How to have a successful 1-on-1 with your boss

1on1Ah, the dreaded weekly 1-on-1!  Do you get nervous leading up to your 1-on-1 with your boss?  Are you sometimes caught off guard or feel unprepared during the discussion?  Do you ever feel like the time isn’t valuable?

Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years to ensure a successful 1-on-1 with your boss:

Before the meeting

  • Be prepared.  This meeting is regularly scheduled, and it’s important.  You have it every week so you know what it’s going to be like.  There is no reason to not be prepared for this meeting.
  • Give them a heads up.  If there is a specific topic you want to cover, give your boss a heads up a day or so beforehand.  This will give them time to think about it, rather than catching them off guard in the meeting.
  • Review the past week.  Spend 10 minutes reviewing what happened in your group over the past week.  I typically write down a bulleted list because my memory is bad.  Were there any production issues?  Be prepared to answer questions regarding any event that may have made its way to your boss via other channels.
  • No surprises.  Don’t wait for your 1-on-1 to let your boss know of any big or urgent news.  See this post for tips on managing production issues.

During the meeting

  • Be on time.  Your boss’s time is valuable, don’t disrespect them by being late.
  • Let them lead.  Even though you’ve come prepared with a list of topics and questions, let your boss lead the discussion.  Remember, people have their own agendas and interests.  If your boss doesn’t have any topics to cover then you can move on to your agenda.
  • Raise Issues.  It’s important that your boss hears about issues going on within your team from you first.  It demonstrates that you are the leader of your team and have things under control.  However, as mentioned above, you should be constantly in communication with your boss of any news on your team.  Use the 1-on-1 time to raise up project risks or other concerns, vs. news.
  • Listen.  Pay close attention to the body language and questions that your boss asks.  What is he/she really interested in?  Do they want a status update, or just brainstorm and bounce ideas off of you?  Let them lead and run with it, but find ways to weave in the questions you need answered.  If that doesn’t work, try to move onto your questions/issues after half way through.
  • Take Notes.  I find that I need to take notes in my 1-on-1 to ensure I don’t drop anything.  I usually bring a notebook to take notes vs a computer, as it demonstrates that you are focused on the meeting, and not distracted by email/chat/etc.
  • Learn their style.  You can learn so much from a person by observing their behavior in these 1-on-1 settings.  You should start to see a pattern emerge over a few weeks on what your boss likes to cover in these meetings.  If they are a seasoned manager they will be effective, but that won’t always be the case.  Use the ‘heads up’ before the meeting to ensure the topics you want addressed are covered.  Don’t wait for your boss to discuss your career goals, or potential growth opportunities, bring it up here.

After the meeting

  • Take Notes.  If you didn’t do so in the meeting, immediately afterwards jot down some notes from the meeting.  Pay attention to the topics that they raised.
  • Take Action.  Were there action items?  If so, make sure there is some progress on them by next week’s meeting!

Hopefully you find some of the tips above to be useful.  I’d love to hear other tactics that people employ to ensure they have a successful 1-on-1!

 

When ramping up new engineers, focus on the product!

Onboarding-Sign

When ramping new hires up, it’s very tempting to quickly throw them into the fire, fix bugs, start building features, etc.  After they’ve completed their orientation and filled out their paperwork, what better way for them to learn the system?

Stop!

It’s critically important that your engineers know how the business operates, who the customers are, their needs, and how your product fills that need.

The company I currently work for provides a SaaS offering that is VERY workflow intensive.  We have 20+ roles in the system with around 5 major different personas, across 3 different applications.  I made the mistake in the first paragraph and am now regretting it.  We were under high growth at the time, hiring as fast as we could, and our backlog was growing.

Now, these engineers have been on board for several months and know nothing about the product.  When building new features, they don’t have the customer in mind.

Bottom line, when onboarding new employees focus on the product and end users first, THEN have them learn the code.  This may take a week or more, depending on your product, but it will pay dividends down the road.

 

What does a Software Engineering Manager actually do?

cubiclesThe role of the Software Engineering Manager in an organization is extremely varied.  This can be a benefit to the job, in that you are wearing so many hats and there is hardly any routine from day to day.  However, without careful time management skills it can feel overwhelming.

Some of the typical roles for a SW Manager include:

  • Project Management
    • Breaking a project or work down into smaller chunks, and assigning to the right developer
    • Work with product owner to define the requirements / user stories, to ensure they are fully vetted
    • Establish schedule / estimates / delivery timelines / etc
    • Oftentimes you will be stuck in the ScrumMaster role, if no one else on the team wants to do it.
  • Performance Management
    • Performance reviews
    • Salary adjustments (bonus, raises, etc)
    • Performance plans (i.e. PIP’s)
  • Mentorship
    • 1-on-1’s
    • Career development of your team
  • Communication – You are the voice of your team, and as such need to communicate:
    • Up – Communicating status of your team up your management chain.
    • Across – Communicating with peers and other functional groups across the organization
    • Down – Communicating news, decision making to your team.
  • Recruitment – You will need to work with HR to create job postings, screen resumes, interview candidates, etc.

Note that none of the items above includes anything technical!  Depending on the size of your team you may also be serving as the lead developer / architect on the project.

 

 

Firedrill! What to do when your production system goes down

There’s no worse feeling than when your production system goes down.  The business relies on your system’s availability.  Something happened, a bug, bad code push, a customer inserted crazy data, or whatever.

Now everyone is looking at you to fix it.  You are completely dependent upon your team, operations and engineering to come together, diagnose, address root cause, and deploy a fix ASAP.

Your ass is on the line and you are pretty much helpless.

What can you do to help?

Here are my tips:

  • Make sure you have the right people on the scene.  Have at least 1 engineer and ops person on the issue together.  Open a dedicated skype room or google hangout where information can flow freely.
  • Quickly assess the severity of the service degradation.
  • Notify your management chain, product team, and various other relevant internal stakeholders ASAP.  Be honest.
  • Provide cover for the team diagnosing the issue.  Limit distractions.
  • Get out of the way.  Your job is to ensure the right people are on the issue, and the org is up to date on the status.
  • Once the issue is identified and a patch is deployed, communicate out to the org what happened.
  • Afterwards, gather the team together and hold a quick post mortem to find out what went wrong.  Some key questions:
    • What services were affected?
    • What actually happened?
    • What is the root cause?
    • How can this be prevented in the future?  Is additional logging, instrumentation needed to diagnose the issue more quickly in the future?
  • Thanks the team for their teamwork, and quick resolve.
  • Send out a service incident report to the company that is transparent.  Describe the information gathered from the post mortem and explain it in simple terms.  Remember, the rest of the company wants to know that you have things under control, and you are taking the necessary steps to ensure it won’t happen again.  Most people understand that things go wrong and people make mistakes.

What other steps do you take?

 

Ten Potential Blog Posts

Here are 10 potential blog posts that I can write about:

  1. Why I enjoy being a software manager
  2. Why I loathe being a software manager
  3. Challenging personnel situations
  4. Common situations and how to react
  5. Time management / being overwhelmed
  6. Agile / Lean adaptation
  7. Challenges in embedded vs. saas
  8. Tackling difficult conversations
  9. Architectural Discussions + Patterns
  10. Recommended Books

There are probably a ton more, but these are the ones that are on the top of my head.

 

My first post!

Hey everyone.  This is my first blog post.

I’ve been working in the software industry for 12+ years, and managing teams and people for the past 5 years.

This blog is my attempt to share my thoughts and lessons learned in the field.

My goal is to help sharpen my own thoughts by writing them down and potentially connect and share ideas with like minded folks in the future!

Thanks,

-Dave