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Unblocking blockers & engineerications

In one episode (00:37:19), a former PM and now a writer & podcast host, Lenny Rachitsky says (comments in brackets and quote emphasis are mine):

What I’m hearing is one of the biggest roots of slowdown in a company and product development is blockers not being unblocked, and I always feel the same thing. I feel like a PM’s [but actually any team manager’s] number one job is to unblock their team because their job is basically make the most out of their team that they’re marshaling towards some outcome. The way you do that is just figure out what’s slowing them down.

In another conversation between Lenny and Stripe’s CTO David Singleton (00:45:28), David talks about the importance of getting into the weeds as a leader.

At Stripe, we find that it’s very important for engineering managers in particular, but really all managers to really have a very detailed understanding of whether their teams are on the right track and where they’re getting stuck in order to make sure that we make the most progress in a unit of time for our users.

He mentions a particularly valuable approach for senior leaders joining a new team. Every now and then, David embeds himself in an engineering team and works on a feature for three or four days, goes through all stand-ups, pull requests and code reviews, build infrastructure, uses documentation and learns new technology along the way if necessary. It’s a great way to experience day-to-day work and notice problems the team might have. (Note: There is a designated person in the group who supports him through this.)

CTOs and other executives get interrupted all the time and have non-stop meetings, so David approaches the experience like a vacation—he cancels all the meetings, sets his autoresponder, and doesn’t exist in his core position as the CTO for several days. That’s why he calls those periods engineerications, a combination of words engineering and vacation.

This story reminded me of genchi genbutsu about which I wrote some time ago:

Genchi genbutsu roughly translates to “go and see for yourself.” It means you have to come to the place where actual work is done and observe. This is an excellent way to understand a problem and come up with a better solution.

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Schwyz landscape

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