Let's share some thoughts © Through-the-nozzle

Through-the-nozzle aims to share personal thoughts on innovative and impacting topics I've met as well as on day to day subjects such as management, people & culture.

Alignment at scale - Managing flows rather than perimeters

Following a series of articles on “how to set good objectives”, I wanted to share a reflection on the toolbox we are setting up at the moment to manage alignment at scale.
Disclaimer: more than a suite of tooling, it’s rather a sharing of the core concept we are developing.

As stated in a previous post, at Veepee, we are experimenting the OKR journey for several years now and we are still learning from it. This toolbox, in its case, is in addition to the OKRs. Hum… a first question could be (should be) asked: why do we need a complement to the OKR framework?

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Learning curve on OKRs @ Veepee

Veepee has been engaged in a profound transformation for 3 years now. #1 Building a strong tech team, #2 rebuilding the entire information system to regain the ability to support businesses, #3 keep delivering business value and, on top of that, #4 become a group through the merger of the acquired companies. Such a transformation is full of pitfalls, of tests, of successes and learnings. One of the key lessons we have learned that I wanted to share through this article, is that it requires a solid framework to align all teams together and achieve objectives.

As part of our series of articles on “how to set good objectives”, we will deep dive here into the OKRs experience at Veepee. Trying to be as transparent as possible, with what we have tried, what we have done well and what we are trying to improve. You may feel frustrated at times as I cannot go into detail on all the topics developed here, but for sure, some of them will result in dedicated articles for further development.

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When lack of direction & alignment kills trust

I’m used to saying that trust is at the basis of every efficient team or organization. It’s an enabler to healthy debates, clear communication, and relationships that develop a lot of energy to deliver the expected value.

It’s not easy to build this kind of trust. It takes time. It takes true exchanges and proof of commitment. It asks availability and resilience. But once in place, you succeed in creating the environment that helps being yourself, to put on the table any ideas, to try and make mistakes.


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Take a break - Learning from an eight-month journey

End 2018 was a great moment. My family and I decided to take an eight-month break in our professional life to explore other parts of ourselves together. Couple of months after the end of this journey, it’s time to put words on this and explain why it was such a great opportunity to experience this moment of life.

This project has been in our minds for a long time but postponed many times for wrong reasons. As explained in {Through-the-nozzle} in a nutshell, it was never the right moment. The fact we’ve always devoted a lot of time to our professional life and worked with envy was part of this excuse. But once my eyes opened to what I really wanted, a new period of time began where I could think in a different way.

This was the opportunity to analyze more deeply the feelings I felt and thus, get to know myself better. That changed my way of thinking from this moment. Recognizing our feelings to better understand a situation, to grasp its impact on you, to react in a more appropriate way. Understanding that my main brake to this project was the fear of experiencing something else, something deeply different, allowed me to transform this feeling into a strength throughout all the journey.

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Don't be half of yourself

My thoughts lined up during a conversation with Audrey, a 65-year-old woman, with whom we shared 15 days of life at the closest to nature in New Zealand during our family journey.

“We are the only species that have the ability to be unique, and we put in place a system that formats us all in the same way. From school to the professional environment.”

This is surely one of the main questions of our existence and the hardest, knowing who we are and being who we are. This is a full topic on the personal side of the life. I will focus here on the professional side.

First of all, let’s go through what does it mean to be half of ourselves. This is the moment when we do not express what we think for fear of what others might think. This is this moment when we feel stressed, angry or vulnerable and we hide this feeling to our collaborators. This is this moment we act as someone else to please others and avoid conflicts.

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Measuring 'Time to Value' to accelerate customer's first happiness

A first search to reach a product website. Then create an account, define preferences, explore the product. Try to understand how it works. Try to understand if this can solve your problem, what this product can do for you … Already more than two minutes on the website… Not sure what you can really get… Back to google to do another search.

The use of New technologies develops a strange behavior on the customer’s side. They want a quick answer. As with WhatsApp and Co, as soon as the text is sent, an answer is expected. Or with parcel deliveries, once the order confirmed, the delivery race is a game changer. Today, Time is an element that has a high value, it is better to avoid wasting time on your prospects.

As a customer ourselves, we have the same behavior. We need to quickly understand what this product can bring to us. But as a member of an IT company, do we measure the time needed to answer our customers’ expectations? This is the ‘Time to Value’. A metric that is not often tracked by product teams who prefer many other metrics that matters for the business. But measuring Time to Value helps to stay close to customer’s needs.

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Remote work - let's see it as an opportunity

This is good news. After several decades of hesitation, it’s coming. Increasingly widespread today, about a third of office workers work one (or more) day(s) on remote. And enthusiasm is not limited to the millennials generation, the interest is inter-generational and involves many activities, not only tech companies.

Whatever the model chosen for remote work, the evolution is launched. But, behind the scenes, it seems long for a concept that brings its share of benefits. This appears to have been democratized in the discussions, but in practice, companies that set up remote work are still acting as precursors.

With these decades of “testing”, a lot of learning has been done allowing to draw a pretty nice picture of remote work. It brings many benefits, for both the organization and team members, that let us think it should spread at a quicker rate.

  • Employee well-being: improves the balance between work and personal life by providing more flexibility in the organization of the day.
  • Stress reduction: by eliminating commuting time between home and office, which is a major stress factor.
  • Quality of the work environment: improves the quality of the work done by reducing external disturbances and offering longer time of concentration.
  • Talent management: remote work helps to improve employee retention, reduce absenteeism and improve the company’s attractiveness.
  • Ecological impact: this is not a direct benefit for the company but for all of us. Fewer commutes means less traffic, less congestion, less pollution.

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Are Data and Innovation organizations part of the forest?

“We must be an innovative and data-driven company”. Let’s go! This is the mantra of many companies today. All have in mind the GAFA and Co model where innovation is a key driver in the organization and data is everywhere. Looking closer, how could it be different? The concept is not really new, from the first time, companies need to be more creative than their competitors and need to measure their performance and know their customers. The only difference is that nowadays, everything goes faster. It’s clearly now “about fast companies eating slow ones”.

The result of this mantra? New directions and management teams have been created to address these areas. So, it is common to find, with the product/engineering organization, a data organization and an innovation organization. Each one with dedicated teams that can be schematized as follow (many others organizations are possible):

  • Data organization: Data Governance, Data Collection, Data Engineering, Data Analytics, Data Science…
  • Innovation organization: Sourcing, Technical team, Innovation advocate…

Organizations are now able to have dedicated people working and delivering on these fundamental subjects. But does it work that way and deliver value as expected?

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Book - Turn the ship around

This is the third book in the review series. “Turn the ship around” from David Marquet, a USS submarine captain who describes how he transformed the way the crew runs the submarine. A must read as it’s related to a lot of management situations we encounter. Many thanks for the recommendation.

With the learning of his previous experiences in the US military system, David Marquet noted that making followers can’t succeed in building a sustainable organization that can withstand the leader’s departure and achieve excellence. When he took on the role of Captain aboard the nuclear submarine USS Sante Fe, he decided to turn the leadership usual model, as taught in military schools, upside down. This is how the transition from the leader-followers model to a leader-leaders model began.

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Chasing management debt

Management debt is a concept we rarely hear about. Much less than its technical counterpart. Much less than all the debates around the managers role in organizations and the value they can bring. -The first time I read about this concept was in the words of Ben Horowitz.-
But whatever how they are called - manager, leader -, they handle organizational, relational and human flows that are essential in the organization and can enable great commitments if doing well … or create long-term pitfalls.

“Every seed that has been planted will become a tree. Healthy or sick.”

Many topics, at any given time, may seem insignificant or even, not be seen by the teams. But over time, especially as the company grows, every little problem, if not addressed, will lead to a higher and more costly problem to manage.
This is exactly the same way followed by the technical debt. Shortcuts that have been made to save time or just because they seem superficial at this stage, will undoubtedly lead to a major issue later.
With management debt, these issues can be as damaging as people’s disengagement, low level of commitment, resignation, or inability to build the team to reach your goals. And the enemy here is time. The longer the issue lasts, the more it takes to turn the situation around. How long does it take to move from the worst place to work to the best place to work? How long does it take to share all together the initial values lost with the time?

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Reviving our culture

More than ever, a company’s culture is an essential element of its performance. Well anchored, it’s a facilitator of daily life that makes it possible to direct people towards the good actions for the company. To better understand what the levers of a culture can be, I share below a quick overview of the culture analysis framework we’ve made last year with the management team. The objective was to develop people engagement, create an attractive environment and focus on team efficiency, through maturity and autonomy.

Our first impression was that over the years, there has been a loss of culture within the teams. The original vision, the original spirit, was a bit lost due to the quick growth of the company, natural turnover, and the many changes that have occured in the organization over the years. We also truly believe that the culture is the foundation of autonomy and we needed to build an ecosystem to help the teams gain in maturity.

To deliver this analysis, we defined a list of levers that could help support our culture, and designed a model to explore each of them further. Pretty simple, this model allowed us to have a full insight and make the right decisions.

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Book - The hard thing about hard things

This is probably the best management book I have ever read (and the most difficult to synthesis). Ben Horowitz recounts in his book the hard times he encountered during his career, especially as the founder CEO of Loudcloud and Opsware. It’s not about theories and models to follow. It’s about real situations, thoughts and decisions he had to make. Read this book send you in his mind when he had to make choices where there were no good choices, when he made mistakes, when he decided or not to sell the company, or when he managed his executives team.

Difficult to synthesis because it’s composed of a lot of personal stories and analyses, and getting the main ideas would lead to rewriting the entire book. However, I noted some ideas among a lot. But again, it’s really worth reading the whole book.

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Leader or ... Leaders?

“Teams should continue to perform without the leader”. This may seem excessive, but organizations need proactive teams instead of those acting under the only-one-leader schema. I would even say that we will not be able to build an efficient organization if teams always refer to the management to act.

At first, it may seem the right way (or the easy one) to be the guy who has the right vision and give all the directions to the team. It works. But in this model, what about team engagement, what about autonomy, what about responsibility, and what about resilience? Is the team able to continue to deliver good result without the leader?

Getting empowered teams may bring a lot of benefits once we created the right ground for them to fully take their role:

  • Many qualified leaders close to the operations who know the actions to take in their domain
  • A higher sense of Teamwork
  • Improved employee morale and commitment to the mission
  • An increase in productivity and quality of the work done
  • A sense of responsibility
  • A way to achieve excellence by having many leaders

With such teams, we can feel a sense of uselessness or imposture once the organization in place and people fully responsible. But for sure it’s not. You continuously need to feed this empowerment, define the objectives and expectations, and of course, control of the work done is still an important part of your day to day. You are always accountable for your teams’ delivery.

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The 'management hat' that suits me

A 15-year learning path! During which time, I’ve grown up from software engineer to tech leader then manager. First, as an operational manager and then as an executive manager. Moving from the tech path to the management one is not a natural way even if it was like a norm or like the only way to evolve for a lot of companies in the past (and even today…). The set of skills is not the same. Management is not, and should not be, the only way for tech leaders to evolve. I’ve gone to the management path by choice. I love tech and having my hands in it. But I feel even better designing the organization flows and taking care of collaborators.

I’ve learned (/discovered) a lot during this path and I wanted to summarize what became my key principles as a manager. You may disagree with some of them or find them obvious. This is not a source of truth, just the ones I try to use with my teams.

# Define the vision, spread it again and again
There is no magic recipe for involving people. But one point I truly believe is you won’t succeed until you have clearly defined where you want to take them. What they are working for. This is especially true when you are building a distributed organization. One of the main pillars in this case is autonomy. And to let your teammates being able to take this autonomy, they should know where they need to go. Only once is not enough. The vision should be spread as often as possible to keep the teams focus on what matters.

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Does the work have to make sense?

Does the work I do make sense? I have this tough question in mind since a coaching session a couple of years ago. Let’s try to put words on this.

I see two concepts the sense of work gathers. The first one is more relative to our day to day vision. The importance we give to the company values, the cooperation with our teammates and the missions we have to accomplish. Do you take pleasure doing your job day after day? Are you challenged by these missions? Do you evolve in this environment and make your team grow? are several questions that can help understand your satisfaction level about this concept. I would name it the sense of accomplishment.

Following this coaching session, I took a step back and started looking at the second concept. The importance of the company activity as a whole. Does the purpose of my day to day work make sense for me? Does it have an impact on values I believe in? It’s what I call the sense of purpose.

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Book - The Phoenix project

In addition to this blog, I decided to write a short text about the books I appreciated most. This first exercise was full of learning. Writing a text about a book involves going deeper into the main ideas, revisiting some passages and summarizing the concepts described. For me, it’s a very convenient way to properly assimilate the essence of the book.

So the first book I wanted to share is one I read a few months ago “The Phoenix Project” from Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford. It’s an easy-to-read novel about IT & DevOps which uses a story to explain some key concepts about DevOps. On the same way that “The Goals” from Eliyahu M. Goldratt did in the 80’s. Even though “The Phoenix Project” was written some years ago, the key ideas are still valuable for a lot of us and still describe the reality in many companies. I strongly recommend that you read it if you want an overview on how flows work in an IT organization and on a devops implementation.

I will not summarize the book as there are already many articles about. Instead, I will highlight the main ideas and quotes I want to keep in mind.

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{Through-the-nozzle} in a nutshell

Creating this blog was in my mind since a long time. I had the desire to share around topics I care like organizations, humans, management, entrepreneurship, books… I finally put words to this idea following a great decision I’ve made which will definitely impact my way of thinking. That seemed like the right time to start writing.

In fact, it was not a decision I took alone. But rather a family project we’ve built with my wife and kids. We started to feel the desire to change the way we see the life. Making a real step forward in our day to day life. Taking time to open our mind on subjects that matter for us and to which we do not give enough time.

“We’re going to take a break and plan a long journey all together to go further in all that matters.”

This decision was not an easy one. Even if the idea was in our mind for a while, behind the final “Yes we go”, there were many mental steps to go through. On my side, although I knew it would be a great experience, I used to say “It’s not the right moment”. And depending on the point of view, that was true. There were always many challenges to manage in my professional life. As I’ve always worked with envy and learned a lot from my several positions, I got stuck on this view. And I could have stayed there for a long time unless I’ve put clear ideas on what I want.

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