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Level Up - Issue #83

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Level Up

March 14 · Issue #83 · View online
Level Up delivers a curated newsletter for leaders in tech. A project by http://patkua.com. Ideal for busy people such as Tech Leads, Engineering Managers, VPs of Engineering, CTOs and more.

The Importance of Constraints
Back in the days when I wrote code every day as part of a team, I fondly remember one team I worked on. We had a good team vibe, were super productive and delivered everything the Product Manager (PM) asked for 2 weeks ahead of plan. The PM was not used to this in their organisation and didn’t have anything else prioritised. They needed time to clarify the next priority, so suggested we spend time on what we would like — not a situation many dev teams find themselves in. Knowing we were constrained to 2 weeks, we prioritised technical improvements we never found time for such as fixing brittle automated tests, improving build speeds, and fixing low-priority, long-lived bugs.
At a different point in my career, I was working with one client team, helping them reduce their release cadence from 3-4 months to at least once every 2 weeks. That dev team was under extreme pressure, but I was curious about a nearby team on that floor — an 8-person platform team with a “Head of” role but no Product Manager. I struck up a conversation with the “Head of” over lunch, curious to find out what they were working on. He explained they were building the next generation deployment platform for teams.
I was excited by this as I felt our work on deployments would directly benefit from their work and no one had mentioned this to our team. I asked more questions about the scope of their work and their plans. Apparently, they’d been working on this for 6 months, experimenting with tools and were still in their research phase. It wasn’t clear when they would produce anything we could use.
I was puzzled by their lack of urgency and a lack of focus, particularly when I compared it to my previous experience of what we were able to accomplish in “only 2 free weeks.” I realised their management team gave them a task (i.e. build the next gen-deployment platform) but failed to provide constraints (i.e. by when).
I think about this a lot when working with teams and individuals who strive for autonomy. No one’s autonomy is unbounded. Constraints exist in the form of rules, regulations and expectations. Time is always a constraint, even if a team may not realise it.
This week, I challenge you to reflect on what constraints you or your team operate with. Are they explicit or implicit? Do you have enough or too many? Do they help or hinder? And, what might you do to influence or change them?
Enjoy this week’s edition. If you find Level Up useful, please forward to someone you think would benefit. Stay safe and healthy 🙏
Want to level up your technical leadership skills? Sign up for the online workshop, “Shortcut to Tech Leadership” or take a self-paced course at the http://techlead.academy.

What do your constraints look like?
What do your constraints look like?
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Tweets of the Week
This is a great twitter thread 🧵 about how culture emerges. It also includes a great lesson about poor communication.
Yvonne Lam
So this place of work adopted freeform channel names with no organization, and an emoji to tell people they should move their convo elsewhere. *ominous music plays*
Vulnerability is a powerful trait to demonstrate and encourage, but I fully agree that it’s not an end goal 👇👏
Elisabeth Hendrickson
@Jtf Oh, final thing: I suggest avoiding "vulnerability" as a goal. In a professional context asking people to "be vulnerable" is unfair; it can later be weaponized. You can't control that or create safety around how their words will be used later. (3/2)
Thanks for making it this far! 🤗
If you enjoyed this newsletter, please send me feedback and share with others!
Want to level up your technical leadership skills? Watch out for future dates for the Shortcut to Tech Leadership online workshop, or check out self-paced courses at the Tech Lead Academy including “Time Management for Technical Leaders” and “Fundamentals of Systems Thinking”.
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Patrick Kua, Postfach 58 04 40, 10314, Berlin, Germany