Saturday, 5 January 2019

2018 Year In Review & 2019 Thoughts

It's that time of the year again where I look into the data for timekeeping over the past year to make sense where I spent my time, and cross-check with reality, in terms of my aspirations and goals that are split between different areas of my life by Personal & Professional areas. The idea is to gain insights from this data and re-calibrate areas of focus for the upcoming year.

Unfortunately, I haven't made much in the way of drastic progress in 2018 compared to 2017, the profile is largely the same - that my professional (work) life has consumed more time (a constant theme), my personal life in terms of family commitments are reasonably on track, and the biggest area of neglect is on my own personal, individual streams (hobbies, ideas, health and fitness). However, since I started the RAGE model experiment, I have made some good wins on other areas, so the model works, but there's still more to be done in this area - specifically around outcome-based goals.

Recap my RAGE Model (Reality, Aspirations, Goals, Expectations) Tracking

I wanted to map out the different areas of my life that defines me, split by two major areas: Personal & Professional. 
For each area, I defined some personas or streams. For example - in the Personal area, I'm a Husband, Father, Family-Man, Individual, etc. For the Professional area, I'm a professional (my main job), a colleague, etc.
For each Persona, I map out my current Reality, ideal Aspirations, and then from those two, set some Goals & align some Expectations to achieve.
Another aspect to this experiment was tracking my overall happiness and well-being. If I spent time in the areas of priority, the theory is it should count towards me being happier.
I prioritise the Personas using a simple matrix that defines how I value and rank them. I then use detailed time tracking to track the time spent doing activities for each area. The theory is that I should be focusing time and energy on the areas that reflect the ranking and priorities I set. This is the core data for analysis. For more details on how I actually do this, I am still using the manual ways as described in the original posting. Since the original version of the Personas, I'm now on version 6 which currently looks like this:
Current Persona Matrix Rankings
What this ranking does is basically show my decision-making rules: Life (Husband, Father, Family) is more important than Work (Job), which is more important than my Individual Personal streams (Hobbies, Pet Projects, Me Time, etc.). A simple-enough value system that I use to navigate through challenges.

It all looks good on the paper model, but in reality, the data highlights some food for thought that I really need to take action in 2019.

What are the big challenges for me?

What triggered my creating the RAGE model and start the detailed time tracking activities was essentially about accounting for my time, addressing the hard realities:
  • Being a professional, i.e. having a stable income stream is currently a hard reality constraint. I need an income to support my family - so this is something I should not compromise on - but I still need to control it - I should not be overworking, at the expense of my personal life interests. So the data on work hours is important. When I read about pursuing dreams, passions, etc. about breaking out, taking risks, quitting your job etc. the reality around finances, lifestyle and family stability kicks-in - it's not an easy thing to do...this is a hard reality. I have to think of ways to ensure I do my best work, provide the best service to my employer, but not let work over consume me at the expense of my other streams (which as the data shows is not actually happening). Unless I can find a way to create a passive income stream outside of my main job, this constraint is going to be around for a while. The outcome for this year must be to bring my work-hours to a decent level freeing up time to focus on my personal interests.
  • It's quite difficult to switch off from the office these days - even whilst at home, social media chats through Slack & WhatsApp are disruptions, that can't be tracked in hours - so whilst in "family mode", I must respond to chats - this time is unaccounted for. If I were to include all these moments as "work", then work-time increases...which is why this topic of "work-life integration" is becoming more mainstream.
  • The functions of resting and sleeping for a human being is something that must be respected, and can't be compromised. I maintain an average of 8 hours of sleep per night, so this is a hard constraint. Eight hours has been validated as the ideal, I can go on for a few days with less sleep, but it's not sustainable. This means that the rest of my time must be allocated around this, with Work/Professional consuming a large chunk of this.
  • Giving focus to my own personal interests as an individual, outside of being a Husband / Father / Family-Man, etc. seems like I'm sacrificing my own interests, i.e. putting myself last - and this is where the spiritual dimension of being a Muslim comes in to help - it's sometimes a struggle to deal with these frustrations.

2018 Data Insights - Tracking the Time / Hours spent

There was roughly 8,766 hours in 2018 (365.25 24-hour days), which I tracked and logged a total of 8,820 hours, which is not bad, the errors could be attributed to human error in logging (54 extra hours).

Where did the time go?

2018 Persona Hours, focus on Working Hours & Overall Happiness at work

There were 250 work days in 2018, excluding 12 public holidays. I took 34 days off as leave days, which left 216 work-days. Assuming an 8 hour workday, the capacity for work hours would be 1728 hours.
My actual work hours logged were 2155.4 hours, an excess of 427.4 hours as "overtime" which I don't really get paid for. This equates to an extra 53.4 days worked, an additional 2.5 months of extra work - which took away time from other areas, like for instance, time I could have used for my personal projects.
The table below summarises the major streams - highlighting in red, the months where work-hours exceeded the normal bounds. Overall split between life and work remains consistent with the previous two years, with my own personal individual streams taking much of the knock:

So it's clear that work-hours is an area to be controlled to free up time for allocating to personal, individual streams.

General Happiness & Well-Being at Work

I continue to track my overall happiness levels at work on a daily basis. I have also started tracking the bad days in terms of sleepless nights. In 2018 I had my fair share of stress at work that resulted in some nights where I hardly slept a wink, tossing and turning, worrying about issues at the office as well as my future in the company. This is a new stress that introduced itself last year, that I need to better manage. I tracked 12 sleepless nights, this is about 4% of the time. However, in general, the picture still looks good - I'm enjoying the work on the whole:

The last quarter of 2018 did see an increase in bad days - we had some challenges with the platform in terms of stability, new boss, changes in teams, and overall tensions and conflicts to manage & people resigning. This what triggered my blog post on workplace 3.0 last year. Additionally, my health took a bad turn as well in November. The number of "indifferent / neutral" days seems to be increasing - an area to keep track of. But in the grand scheme of things, there is more upside than downside at work, so this is still looking good! However, I do need to plan in personal time (leave days) more in the year to maintain a healthy balance.

Life in general is good, but my Personal streams are taking a knock

In general, overall - the time keeping does not contradict the priorities and rankings for my personas. I am also in a good space - health, wealth and mental space is in equilibrium (maybe this is because I've just done three weeks of of chilling out, relaxed summer vacation - back to office come Monday...). As I introduced the post earlier, on paper, I should be happy that my hours are reflecting the priorities I set & committed to...however, I can't help but feel a little down that overall my individual self interests are taking a knock...

In terms of the streams I see as my personal individual persona (i.e. the things I'm interested as person, outside of me being a Husband / Father / etc.), here's a view of the percentage focus per month (still highlighting the months where work exceeded the norm):

The positives highlighted in green:
  • Reading books - did well enough to track against my goal of 24 books, ended up completing 21 books last year. Not bad.
  • Spirituality - tracking very nicely, spent 10 days in seclusion in June, time well spent.
  • Me Time - this is time I spend by myself, thinking, exploring or even binge-watching shows ;-)

The areas of concern are:
  • Health & Fitness - dismal year. I had some health issues creep up on me last year. Not good.
  • Cycling - very little done. According to my Strava logs: 29 days, 47 hours, 585km.
  • Blogging - regressed big time - need to do at least one post a month
  • Entrepreneur - my ideas still collecting dust. Pathetic, makes me really wonder about this!

Major Outcomes for 2019: Intent

Broadly speaking, here's some outcomes I'd like to focus on this year, the detail in terms of specific targets is still tracked manually in the spreadsheet template:
  • Professional
    • Get work-hours down to a manageable level, target no more than 170 hours per month
    • Continue to build a strong leadership team thus removing me as a bottleneck, focus on strategic outcomes, less operational
    • Spread in more leave time, reduce sleepless nights to zero
  • Personal - Individual - Entrepreneur 
    • Spec out my Rage/Personametry product idea and get an MVP done, even if it's manual
    • Attend at least 6 Start-Up meet-ups this year
  • Personal - Individual - Health
    • Improve current fitness state - there should be no 0% activities in a month
  • Personal - Life & Family
    • Introduce consistency & routine into happiness building activities - at least once a month we should develop a routine around the things we enjoy doing as a family

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Am I hunting antelope or field mice?


I came across this question from Tim Ferriss' Tools of Titans during my summer reading, it's quite apt  for my first post of 2019, as I have a feeling it will probably be the question I will pivot around again and again during 2019. It features as question #13 of Tim's 17 questions that changed his life. I've lifted the description here on this blog so I can keep coming back to it.

Am I hunting antelope or field mice?

Quoted from Tools of Titans, 17 Questions that changed my life:
Newt Gingrich is one of the most successful political leaders of our time...Now that he's in the private sector, Newt uses a brilliant illustration to explain the need to focus on the big things and let the little stuff slide: the analogy of the field mice and the antelope.
A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion than spent its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death. A lion can't live on field mice. A lion needs antelope. Antelope are big animals. They take more speed and strength to capture and kill, and once killed, they provide a feast for the lion and her pride. A lion can live a long and happy life on a diet of antelope. 
The distinction is important. Are you spending all your time and exhausting all your energy catching field mice? In the short term it might give out a nice, rewarding feeling. But in the long run you're going to die. So ask yourself at the end of the day, "Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?"

Initial Thoughts?

Courtesy
Five years ago, I used this illustration to pitch my situation at work to my then bosses - I felt like a lion trapped and being tamed by a corporate structure that was stifling the value I could bring to the organisation especially in terms of working across group-silos. This pitch resulted in me being freed up from the HR constraints and kick-started my journey into consulting which lasted about 4.5 years...

Then having spent enough time consulting, it felt more and more that I ended up hunting field mice again (consultants were excluded from big meaty execution decisions and did not have a seat at the table), so I went back into permanent with the same company...I am getting my share of antelopes now with a seat at the table, but more often I find myself  being dragged into field mice problems. My solution to this problem is through effective delegation and empowering my people, the challenge is that my peers and bosses have trouble appreciating this tactic...what I view as field mice problems is not always seen in the same light by the people that further up in the food chain - so maybe I'm not a lion after-all ;-) or maybe I need to find another pride of lions with the same mindset as I...??

It might well be that my current job is not the antelope I'm searching for...that my real antelope is still out there evading me, and could it be  that my fear is the only thing that is holding me back??

So that's thoughts on professional life...in terms of family life, this story could also be applied as well. Being a husband and a father to three children, whilst very rewarding on levels that can't really be measured or quantified well, is probably the most challenging experience one can have...in my case it's about letting go of being a control-freak, not sweating the small stuff (field mice) and focus on the bigger important stuff...whilst I'm an expert project manager in the professional world, the project of a family and raising children is THE most intense project to manage in life...

2019 must be the year I either bag an antelope or at least make strides in identifying bigger game...My RAGE model and my focus on the 80/20 principle in all aspects of my work and life are tools that are helping me on this journey - and if I were to assess my progress since starting with my RAGE model tracking, then things don't look bad at all.

My gut tells me that 2019 is going to be an interesting year for me professionally...

Monday, 26 November 2018

Workplace 3.0


On one of the evenings last week, my sleep broke I at 1AM thinking about stuff happening at the office workplace, thoughts raced through my head about my own experiences of the workplace over the years (reflecting on working in Europe versus Africa), and reflecting on my recent transformation going back to about six years now, where I took deliberate action to focus on the deeper meaning of the workplace - i.e. keep my biases in check, resist the temptation for passing value-judgements, and stop with cloning a European/British work ethic/practices in Africa.... I reflected on my public description on LinkedIn, currently my core value system for my workplace - am I still serious about these values, and are they in conflict with the organisation?:

Delight | Engineer | Innovate | Lead | Empower | Fun 
My core principles / work ethic as a technology leader for small and large teams alike:
Aim to delight customers through my own uniqueness to handling engagements, taking pains not to force processes and practices dogmatically, instead take the time to work with customers to fully appreciate the system (cultural, people, organisational & engineering) dynamics. Delight by not being too presumptuous, always staying the humble, attentive listener. 
Engineer practical, workable solutions, avoiding complexity as far as possible, keeping it real and contextual. Innovate by expanding on the current state-of-play that happens to be as-is, in-process behaviours (focus on incremental evolutionary progress than big-bang changes).  
Continuously foster this innovation through Leading by example, taking time out to appreciate feedback and through working with people at all levels. 
Empower individuals and teams to follow-through on their own in becoming world-class, whilst overseeing their trajectory (coach, mentor, guide but never the dictator) to reach the desired goals.  
Most importantly create a workplace that makes it Fun to work, being part of a story that's much bigger than myself.

And from this, I started to think about typical conflicts in the workplace: culture clashes, mindset challenges, behavioural incompatibilities and especially the new dynamics of working with a diverse group of younger people, including the leadership & organisational transformation needed to take the workplace to the next level, given our changing modern times...where adaptation is critical to survive the next wave.

So I came up with a term "workplace 3.0" at about 2AM, jotted some notes in my journal to follow-up during the week as I thought I was onto something, and went back to sleep. Super excited about my new term, I thought of ways to describing workplace 3.0. Alas, as all bright ideas go, a quick google for "workplace 3.0" to sanity check my founding claim to the term, shows up a few results - interestingly enough, this site seems to be the one that coined the term up first, and also interesting to note that we're thinking along the same lines, whilst other sites seem to describe workplace 3.0 more from an aesthetic architectural vision of the future in terms of office layout.

I prefer to focus workplace 3.0 more on the human aspect - working with people thus creating value and getting shit done...and so wanted to explore the scenario where you might have found yourself wondering what's happening to the workplace, that you're perhaps been scratching your head wondering about how to adapt to the changing workplace, perhaps reminiscing about the good old days....and really wondering if you're a culture fit, or have become a dinosaur not fit to survive the modern workplace??

How does one describe workplace 3.0 / #wp30 / WP3.0 / #workplace3.0?

Here's my draft brainstorm attempt by highlighting conflicts arising today ...Remember my bias is technology software development in the ever changing industry of Digital Video Technologies and I've been working in Africa...
If you find yourself with at least 20 years work experience and you're often thinking back to the good old disciplined way (military) of doing things, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you love sticking to dates and deadlines and all you want is a status update from engineering, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you think software development is commodity that anyone can write code, and easily outsource to Asia/Eastern Europe, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you treat software developers as code monkeys, that you as the customer don't have time to explain or hear ideas from the techies, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you are driven by role titles and seniority and refuse to interact or come to the level of someone who's low on the org chart, then keep staying in your ivory tower because WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you the kind of manager or leader that likes to know every detail and micromanage, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If your default mode is not one of trust, but rather suspicion or doubt, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you believe you're superior to younger (inexperienced "green") people in their 20s or 30s by way of your work experience, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you prefer cracking the whip and all you care about is execution and delivery to a project plan or date, then WP3.0 is probably no place for you... 
If you find yourself uncomfortable with diversity (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationalities, etc.) then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you feel you own your technology development team, and not see the tech team as a vital partner & contributor to strategic outcomes, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you lose patience with empowering your people, instead taking over and just getting the job done (and have no problem with "the end justifies the means") - you reign teams in - then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If age makes you uncomfortable, that a person in his/her 20s/30s can be an inspiring leader with senior management responsibilities, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If all you want is a status update without taking time to ask nicely or care to have a conversation with your engineers, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you strongly advocate that you come to work to work and don't care about developing meaningful relationships with your peers and colleagues, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you're someone who encourages people to "stay in their lane", then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you can't seem to break the habit of referring to people as "resources" and find ways to justify calling people "resources", then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you feel insecure with the intelligence of young people being greater than yours, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you can't allow yourself to be vulnerable and expose your humanity in the workplace (let your guard down now and again, drop your shield), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you find yourself unwilling to be candid with a dose of empathy (radical candor), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you expect perfect planning and up-front design, you get extremely uncomfortable with waiting for the "last responsible moment" for decision-making, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If experimentation makes you nervous, or you can't embrace failure (and learning from failure), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If "move fast and break things" just scares you, then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If your people says "I got this" and you hesitate showing a modicum of doubt or uncertainty, then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If asked to "embrace mess or chaos" makes your skin crawl, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If your default is "I sent the email, don't talk to me unless you read the email or document", then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If taking time out to have some fun, cut-some-slack, causes you stress about lost productivity, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you demand 100% capacity and productivity all the time, and can't come to accept the theory of constraints, or that you're working with humans and not machines, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you expect paper qualifications over experience or unwilling to take a chance on the outliers (i.e. don't fit the mould), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you have zero tolerance with investing time, energy and emotional effort in building self organising teams, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you keep pulling your team to your past experiences, or past superstar teams or comparing with "best practices" world-class teams, instead of embracing the local culture (Africa is different, and this difference is a good thing), then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you find it hard to accept that the workplace is becoming more like the tribes from "Survivor", that people seek out tribal leaders, and that winning people's hearts is a good strategy for leadership - that natural selection can't happen in teams - then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you feel you can't allow your people to diversify, even if it means leaving your employ for something else that aligns with their own personal aspirations, then WP3.0 is probably not for you... 
If you seek out people to blame or reprimand when issues occur (written warnings favoured as actions) instead of acknowledging the issue and learning from it, impatient on building trust and commitment instead prefers  fear-mongering, then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If you have to ask why must we celebrate accomplishments or minor achievements, give kudos and recognition to people - when it's their job and get paid for it - then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If you value your positional authority and expect compliance, instead of taking time to listen, to really listen and solicit feedback from your people-on-the-ground - i.e. you don't have the time or inclination - then WP3.0 is probably not for you...
If you cannot admit as a leader, you've made a mistake or taken the wrong decision, for fear of embarrassment or see it as a sign of weakness (and not humility), then WP3.0 is not for you...
That's it for now....if you have some ideas or comments, please share some your examples of the behaviours in conflict with what #workplace 3.0 could be... 

Sunday, 2 September 2018

2018 Life/Work Balance Review Jan-Aug


Three quarters of 2018 is now behind us, so I decided to look back and review where and how my time has been spent so far, looking back from what I last set out to do in January this year, where I reviewed my 2017 time tracking in this post. I wasn't doing a good job this year in reviewing my personal life/work goals, the months flew by - time to re-calibrate.

Changes to my Personal RAGE model

In March 2018, I revisited my personas, see below. The main change to the model was leaving my own consulting company AS3 behind, as I took on a job as a permanent employee. I also decided to focus my values more on family, putting my own individual personal aspirations somewhat at a lower priority. The matrix looked like this:


Reviewing Personal Goals from January

Earlier this year, I noted down the following. Without looking at the data insights, the comments reflected in italics:
  1. Find a way to reduce work hours to a point that it is actually sustainable, and not be the only thing that consumes me (even if I'm having a good time at work). Goal is to maintain a consistent level of 168 hours maximum per month on work. Need to do this by building an awesome management team, foster leadership & responsibility downstream. Implement behaviours from "Turn this Ship Around". Goal not met, my work hours are still quite high.
  2. Create space for Personal endeavours, focusing on leisure activities as well as health & fitness. 
    1. My 3D printing experiments seized in 2017. Start again. Not started
    2. Cycling virtually non-existent in 2017. Start again. Only starting now, Sept!
    3. I have a boxed Lego Robotics Mindstorm set waiting for me (gifted this toy for my birthday) Still boxed!
    4. Five programming books to read and new languages to code - waiting for a year, unopened. Where are these books anyway, out-of-sight, out-of-mind??
    5. Read 24 books this year. In 2017 I completed just 9 books of the 38 I'd planned to read! Going okay, 65% there
    6. Create the software for my RAGE tracking tool. I wish!
  3. Continue to nurture the family time to be as memorable & enjoyable as possible. Looking good!

What's the data showing?

Sometimes the big picture is not always a good thing. When summarising the last 8 months, it seems my Life/Work balance seems pretty normal - good percentage of split between Life/Work, where:
Life >> Work, so all must be good right??


But something feels off...

Why does it feel like I'm spending way too much time doing work? Roughly speaking, employees average monthly hours in South Africa should be around 168 hours per month. So what do my work hours look like?

So it seems my work hours are exceeding normal expected hours - although, now that I'm at executive level, it is expected to put in the extra hours, so I'm still trying to come to terms with this and really need to figure out how to still deliver on the expectations and keep the hours to my own personal target of maximum 168 hours - so with 4 months remaining, I really got to solve this puzzle somehow. When I look back at these numbers, sometimes I can't help but feel I would've been better off financially if I was still consulting and billing-by-the-hour :-)

So what if I'm working way too many hours - as long as my work keeps me happy right?? That I should be having fun, and enjoying it right?? Good thing I'm still keeping track of my daily feelings journal for work - let's see if my overall happiness sentiment is still in check??

Am I enjoying the Work? ...Yes, it seems so!

Looking at my sentiment tracking data, it does seem pretty green, not much red - so that should be a good thing. Although a cause for concern is that recently, the enjoyment in terms of positive feelings is being overtaken by more of an indifferent/neutral sentiment, that is, I can neither say I'm having a really terrible time, nor can I say I'm having an absolutely awesome time either. This could be due to a few factors: organisational transformation, people challenges and pressures of strategy changes &  new delivery challenges hitting all areas of the company - my personal challenge is never to fall into complacency or mediocrity. I'm also challenged with personal leave days, so back when I was consulting, I took some personal time pretty regularly - but from April this year, these personal leave days have drastically reduced compared to previous years. I'm becoming increasingly mindful of this, to the point of potentially taking some unpaid leave... 


Overall Breakdown of Time per Area of Life

It's not all bad - given that I did prioritise my Family-First value ahead of my own Individual needs, the areas are mostly green. However, I do need to move invest more on the personal Health & Fitness areas, and have to think really hard about investing more time and energy into the idea of breaking out as an Entrepreneur. I've got ideas building up on my backlog, with absolutely zero time invested in taking them anywhere...On my individual need for improving my spirituality, 2018 has been a very good year...On the family-side, it is still quite the challenge to dedicate real one on one time with my individual family members, I've got more work to do with 1:1 time with my wife, outside of the family time we spend together with the kids...and I got to get back to more writing time for my blog, although some close friends say I should spend less time blogging about my time tracking and instead use it for 1:1 time with my wife!



Sunday, 1 July 2018

Experiments with XL: Extreme Leadership (Paired Management)

I recently (in early June) took some time off from life and work, decided to be completely unplugged for ten full days, with no access to any electronics whatsoever. This break from work coincided with the last 10 days of Ramadan, a practice called Itikaf, which is about secluding (surrendering) one's self to God by living day/night within the precincts of the Masjid boundaries, where one is engaged in various acts of worship, including self reflection, self-awareness & meditation. Itikaf is about leaving it all behind, including your own family.  I had actually made my decision sometime in April, a feeling that suddenly inspired me as something I just needed to do, without too much thought or planning. I immediately fired off an email at 5AM informing by boss (the CEO) of my upcoming intent, not really seeking his approval - I merely informed him that I'll be away from the office, completely unreachable for 10 full days, a personal life quest I needed to fulfil...thankfully, the boss didn't get in my way ;-)

When people, both friends and colleagues included, found out about my leave plans, they immediately enquired how I was going to manage the work topic. I lead a technology team responsible for an online video platform for DStv (providing live/linear streaming channels as well as video-on-demand Catch Up services, we also support a major part of the business with a full digital/web platform infrastructure). Around that time, my teams were working flat out to stabilise the platform, in preparation for the FIFA world cup. We will only be ready to "freeze" a week before world cup - how could I possibly leave the team at such a critical period??  On top of that, my division was part of an ongoing group-wide organisational restructure, in those two weeks, there was much HR work to do, including rationalising job roles across various technology divisions, job grading, role & people profiling, as well as one-on-one consultations. How could I leave the team leaderless through this period?? And to add a cherry on the top, whilst I would be on leave, the group's yearly Ops Review would've taken place, I would need to input into this stream as well.  As if this wasn't enough, there were concerns that my leadership team was fairly new, people had some doubts...

I wasn't really concerned by these, instead I saw it as the perfect opportunity to test my leadership team. Whilst a fairly new team that's been only recently formally announced, they are still in between the storming/norming phase (even though it's been over a year since they're under my leadership transformation). I wanted to test out a few things:

  • I'm not seen as a bottleneck, if there's a crisis my leadership team can manage well without me
  • My leadership team can get along and do what's best for the customer/business
  • The leadership team and rest of the foot soldiers can continue with the template set out for them
  • My boss and fellow exec members get to know & learn about my senior managers
  • My team's overall readiness level to tackle execs (a world they're usually buffered from)
So I came up with this idea: Instead of leaving one single person as my cover or 2IC, I would take a page out of XP's (Extreme Programming) Pairing Developers and rather instead PAIR MY MANAGERS UP, called it "Paired Management" or "Extreme Leadership" XL ;-)

I did not have time to do any research on this concept, but it felt like the right thing to do - we've been doing paired leadership in our technical / DevOps operations space, a sort of failover, having a primary / secondary leader for redundancy, so how bad could it get?? (I've still not researched this topic, hence my reaching out on LinkedIn for commentary).

I also did not want to single out one particular person as my 2IC, for fear of sending out the wrong signal in terms of succession planning - and I also felt that no single person was ready yet for that role. I did however concede to having a single point of contact for the business or my boss, the go-to, only in the event of a crisis - everything else was shared between my leadership team. I am also quite reluctant to appoint a 2IC whenever I'm away, I want to grow a team that can self manage, self organise amongst themselves to lead as the situation demands, respect meritocracy instead of having someone assigned by false attributions. I also expect my direct reports to develop a sense of maturity, mutual respect & appreciation for each others strengths, weaknesses, remain humble, remove egos & sense of hubris, converging on what's best for the customer, etc.

My boss asked for a 2IC - I said no, not really. I'm going to pair my managers to represent me, but in the extreme case of a crisis, you can have a go-to person. My out of the office email message contained similar message. 

How did I go about Pairing Managers?

So I needed to pair up my managers, but I had an odd number to deal with: Five (I'm still looking to hire a Technical Operations/Integrations manager, ping me if you're interested). Four males (strong technical), One female (agile project management). Since this is South Africa, as much as I'd like to ignore the topic of "race", it is actually still an issue in this country (I was surprised to see that not much had really changed in the workplace after returning home from working abroad for a decade). So "race" really can't be ignored in my humble opinion. I have two white male Afrikaans-speaking managers, two black African males, and one white English female, and I'm an Indian (6 generations in South Africa, British by naturalisation).

So I decided to pair the male managers up by race (mixed black/white), and as well as assigned pairing the most likely people who tended to rub against each other - i.e. where some healthy tension exists. This was deliberate on my part, my experiment to see if any conflicts arise and how they'd deal with it. The odd female manager was left to arbitrate and manage conflicts between the pairs if needed, be the voice of reason, as well as my aide for feedback on the experiment, as well as handle administrative finance & other operational responsibilities.

Each pair would spend a week in my shoes. Attending the necessary exec meetings, handling business communications, etc.  In the two weeks that I'd be on leave, it would have exposed all my direct reports to a reasonable chunk of my responsibilities - a view into my world. It would also expose my boss & fellow peers to my direct reports.

Simple Rules for Paired Management

In terms of rules of engagement, I basically expressed my feelings that as senior managers I expect a modicum of maturity and respect, highlighting the following:
  • Always be respectful to each other
  • Do not openly contradict or challenge another's view in a public forum outside of technology
  • Handle your differences internally but appear united when representing me at my exec meetings
  • If you're unable to sort your differences,  seek the arbitrator assigned for counsel (the female manager)
  • Note that the pair are my substitutes (you're representing me). If one speaks or is asked to respond to something in a wider forum, the other should follow and resist the urge to disagree
  • Leave your egos outside - when dealing with a conflicting view or decisions - always fall back to what is best for the customer.
  • Two brains are better than one
  • You're not alone - lean on each other for support
Suffice to say, not all my direct reports were comfortable with my pairing approach. One even voiced strong opinions against this pairing, in favour of just leaving a single person as 2IC or stand-in, will avoid all the energy lost in fighting with each other...

I did not relent. I can't have my direct reports not being in harmony. Healthy conflict and tension is good to a certain point, but if I have a leadership team who are incompatible with each other, then I have a much bigger problem on my hands. I also felt quite strongly the benefits of pairing far outweigh the other, just as the benefits of paired programming is much greater than just producing solid code (builds team rapport, encourages dialogue and collaboration, builds mutual respect, etc.). Pairing my managers up, I was hoping similar positives as seen from Paired Programming...

The Result??

My ten days went by, and all was well at the office. The pairing worked well enough, although in retrospect, maybe 10 days is just too little?? Anyway, the group as well as individual feedback was that it went well - managers have gained some insight into my world, and were all too eager to give it back ;-) No serious conflicts. The technical platform performed well enough - no crisis. My boss was happy, there were no burning issues. HR was super impressed by my team stepping up to handle all the HR processes...positive feedback all round.

Was it a resounding success?? Probably not a resounding 100% earth shattering success -  but I do believe it has indeed planted the seeds for further experimentation. I know that no one else in the company has ever tried that before, so I am forging some new ways...there's definitely ways to improve going forward (like daily stand-ups for management team, getting my boss to interact more with my direct reports, exposing my direct reports to wider forums, empowering & delegating more).

If you've had experience with "Paired Management" please share with me...

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Update: Reflections on my career in Software Engineering & Management

Two years ago around this time, I explored my progress with respect to my career choices by performing some self-reflection, by asking myself some searching questions. Later I shared my findings on this blog, in this post: Reflections on my career in the hope my story could resonate with people who may be experiencing similar challenges. I'm glad I did so since people did actually reach out, thanking me for the post & providing feedback.

Anyway, two years have since passed since I last shared the cross-road I found myself at, since I'd started my journey with this path in mind...

a) Software Team Lead -> Software Manager -> Senior Manager -> VP -> Director -> CEO
b) Principal Engineer -> Senior Principal -> Technical Director -> CTO -> CEO
b') Principle Engineer -> Architect -> Senior Architect -> Director -> CTO -> CEO
c) Technical Project Manager -> Senior Project Manager -> Program Manager -> Director -> CEO

...but instead found myself being in the technical project management space for too long, that people started naturally profiling me as the "rockstar program manager" (check out my LinkedIn recommendations and you'll immediately see why). Whilst this is a great place to be (don't get me wrong, I think a career in Project Management is one of the most versatile, lucrative and flexible professions out there, I highly encourage the move), for me, I felt I'd learnt and experienced enough, that I didn't see myself doing that for much longer. I did enjoy the project leadership, but I wanted more. Another factor that was causing me anxiety was that my role as a management consultant was getting a bit boring, what I imagined it to be versus the reality were not fully aligned. My time was fully consumed, leaving me little time to explore my own ideas to look at new ideas/products (my own start-up), I might as well have been a permanent employee - I was living an illusion, in reality I was basically a "perm-tractor". I had built up enough personal equity, credibility to enjoy a decent level of referent power to indirectly influence outcomes in my favour, I still wanted more - I wanted to feel more alive than being a neutral facilitator (which in itself I found quite rewarding but also quite energy-draining).

So what did I do? I went back to my RAGE model, here's what I had for my persona as a professional:

  • As a software professional, I would like to learn & grow, seek out individuals, companies and interactions, to reach heights of excellence, so that I can not only enjoy the profession, but take me to new opportunities & experiences. I want to surround myself with people that motivate me, journey together to grow to the next level.
  • Want to work with inspiring, motivated leaders that I can learn from. Want to surround myself with deeply technical, bright people. Want to work with people who know what they're doing or unafraid to take chances. Want to work with disruptors, people unafraid to push boundaries, challenging status quo. Want to work with people who are equally, if not, more motivated than me. Want to learn from people so that I can grow and do my own thing one day. Want to be with fellow professionals that will help take me to the next level. Want to work on projects and products that are interesting and cutting edge, not "me-too, copy-cat products. Want to stay at the cutting edge of software, be involved in the next wave like cloud services, mobile app development, car infotainment / self-driving cars, drone software, cloud, etc. Want a chance to start-up my own business in ideas in product development, services-space like crowd-based testing, etc.
  • As a professional, I want to run a company, lead my own division. I believe the experiences and skills acquired over the years puts me a good position to do this, regardless of technology stack. I haven't been successful in launching my own start-up, so the best place would be to go back to corporate, be part of story much bigger than myself, and get the experience I need.
I also came to the conclusion that being a specialist is not a bad thing, so I'm now settled with the fact that I'm a Digital TV Technology Specialist, so I should just focus my energy in this area. I can still keep abreast of new technologies, but the road to my continued success is to build upon this experience - the rest is noise - if an opportunity comes my way for investing or if there is something truly exciting with a lot of upside, then I still might consider it ;-)

So what's happened in the last two years?
I made a decision to leave project leadership behind. I explored opportunities that aligned with my aspiration of running my own division. I took a chance by breaking the perception that I'm the guy to call in to rescue failing projects - landing an engagement as interim GM/CTO. A year later, I decided to leave consulting (248 weeks consulting) altogether and enter the corporate world as a permanent employee, taking on a CTO/Head of Technology role :-)

So my path has indeed played out a little different but now seems to be back on track:
Software Engineer > Senior Engineer > Technical Project Manager > Senior Project/Program Manager > Principal Engineer > Program Manager > Management Consultant > CTO (now) > CEO (next)

Lessons learnt / myths busted?
Who says you can't change tracks in between (especially switch to project management) and switch back to technology leadership? It can definitely be done!
Be prepared to Leave it All Behind as long as you believe you're heading in the general direction you seek (maintain your guiding compass always).
Take time to process your situation with Life/Work by investing the time in self-reflection & planning. I found my RAGE model to be a constant source of guidance. It does take some self-control, but it will be worth it in the end, just keep at it...
It is indeed possible to start from humble beginnings and change your life for a better outcome...