Done – All teams share an overall Definition of Done, which they can also update. Teams can build on the basis of the shared Definition of Done.
Sprint – There is only one sprint in LeSS, so by definition all teams synchronise on the same sprint cadence.
Roles in LeSS
Scrum Master – Like in Scrum, LeSS has the Scrum Master whose goal is to coach, enable and help LeSS run effectively. The Scrum Master is a full time role up of up to 3 teams.
Product Owner – The Product Owner is the role responsibility for the overall Backlog prioritisation
Area Product Owner – In LeSS (Huge), Area Product Owners manage the priority of a subsection of the Backlog. They also align with the Product Owner on overall priorities.
Team – There are no explicit specialist roles in LeSS, other than the team (and its members).
Principles of LeSS
A key part of LeSS is the principles that guide decisions and behaviours in the organisation. People can make better decisions when taking these principles into account. You can read more about LeSS’ principles here. Like many other agile ways of working, Transparency is a key principle. Unlike other agile methods, LeSS calls upon both System Thinking and Queuing Theory as principles. Both are useful bodies of knowledge that create more effective organisations.
Another explicit difference is the principle of the Whole Product Focus. This reminds me very much of Lean Software Development’s Optimise the Whole principle. I also like very much the description of More with LeSS principle. This principle challenges adding more roles, rules and artefacts. So think carefully about these!
In LeSS, having LeSS specialisations is a good thing. This encourages more distributed knowledge sharing.
LeSS explicitly priorities feature teams over component teams to maximise the delivery of end to end value. Both have trade-offs.
A lot of LeSS has big implications about organisational design. Agile teams showed how cross-functional teams reduce waste by removing hand-off. LeSS will be even more demanding on organisations and their structure.
The creators of LeSS made LeSS Huge because they found a Product Owner was often a constraint. Since Product Owner’s focus on prioritisation, it’s hard to keep an overview and manage the priority of 100+ Backlog Items. (Note that teams still do the clarification, not the Product Owner). With 8+ teams, they found even good Product Owners could not keep on top of the ~100+ refined Backlog Items (which normally covers the next 3+ sprints).
LeSS Huge addresses this by introducing Categories (aka an Area). Each Backlog Item has its own category, and each category then has an Area Product Owner to manage the overview and prioritisation of Backlog Items in that category.
Guidelines for creating an area:
This should be purely customer centric
Often grouped by stakeholder, or certain processes
Could be organised by a certain market or product variant
No area in LeSS Huge should have less than 4 teams
After taking the course, I have a much stronger understanding of LeSS’ origins and how it works. After the course, it feels much LeSS complex than when I first read about it on their website. It includes many principles which I run software teams by. I can also see many parallels to what I have done with larger organisations and LeSS. I can also see how LeSS is a challenging framework for many organisations. I would definitely recommend larger product organisations draw inspiration from LeSS. I know I will after this course.
In 2017, I stopped working as a consultant and started playing the role of CTO in Berlin. I learned a lot moving away from consulting into a full-time management role. I am happy with the direction the technology team and platform is moving, given where it was when I started. You can read more about what we achieved in 2018, and I’m proud to have been a significant part of that.
I expected to travel less as a consultant. Yet that didn’t seem to really work out. Places I visited for both work and leisure included: Barcelona, Munich London, Brussels, Austin, Capetown, Budapest, Vienna, Heiligendamm, Sitges, Zurich, Siegen, New York, Krakow, Oslo, Cadzand, Malmo and Amsterdam.
Earlier this year, I read the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (by Liz Wiseman). The book title peaked my interest as I’m often helping people on their leadership journey go from Maker to Multiplier mode. The book not only highlights the habits of a multiplier, but also discusses the opposite, The Diminisher. The book defines Tthe Multiplier as, “A person who lead an organisation or management team that was able to understand and solve hard problems rapidly, achieve its goals, and adapt and increase its capacity over time.”
The book defines The Diminisher as, “A person who lead an organisation or management team that operated in silos, finds it hard to get things done, and despite having smart people, seems to not be able to do what is needed to do to reach their goals.” The book often highlights that many people act as accidental diminishers or do so unintentionally.
There are several ways a leader can focus on being a Multiplier including being the Talent Magnet, The Liberator, The Challenger, The Debate Maker or the Investor, each which has its own separate section of the book with tips and practices.
“Multipliers never do anything for their people that their people can do for themselves”
As you watch someone, ask these questions:
Multipliers (Liz Wiseman)
I liked the section on becoming a Talent Magnet (which they contrast with the Empire Builder). Both attract talent, but the question is what do they with that talent afterwards. Talent Magnets don’t run out of talent because they draw upon four practices:
Look for Talent Everywhere – Appreciate all types of genious (Ignore Boundaries)
Find People’s Native Genius – Look for what is native (Label It)
Utilise People to their Fullest – Connect people with opportunities (Shine a spotlight)
Remove the Blocker – Get rid of primadonnas (Get out of the way)
I also liked the three simple practices of becoming The Challenger:
Seed the Opportunity – Show the need. Challenge assumptions. Reframe problems. Create a starting point.
Lay down a Challenge – Extend a concrete challenge. Ask the hard questions. Let others fill in the blanks.
Generate Belief in what is Possible – Helicopter down. Lay out a path. Co-create a plan. Orchestrate an early win.
This book resonated with me as a leader and would recommend this to others looking to expand their own leadership journey.
I found the book extremely easy to read. The book summarises the latest in brain science about what keeps the brain strong. It underscores what science proves to work. More importantly, it breaks many myths about what doesn’t. Medina uses a lot of stories and analogies to simplify the complex field of brain science.
The field of studying the brain is relatively young. It was only in the last few decades that we could easily observe the brain without needing to remove it! As a result, this book still leaves many open answers but is at least honest about it.
Some tips that help keep the brain active and healthy include:
Maintain healthy relationships with a wide variety of people. Avoid emotionally controlling or abusive relationships. Avoid verbally aggressive people. Surround yourself with people who have different opinions and who value different perspectives.
Reflect on what you are grateful or appreciative about. Share your gratitude with others.
Learn about something new constantly. Better yet, teach others to expand your own understanding and stretch your brain.
Stay active (through exercise). Exercise strengths not only your body, but also your brain.
Get enough sleep. Sleep isn’t about resting. It’s about reseting, getting rid of “toxins” and forming connections essential to learning.
I also learned about a few areas that influences how your brain functions. Your diet has a big influence. Nostalgia can also help. I liked the question, “When did you have the most meaningful experiences of your long life?”
The book also underscored limits to the brain. We are rubbish at multi-tasking. Memories are volatile, so repetition is essential. If someone doesn’t feel safe in a particular environment, they will perform worse. The brain is not designed for long-term stress where you feel like you have no control.
I recommend Brain Rules to anyone who has interest in how their lifestyle affects how they think. It’s accessible, practical and hopefully you leave considering changes to your lifestyle!
It was almost a decade ago, I first watched Hans Rosling talk about the ever changing state of the world (see the videos here). He was a poster-child for demonstrating how visuals can bring static data to life. In his last legacy to the world, Rosling published the book, “Factfullness.” Unfortunately he passed away in 2017 due to pancreatic cancer.
Factfullness reflects many of Rosling’s personal stories. It also shares his frustration with a world filled with bias and “fake news.” This book is extremely relevant given the current state of politics both in the UK and the US.
Factfullness challenges us to push past biased social and news media. Instead we should focus on globally available data such as from the United Nations. In the book, Rosling paints a much more positive view of the world than what the media likes to portray. As he often repeats, “It may still be bad, but it’s significantly better.”
Fuelled with data, Rosling shows us how child mortality is drastically decreasing. He demonstrates how fewer people live in critical poverty. He reminds us how women have better rights today. The book highlights how monkeys are more factful than educated humans. Rosling points out we are less factful because of “Instincts.”
The Gap Instinct describes how we quickly classify something into one of two camps. Examples include being poor/rich, sick/healthy, or us/them. Reality is more of a spectrum, with a majority in the middle and that there’s not that much of a gap. Rosling warns us to be careful of extreme comparisons.
The media fuels the Negativity Instinct. Rosling points out, “Negative news sells.” He contrasts this with an observation that incremental improvements are not considered newsworthy. In this chapter, he starts using the phrase he later repeats, “It can be both better and bad.” (The situation can still improve, but the world has improved significantly.)
The Straight Line Instinct describes how we think linearly. In the context of an ever growing population, this instinct fuels the fear of overpopulation. Rosling highlights how childbirth rates reduce as a country becomes more prosperous. He challenges us to use data to better understand the shape of data. He gives examples where curves are more like doubling curves, or act like an S-curve. Straight line functions are the exception rather than the rule.
Rosling shares a personal example where the Fear Instinct causes unclear thinking. This reminds me of the Type I thinking (from Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman). Type I thinking means we react in critical situations with poor results. Fears from physical harm, captivity or contamination drive us to act irrationally. Rosling challenges us to differentiate between frightening and dangerous. Danger is risk multiplied by exposure. When we recognise this instinct, seek calmness before making an important decision.
The Size Instinct focuses our attention on individual numbers out of context. A compelling story or a concrete example leads to us overestimating an impact. Rosling recommends we look at numbers in proportion. We should do relative comparisons, or look at trends rather than numbers alone. Rosling reminds us of the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) or use rates (e.g. number per person).
The Generalisation Instinct describes our habit to automatically category and generalise. Stereotyping through generalising leads us to incorrect conclusions or unjustified judgements. It also leads us to poorer decisions. GapMinder invented Dollar Street to highlight different categories. Rosling challenges us to look for differences and similiaries across categories. Avoid using categories to justify an assumption.
The Destiny Instinct drives us to believe destiny is pre-determined. This reminds me of the Fixed versus Growth Mindsets, made popular by Carol Dweck. To fight the Destiny Instinct, we must recognise small improvements and changes. We should seek knowledge about how cultures and societies do change over time.
The Single Perspective Instinct drives us to seek a simple solution or answer. I recognise this instinct from my studies in Systems Thinking. A counter against this instinct is to collect different Mental Models. Each Mental Model provides a different perspective on a situation. I loved this quote from this chapter. “The world cannot be understood without numbers, and it cannot be understood with numbers alone.”
The Blame Instinct describes our desire to find a scapegoat, or to point the blame at an individual. It blocks our ability to focus on contributing factors. It also means we are unlikely to prevent similiar problems in the future. Rosling provides great advice here. It reminds me of advice for healthy, blameless post-mortems. “Look for causes, not villains and look for systems, not heroes.”
The final instinct Rosling describes is the Urgency Instinct. This instinct draws upon Type I thinking and biases for action now rather than later. Rosling reminds us that urgent decisions are rare. He encourages us to take a breath, insist on data and be wary of taking drastic actions.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Rosling’s personal stories bring vibrancy to the book. He highlights how even “experts” or “highly educated” people fail to act factfully. The book makes us wary of the “Instincts” and provides concrete actions to help us. If you’re interested in learning more about Factfullness, get the book here.
Life has been a bit of a whirlwind trip in the last year. I moved cities (London to Berlin). I started a new role as a CTO. I transitioned from 14 years of consulting into a management role. I joined the hyper-growth startup, N26 – the mobile bank the world loves to use. It’s been exciting to particularly see the company growth. Our customer base has grown from 500K+ users to more than 1 million. Our users transact more than €1B in currency. We’ve expanded our offices from Berlin to New York. We also announced moving to Barcelona and this is only the beginning.
In this blog entry, I will share my personal lessons learned on the rollercoaster ride from this year.
1. Management overlaps with leadership, but is different
Over the almost 14 years of consulting, I spoke all the time about leadership. I still believe that anyone can be a leader. Leading is less about a title, and more about how you act. In my role, I also better appreciate the important role of effective manager. Google even proved that effective management matters.
I still think great managers are also great leaders. We try to test for this at N26 during our interviewing process. We hold our managers accountable for having difficult conversations. We want them to be kind, not only nice. We want managers to nurture an environment of candid feedback. Great managers manage things and lead people. Managers, unlike coaches or consultants are also held accountable for this.
2. Hypergrowth stretches everyone
I’ve definitely grown over this year. Our company has also grown rapidly (both with users and people). Hypergrowth means people have opportunities for new tasks. We are also not the first company to experience this. The community has been very generous with sharing their knowledge. I will contribute more to this in the future too, as I build on lessons learned.
I have found myself repeating, “The company will grow much faster than people.”
With this in mind, I have tried to support, develop and grow as many people as possible. At the same time, I’ve focused on bringing in new skills and experiences that we need. Combining a learning workforce with experienced people is tremendously powerful.
3. Really underscore the Why, not just the What
I believe very much in Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.” A group of brilliant, collaborative problem solvers will end up with a better idea if they understand why. You can, of course, still give your input. Your role as a leader it to explain the context. Or to clarify the goal or problem. Not just the solution.
I’ve seen too many technical debates fail because they first didn’t agree on the problem. Agree on why, then move on to what.
In a fast moving startup, I found people underrate listening. Listening and asking questions are my most powerful tools as a leader.
4. Investing in people has exponential returns
I always try to be generous with my knowledge and experience. I’ve particularly enjoyed helping people grow. Sometimes it’s required tough, candid conversations. Effective feedback helps people grow. Coaching and training helps people see potential they don’t see. It’s been wonderful to help people discover, test and practice tools that make them more successful.
I’m proud of N26’s technical leaders (both formal and informal). I’m impressed with how people have rapidly grown. I’m also impressed with what they do to pass it on.
5. What got you here, won’t get you there
I read the book, “What got you here, won’t get you there” many years ago. It’s message resonated with me during this year. Startups often go through several phases, “Start Up, Scale up, and Optimise” is how I like to think of it. We are definitely in the Scale Up phase. This phase demands different thinking.
Acting as if we were in the Start Up phase no longer scales. It’s an educational journey for many people. At scale, you can no longer manage every single situation. At scale, you can no longer make all the decisions. At scale, you have to decide on where you will have the greatest impact. At scale (as a manager), you make less, and need to focus on multiplying more.
6. Focus on Capabilities, not just People
In Hypergrowth, it’s too easy to hire lots of people. I am wary of this after reading the Mythical Man Month many many years ago. As a manager, I first focus on understanding what capabilities we need. I also think about how those capabilities are best met. Be clear on what you need before hiring people.
Focusing on what you need helps you find the right people. It also helps those people be clear about how they will be successful.
I have learned many other lessons in this year as a CTO. The six lessons above reflect some of the major themes for this past year that I hope you many learn from.
I’m super proud of the people I work with. I’m super proud of the product we produce. It’s been a great ride so far, and it’s only the beginning of the journey.
If you have worked in IT for some time, you will have come across the name Jerry Weinberg (Gerald M Weinberg). I first came across Jerry when I first read his book, “The Secrets of Consulting.” Jerry impacts great wisdom through his use of stories. He shared his knowledge generously with our industry and set a great example.
He was a prolific writer and I was lucky to inherit many of his books when a contact moved house. I devoured them rapidly, learning much in the process. As a proud Systems Thinker, I enjoyed “An Introduction to General Systems Thinking.” As someone passionate Technical Leadership, I inhaled, “Becoming a Technical Leader.” I refer and recommend many of his books time and time again.
I never had the opportunity to meet Jerry but I met many people who he had personally influenced. I heard amazing things about the “Amplify Your Effective (AYE)” conference. I felt people who frequented the AYE conference came away with more drive to have a greater impact. I regret not taking the one opportunity I had to take part, given the wrong timing and place in my life.
As someone who believes in agile values, I was lucky to meet Norm Kerth. I forgot he co-authored the “Project Retrospectives” book with Jerry Weinberg. Continuous improvement is the basis for better organisations, teams and processes. Call it retrospectives, kaizen or some other name. I count myself lucky for reading this early on in my career.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Jerry was definitely a giant among giants. In the world of software we often have a negative association with the word, “legacy.” We forget that sometimes that legacy can be a good thing. I am particularly grateful for the legacy Jerry left behind.