Aug 23, 2022
The Grug Brained Manager
this collection of thoughts on managing software development teams by a grug brained manager based on grug brained developer.
grug brained manager not smart. somehow managed to convince boss that grug capable of managing others. grug barely capable to polish mouth stones.
grug pretend grug know what do. grug talk to other grug managers and realize nobody know what to do. grug realize management not as simple as development.
over time grug learn painful lesson after painful lesson and decide to write on stone tablet so young grug manager not make same mistake.
Managing People Is Hard
nobody told grug managing so hard. grug used to be okay grug brained developer.
wanted become grug manager for more shiny rock and to be grug leader. grug no realize managing not same as developing. grug very happy developing, feel good when make shiny object and solve problem.
grug no realize in management, there no shiny object to hold up proudly. type of problems grug solve take long time to see results. grug has lots of self doubt when think what to do, but grug need to make decision and commit.
there not a lot of support as manager. grug find that there not a lot of process or materials for grug to learn to do job. when grug was developer, lots other grug make content to learn job. as manager, not as much information for grug on how to do actual job.
grug introvert, that why grug get into making software. management however is purely people-focused, which means job is more taxing for grug. grug realize that in management, easier for grug to burn out. grug more tired at end of day. grug need to make sure to make time for self care, but hard to balance. grug burned out several times and sometimes just want to take a six month sabbatical to recover.
grug not prepared to deal with unhappy people. grug no like conflict, however grug must deal with conflict in job. when grug responsible for unhappy person, it weigh heavily on grug mind and grug want to make situation better. this add extra stress on grug.
grug realize that management takes much larger emotional toll on grug than developing. grug must work extra hard to not show emotion because team looks to grug as leader. sometimes grug feel strong emotion in pit of stomach but must force it to go away. this is hard for grug.
it not all bad though.
grug get satisfaction from seeing young grug learn and get promoted. when grug team get shiny rock and praise, grug feel good for them. grug no do this for glory, only shiny rock and see grug team solve problem and be happy.
grug also get satisfaction from helping other grug do work. grug get sense of satisfaction from stopping grug product manager from other team bugging team member. grug chase them with stick and beat chest.
grug also get more shiny rock for constant headaches.
grug was okay grug brained developer, but there many more smarter grug brained developer. senior grug developer position rare and there are many more smart and passionate developer that will overpower grug.
grug not want to develop software in free time, grug want to live life with family and provide many shiny rock for them. grug took realistic look at grug career path and decide that grug can progress in management career more than developer career.
grug has skill other developer may not have. grug good at writing on stone tablet. grug enjoy think about how team can work better. grug enjoy helping lead team so company get more shiny rock and help customers. lots of grug developer only want to concentrate on making shiny object shinier, grug want to make sure customer enjoy shiny object.
grug want young grug to think hard when want to try management. management not the right career path for all grug, but hard to know unless young grug try it.
Rule #1: No Surprises
grug learn over time that number one rule is no surprises. surprises bad. surprises very bad if it affects shiny rocks grug’s team takes home. breaking this rule can lead to very bad consequences like difficult conversations or a club over grug’s head.
grug realize biggest reason for surprise is grug expect one thing and direct report expect another. communication the most important thing for grug manager to do right.
grug believe grug need to make expectations explicit up front with grug report. grug need to make sure direct report know what grug expect of them. direct report need to know what and how to do their job, if they do not, grug fail as manager.
grug also believe that direct report should make expectations explicit with grug. grug need to know what direct report want and work with report to help them get it. grug fail as manager if he no know that.
grug learn hard way that sometimes grug avoid hard conversation because it make grug uncomfortable. grug make excuse for self or ignore problem. then small problem become big problem. grug embarrassed this happen many times before grug learn. it still happen but grug used to embarrassment now.
other time grug not know what expectations should be for grug developer. company leadership failed grug by not teaching grug how to be manager, but that not good excuse. grug learn many painful leadership due to grug’s lack of experience and support.
Getting feedback for reports
grug no have eyes everywhere. grug has limited time and too many meetings. it sometimes difficult to know how direct reports are performing. even when grug in same team as direct report, sometimes it difficult for grug to know what direct report doing.
grug learn that getting feedback is hard.
grug learn that grug need to meet with people that work with direct report and build relationship with them. grug needs them to trust grug so they will open up and give grug honest feedback.
many people uncomfortable with giving honest feedback, especially to coworker’s manager. grug need to convince them that grug intentions good and that grug want to help direct report become better teammate.
grug learn hard lesson when grug not collect feedback for direct reports. when direct report under performing, grug not know because nobody told grug. only when situation got very bad did grug know and by then grug had failed. grug learn that grug need to go and get feedback from people.
Giving feedback to reports
grug learn that giving feedback is hard.
grug learn that giving feedback is one of the hardest part of management. grug not used to telling people bad things about them to their face. in real world, if grug give random person on street feedback, they hit grug with club.
in business, grug learn that giving feedback can mean the difference between a good and bad team. luckily most of the time grug no get hit with club.
grug need to mix own feedback for direct report and feedback from report’s team. grug learn that it takes work to figure out where direct report can improve. grug then needs to give direct report feedback.
when collecting feedback for direct report, having concrete examples for negative feedback helps people connect their behavior to real situation. when people come to grug with feedback for direct report, grug try to ask for specific situation. when grug see behavior grug want to give feedback on, grug try to write it down.
grug learn that giving negative feedback between positive feedback very bad. smart managers call it “shit sandwich”. grug no like shit sandwich.
grug realize at end of the day, giving feedback to report like ripping off band aid. grug need to do it and get through pain. key thing grug learn is that grug always try to have good intention for direct report and that benefit should outweigh the cost.
over time, after grug do it more, giving feedback not as scary, but still hard.
Managers should stay technical
grug firmly believe that managers that are close to developers should make time to work with the technology.
grug realizes that the higher you are on the food chain, the more valuable your time is. there are job you can not delegate so those job should take precedence over job you can delegate.
grug has worked with middle managers that are not technical. grug does not know how they make wise decisions. non-technical managers must rely on their team to make decisions. grug does not want to sit in the middle and relay messages. non-technical managers also lack ability to understand if things their team talk about make sense.
grug consults technical members of team and defers to their decision. but grug is able to make better decisions than the non-technical managers.
grug mostly spend available time working on small problems that help the team’s productivity. grug tries to stay out of the way as much as possible. grug fix bug here, implement nice to have feature there.
grug believes that in order to lead people, grug needs to stay grounded to what life is like for them.
Hiring & Firing
when times are good, grug get approval to hire more grug developer for team.
grug learn that hiring grug on to team is risky. new grug developers on team cost the team productivity for several months while they ramp up. new grug developers can also change the team dynamics. grug needs to be careful when bringing in new developers.
grug learned that sometimes there is a mismatch between the hiring process and the day to day work. grug disagrees with difficult tests given in the hiring process, but grug doesn’t know how to do any better. grug also learned that the candidates that were going through the hiring process are very talented. grug sometimes wonders if the company could do better, but does not know how to fix it.
grug learned that interviews go both ways. grug needs to be a good representative of the company and try to sell the company to the candidate. grug realizes in software development, talented candidates have many options, and grug wants to only hire talented candidates.
grug believes that firing somebody should be a last option and if it gets to that point, then grug has failed. grug does not want to negatively affect somebody’s life until grug has exhausted all other options.
grug believes that its important to have empathy when dealing with these hard situations.
grug believes that identifying potential problems early and having difficult conversations early can help avoid issues.
however, sometimes there is a communication issue or misaligned expectations. grug tries to be very explicit with the report on what exactly grug needs to see the report improve on.
sometimes you give people many chances and they still don’t meet grug’s expectations, so grug then needs to make the hard decision to fire them.
grug once hear phrase “process is just expectations made explicit” and grug very much like this.
grug believe that like software, it is easy to prematurely optimize process within teams. grug tries to not have process until its necessary.
process can slow people down. grug hear from other grug often that they need to deal with “red tape”. process for the sake of process can get in the way of grug’s team doing their job.
process should be challenged from time to time. grug thinks that just because a process exists, doesn’t make it law. processes need to be re-evaluated to make sure they are still beneficial.
Keeping it simple
grug learn long ago during software development days that complexity is the external enemy. grug internalized this and tries to reduce complexity as much as possible.
grug tries to teach their team the ways of the grug brained developer as much as possible.
grug firmly believe that the right amount of code is 0 lines. grug wants to judiciously delete code whenever possible and make sure existing code is simple.
when making technical decisions, grug considers who will be working on it. code should be accessible to even the most junior developer. writing code should be simple and obvious.
grug had vision of leadership from movies where heroic leader charges enemy lines from the front. the reality of leadership though is that grug goes around making sure team is not blocked by anything, they like what they are working on and are happy, and that the team has what they need to do their jobs.
grug’s main job is to make sure the team functions well and that ultimately they hit their goals.
grug believe strongly that leading by example is important, so grug tries to live up to expectations grug has for team as much as possible. grug hear once that a leader shouldn’t ask their team to do something they wouldn’t do themselves and grug nod head vigorously.
grug also believes that decisions should be made with empathy, that there is an inherent power imbalance between manager and worker that should be kept in mind.
at the end of the day, grug just try to do good job as best as grug can. grug realize that there no true ideal for what a leader is. grug just try to do what is best for team members and company and try to hold together as much of the team as possible.
communication number one thing to get right as manager.
clarity of communication is important skill for manager to have. grug managers can express complex ideas in simple terms.
grug try not to assume people know thing and will check or give simple fast explanation for thing people may not know of. grug often see people afraid to ask clarifying questions and tries to make communication accessible.
grug often need to synthesize information from various sources and combine it into coherent thesis. it important that grug listen to people and ask questions to understand underlying problem.
written communication is very important for remote team. grug has team members across many time zone, written asynchronous communication ensures people can engage when it works for them.
when grug must do a presentation, grug believe strongly in Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 presentation method.
grug know that when manager suggest thing, it easy for people to take it as mandate. grug try to ask questions when possible to guide thought process instead of suggesting thing. grug also try to set expectation that grug not close to problem and that grug defer to team as technical experts.
grug try to use simple language whenever possible. grug has many English as second language team members and wants to make sure they can understand grug.
- The Manager's Path by Camille Fournier
- Career Development: What It Really Means to be a Manager, Director, or VP
- Advice for Engineering Managers Who Want to Climb the Ladder
grug think that key to management is to communicate expectations clearly and set up team to meet those expectations.