One year ago, the clouds were dark.

One year ago today, I had been working from my tool shed for a few days. It had been temporarily converted into a very simple office, because our company office was off limits and my house was being renovated. That was a learning in itself; that things can be very, very different but still work fine and be quite acceptable.

Back then, we had no idea what was going to happen with the world, so I decided to plan for really bad times, but in a constructive and team-oriented way.

My teams were full of experts that could do
a lot of things, but what if they all got sick?

 

Perhaps one or two people would be feeling well enough to handle the most important things? We decided we had to do everything we could to support those one or two people, even though we didn’t even know who they might be and whether they would be senior experts or more junior newcomers into the team – and whether they would even know about all our stakeholders and services.

What we felt we needed to do

We decided that everything must be more

⦁   easy to understand

⦁   clean

⦁   automated

⦁   stable

⦁   easy to handle in case of issues

⦁   bug-free

⦁   visualized

⦁   monitored

…than usual.

The teams went to work on this for a few weeks. They also spent a lot of time on explaining things to each other in an organized way, not just passively answering questions. We also decided to shut down things that weren’t being used much, so that the overall environment would be leaner, cleaner and less complex for those poor sods that might be left alone with it all.

Luckily, things never got as bad as we planned for, which is a big relief. However, I still think the whole exercise was a really good thing to do and we certainly learned some things from it:

⦁   Cleaning can be fun if it’s turned into an all-team thing.

⦁   Monitoring is good, but sometimes it tends to be set up for the things that are easy to set up monitoring for – not for the important things.

⦁   Visualizing is a great way of explaining things – not just to others, but also to yourself.

⦁   There is often crap that can be turned off – perhaps after just a couple of hours of work.

How we started it

The world was shaking, so I felt we needed focus, speed and great collaboration. I explained how I saw things and what I felt we needed to do to be prepared for the worst. I communicated this as a decision, not a perhaps-y topic for a workshop. I guess you could say I told people what we needed to do, but that they could decide what we should do it on and how to do it.

What the teams thought about it

At first, a couple of people were hesitant and questioned if this was necessary. I respect that. That hesitation soon disappeared when they read more bad news and also saw everyone else’s determination and eagerness to collaborate with speed to achieve things.

Some team members actually thanked me for the clarity and the focus I provided and for the fact that I didn’t waste time. Their mandate had become clear: “achieve the results [in the bullet list above], but it’s your responsibility to decide how to best do it.”

Did it work out?

Yes, it did.

At first, we decided to spend two weeks on this very special work, but people soon asked for more time, so we ended up using about four weeks. My great teams didn’t want to stop cleaning! Sure, a few small things were cleaned or changed that perhaps weren’t really important, but I’m ok with that.

What I take away from all this

⦁   Clarity is great. It’s often better with more. Discussing is a good thing, but in some situations people actually prefer (and have a right to expect) clear decisions. It may relieve them of having to debate things over and over with colleagues.

⦁   Having clear goals with a room for everyone to make decisions themselves creates speed and engagement.

⦁   Determination and active collaboration almost always trumps detailed expertise – but you want both.

⦁   Explaining things to others is a really good way of finding out if that thing is any good – and also whether you actually understand it yourself.

Sure, you could say I already knew these things from before. That’s why I did them with some confidence. However, in this particular case, it all became unusually clear.

 

Stay safe and take care of each other,

/Björn

 

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