Presence

I’ve learned over the years people want to be appreciated by the people they work with. Specifically, they want to know their work adds value and their perspective both matters and shapes the organization. We often talk about how people want to be recognized. Is it public acknowledgement of an achievement? Is it time off? A bonus or a bump in pay? Being picked to work on a special project? Specifically being picked to NOT work on THAT project? We focus on recognition because it is perceived as the only path to appreciation.

A while back I started having recurring meetings with each platform engineering team. The initial intent, and still the intent, is for us to spend time talking about strategy, direction, challenges and ways to leverage all of those for advancement and improvement of the platform. Another interesting intent emerged for me, and hopefully the team as well. We naturally began to talk about company, team, culture and I began to feel really plugged in to both what the team was doing and what each person cared about. At times it can be challenging to know every person on the team, what they think, what they care about, why they come to work and what keeps them up at night. This additional intent for me is connectedness.

I was playing calendar chaos one day and was trying to move one of the platform engineering meetings around. I had finally given up and just canceled that occurrence, thinking we’d pick it up the next time around. I sent the cancellation and later that day got an email from one of the guys.

“Can we try to fit this in later this week or next week? We’re batting 0.500 and it we cancel, I feel like you’d kind of be blowing us off.”

I stopped and thought about this for a while. What occurred to me was this particular engineer really found it valuable to have this time together. He appreciated the time spent in that meeting. The more I thought about it and thought about the attendance of these engineering meetings. Everyone showed up either in person or remote. Everyone was engaged. Sure, some speak more than others and sometimes we go completely off on tangents that may have nothing to do with anything work related. For 2019, I did the calendar reset and now these meetings happen every week, one platform team at a time and cycle on a six week cadence. These are important. I try very hard to not let them get overbooked.

I have the same mindset when it comes to 1:1s. I do these walking because it tends to help with a more fluid conversation. Weather permitting, we walk around the building and get some fresh air. If these get overbooked and I cannot resolve, I move them. Here too I find the conversations go on tangents. We cover the important pieces of people, technology, business and challenges. I find this time valuable and it seems lto be appreciated.

Abstract all this and we’re talking about presence. Be present. Make it a priority. Be present for everyone on your team. There are many ways to figure that out. Half of the meetings you are in are less valuable than being present with your team. Understanding and talking through why we’re doing what we’re doing is high value. Working together to iteratively evolve strategy and vision.

The next time I find myself in a conversation about recognition I’m also going to bring up presence. It is equally important as recognition and I think we tend to forget that point and its impact. I’m sure there are other dimensions but I do believe that recognition and presence together lead to happier more engaged teams. Which, of course, leads to higher retention and building a great place to work.

Vision

Vision statements. Over the years I’ve seen and been a part of many vision statements. Their intent: to state an aspiration for an organization, a group, a community…an entity. To the external world, the vision is an assertion of the type of experience and culture a person *should* takeaway from interacting with that entity. To the internal side of that entity, the vision statement should have a number of material components. There needs to be a next level down, subsequent next level down, alignment and most importantly, accountability.

A next level down takes the vision statement and details out each word or meaningful grouping of words. A next level down helps the various groups that make up the entity understand how the vision statement, in either tangible or aspiration ways, includes, requires and depends on them. Groups need to be able to play back the vision in their own words. With their own materialized examples. Doing this in an active dialog helps ensure that all groups in all directions, if directions is a thing in your entity, begin speaking the same language. It helps ensure they all have the same spoken interpretation of that vision. Ideally this happens while the vision is being developed vs. a handed down document-festo. Doing the latter will steepen the hill to adoption. I know this because it is something I’ve failed to do or advocate for over the years.

Personally, I’d like to think most agile and emerging devops organizations are not overly hierarchal. That said, the subsequent level down group in the entity, hopefully one level, maybe two at most, produces a ‘tightly aligned to the main vision’ statement of their own. That statement then has a detail of each word or meaningful grouping of words. The people that make up this group are deeply immersed in this vision they helped form. They understand how it ties into their daily work. They understand how the decisions they make do or do not align to that vision. Yes, on occasion deviation from or a challenge of the vision is important as it helps foster continuous improvement of the vision itself.

The third component of alignment is key because it is the road to accountability. An entity and its groups must first align on the vision. This isn’t a one meeting deliverance type of activity. It takes iterations. It takes time. It takes participation and listening. Failure to do this results in a steep hill to alignment. Again, this I know because I’ve failed to do it over the years. Alignment is important for many reasons. The most obvious reason is: if there isn’t full alignment throughout the entity, how can it ever realize the maximum from its vision? How can the entity ever reflect, as a collective group, on that vision and iteratively improve if not all are aligned? To the external world, an unaligned entity will not project nor reflect its vision. To the internal world, there will be cruft. Cruft isn’t good for vision. It isn’t good for teams or humans. We should find cruft and get rid of it.

The last material component is accountability. To this point, we’ve defined a vision. We’ve done multiple next levels down on that vision. We’ve aligned on the vision. Now we have reached the hard part. Holding every person in every group and the whole entity accountable to their part in the vision. This is where almost every single vision I’ve seen, studied, participated in and read about has died. Accountability to a vision isn’t top down. It isn’t bottom up. It isn’t horizontally at one layer. It is like a fine service mesh. It weaves through every person in the entity. Everyone and every team has to hold themselves and each other accountable to not only the vision but evolving the vision where required. Any one gap or disconnect simply weakens the mesh and puts the vision at risk.

Why is all this important? Think about the groups that span the entire entity. The groups that support all the other groups. In some cases, this group that spans the entire entity is lean. It tries to optimize to the vision to provide support, capabilities or services at scale. If one or more groups are not aligned and accountable to that vision, it breaks the optimization. It places stress on the group and magnifies the challenges that come with lean groups. It diminishes the group’s ability to operate at scale.

Ultimately this leads to diminished realization of the vision, stress on teams and affects the people who come to work. I once saw a leader of NetApp talk about their transformation. He didn’t speak to this particular topic in this way. He spoke to how seriously the company took the vision and its resulting transformation. It was the seriousness and the commitment across the company that made it a success. It is one of the few examples where I can imagine they spoke about this topic internally and executed on these four material components.

Vision matters, we need to know where we’re going. Alignment and accountability to the vision matter more.

Flexibility

One of the important pieces of the culture we foster and I focus on with intent is flexibility. This cultural element is throughout the technology organization. For me, in operations, it is something we talk about and encourage. It is a benefit we can provide that literally takes zero effort. The message is simple: be the paid professional you are and we’ll figure it out. Don’t be, and we’ll figure that out too.

The way I see it: we have high expectations of our engineers to engage and execute when systems break. Of course, we try to automate every last thing. We don’t practice chaos engineering anywhere close to what our aspirations would state but we’re really good at fixing issues when encountered. If it breaks at noon or 2 am, we’re on it.

The lives of our team can also be impacted by the unexpected. Chaos engineering for your personal life isn’t a thing…I hope. I have this image in my head of the home automation taking over the furnace or lighting up the house at 2 am and me trying to create observability and automation patterns to react or prevent.

The point here is when chaos enters a persons life it becomes the most important thing. Teams need to know they can ask for help. Ask for flexibility. More so, they need to get that flexibility when needed and when requested. Like I noted above, it takes zero effort and it is hugely appreciated by people. Personally, I believe it has a direct impact on retention. The market in the twin cities is on fire. I have no illusions about the amount of recruitment calls, pings, mails, etc. of our team on a daily basis.

There are many ways to make work interesting, engaging and fun. Don’t forget about the little chaos factor and being flexible. It might be one of the reasons your team isn’t picking up the phone when opportunity knocks.

Reboot

Every end of year I find myself looking at my godaddy hosting costs and my blog. Both are tied together and both neglected. Godaddy costs are a little confusing because of some legacy hosting I do for others. There isn’t a good way to line item out the costs so I generally just eat them. In my day job I’ve been getting deeper into AWS and thought why not push to that platform for my other uses.

Enter Lightsail, WorkMail and EC2.

I moved mail to WorkMail in an evening. The hardest part was discovering I needed to push dns ownership from godaddy to route53. Documents suggested that wasn’t necessary but was the only way to get it to work. Phone setup was easier and more reliable than godaddy mail. Check.

Lightsail was incredibly easy to spin up a wordpress template. Hardest part here was figuring out how to ssh to the damn instance from my iPad and iPhone. No, a computer wasn’t an option. Finally I got keys to load, client to function and boom, off and configuring the blog you are reading now.

EC2, now that I have usable keys, is a breeze and full migration, along with tagging and cost passing are ready to happen I’m 2019. I’m also here with my love hate relationship of blogging so we’ll see how that goes too.

If nothing else, I’ll have a place to find my baking recipes and other random tidbits.