MUSTAFA: 0:00 – 1:14. So I want to welcome everyone. So first of all, my name is Mustafa and I work at the team at Plato. We host these webinars, these virtual events, so that you, as leaders – whether you’re an engineering leader or an individual contributor as an engineer or a product manager – we host these events so that you can learn, you can become a better manager. And so today we’re going to talk about high performing teams and how do you build teams that are high performing and purpose driven? So without further ado, I want to pass it onto our main guest and our moderator.
So we have Stacie [Frederick] who’s the VP of Engineering at Collective Health. She has also run engineering teams at Amazon, at SuccessFactors and at Yahoo. So we’re really excited to have her sharing her wisdom, sharing her insights. We have David who’s one of the mentors on our platform. David was the CTO of doctor.com and he’s now the cofounder of Confirm. Again, we are super excited to have them, want to hand it over to them. They’ll be talking for a few minutes and then they’ll start getting questions or answering questions from you all. So definitely use the Q &A feature. We have already, I think, over 12, 13 questions. So definitely upvote questions so we know what you want to hear about. Let’s now pass it on. David, love to hand over the baton to you.
DAVID MURRAY: [01:15]
Thank you Mustafa. Well, hello everyone. Thank you for attending and Stacie, it’s lovely to meet you.
STACIE FREDERICK: [01:22]
Good to meet you too David.
DAVID MURRAY: [01:24]
Yeah. And I’ve heard a lot of great things, so looking to dive right in. So as folks have questions, again, put them in the Q &A feature at the bottom. You see the Q&A button, click on it. You can upload other people’s questions as well. And so just to kick things off before we go straight into the questions, I’d love to hear a little bit more about your professional background. So you’ve worked on so many at so many great companies doing so many interesting things, so feel free to share kind of the highlights that you’d like to share with the group.
STACIE FREDERICK: [01:53]
Sure. So in terms of background, yeah, currently at Collective Health, but before that I was at Amazon working on Alexa, so a little bit of consumer there and personal digital assistants, voice interface, super interesting. And then right before that an early stage startup working on a medical device. So it kind of went from super small, like a handful of people to super big with Amazon. And for me, Collective Health is a really nice Goldilocks, very much like right in the middle of the two, as well as, healthcare. Super interesting space, particularly right now. I didn’t anticipate that, that it would be so topical, but it is. And for me, going to a mission–based company was a pretty big deal in terms of where I was at and what I was looking for. What I was looking to add my experience, bring my experience and skills to, that was really appealing to me.
The Value of Working at a Mission-Based Company
STACIE FREDERICK [02:53]
And it goes right down into when folks ask, okay, so Collective Health, what do you do? It starts with our mission statement. It’s a “we believe” statement not a “this is what we do” is how you kick off. It’s really around, we believe that folks should be able to access and pay for their healthcare. It should be simple and should be transparent, which is one of the more interesting things around healthcare. And it should be easy to do, right. We shouldn’t have to struggle to figure out. How do we get the best care, given the healthcare that we have? So that’s been really interesting. And then of course, how do we do that? And that’s where our tech comes into play. And so we are building an enterprise grade platform for companies to then be able to provide better care to their employees. And so for me, that really resonates. And one thing that I find is really nice being in a mission–based company is that everyone’s very committed to what we’re about. And the tagline is, “here to fix healthcare” is what we often say to each other, and really resonates for us. And it actually bleeds through into how we work together.
DAVID MURRAY. [04:00]
That’s excellent. When you mentioned medical devices and also Amazon and Alexa, I imagine that you have perspective on kind of the hardware slash physical goods versus software and the different cultures and some folks who’ve only spent their entire career in software or only spend their entire career in hardware, probably don’t have that perspective. Do you want to share maybe some color perspective on the differences?
STACIE FREDERICK. [04:25]
Yeah. Actually, before that medical device company, I had been mostly just software, computer software. And so that was a real eye opener into, one: what does software do in a lot of these products? Like once you get into the physical world, then you really start to see where software brings a value and it really is the glue in between our physical and virtual world. And so when you look at it that way, you’re like, wow, this thing really does need to understand users and what they’re trying to do, and how do we then best help them into the virtual aspect of it? How does software really become a helper to your users and how do we bring that value? So that part was really interesting. And then just the differences in terms of how you develop product, physical versus software. You really appreciate when you come from a software background, really appreciate the fast, the flexibility, the ability to build things pretty quickly. And with hardware, you really appreciate much more of the planning, the long cycles. You commit and you’re like, “that’s it, we can’t, we can’t quickly change that out.” You gotta really know what you’re doing. And so that’s where you do see that difference in kind of a little bit of discipline and a little bit of the emphasis in your planning and how you need to make adjustments. It’s a little bit different mindset. But you do start to appreciate better the world you live in when you see someone else’s world.
DAVID MURRAY: [05:50]
Totally. I was just going to say like perspective wise. In my early days, you know, people have been touting about agile for years and years and I found for myself, oh, there was the old school of waterfall and the new school of agile. Right. But then when you start, when you have experienced a little bit of a hardware company where you kind of realize, actually it’s not about, it’s not like there was some kind of evolution to this other thing. Actually waterfall works quite well when you need to, freeze your requirements and this “ship early and often” thing doesn’t really work so well with hardware.
STACIE FREDERICK: [06:27]
The other interesting part of that is when you then throw on medical on top of it, then you actually do need to be pretty waterfall, because there’s a lot of regulatory that you have to work through in order to get that device into the market.
DAVID MURRAY: [06:43]
And you can’t really move fast and break things when lives are on the line!
STACIE FREDERICK: [06:47]
Exactly And that’s the whole thing. You talk about Theranos, right, and all of that comes out. As well as today. When we’re in the world today and wanting to know, “are our tests reliable?” How much do I know when I have a COVID test? Is it right or is it wrong? And then how do we know that when they come up with a vaccine it’s actually going to help us? Right. And that’s exactly where all this regulatory stuff comes in. And when you sit here and you go, “we’re going through this thing, how do I know I’m going to be either safe or healthy?” And you’re like, yes, please regulatory, do your job and make sure this stuff’s going to be good when it finally does come out. So yes, these things feel super heavyweight and slow, but at the same time when they are affecting people’s lives and health, then you’re like, okay, I understand why we need to have that.
DAVID MURRAY: [07:38]
Sure. Great. I’d love to move on to questions. Before we do that I want to just say a brief thank you to our sponsors Lohika. For those who are not aware, Lohika is a great organization that helps folks get engineering teams outsourced. Stacie you actually, you all work with Lohika, right?
How Collective Health works with Lohika
STACIE FREDERICK: [07:55]
Yeah. So that’s been a recent thing just to tag on to that. So we are, in this world of COVID, are actually spinning up a new project that is related to returning people safely to work. And so it is pretty timely. We’re trying to move very fast. And so even from my experience of working in early stage startups to bigger companies, there are times when you do need to move really fast in terms of building a team. And that’s where an outsource company like Lohika can be really useful. Of course there’s always a range of those types of companies. Our experience has been really fantastic with Lohika. So I will say that.
DAVID MURRAY: [08:37]
Excellent. All right. So, so diving in, reminding folks, the core topic is high performing and purpose driven teams, and of course people upvote other stuff, so be it. But, the first question here is actually quite relevant. So, Marcus asks, “as a leader, what’s your advice for key ways you can personally impact team performance as opposed to organization or process?”
Key Ways to Impact Team Performance
STACIE FREDERICK: [09:01]
Personally, I would say there’s a couple of different ways, right? For me, what do I do as a leader? And I’m not in the day to day of the team, if I’m doing my job, I’m actually not, right? If I’m doing my job, I’ve given everyone the right direction and then am empowering them or unblocking them so that they can do their jobs as best they can. Whatever way that needs to take shape for. But for me personally, one of the things that I can do to help my team, especially in the beginning is really set, “this is the vision, this is the thing that we’re trying to hit”. And making that really clear because I then set my team off to go do it, and basically work as autonomously as they can to decide what’s the best way to get that thing. If I’ve done my job in identifying what is that thing they need to hit, then they’re good. And we don’t have to be checking in every single day. Right? So that’s one of the things, being very clear on what is the thing we’re trying to hit.
And then the other thing that I do like to do, especially when it’s like a really urgent or fast–paced thing that we need to do is: offering a word of support and just making it clear to everyone. I am here to support you. This is going to be, this could go really well, but there’s going to be parts where it’s going to be fairly bumpy. And we may actually face challenges. Like there may be some parts that don’t go well, but let me tell all of you that I’m here to support you in that. And give everyone kind of that freedom to be able to go off and do their jobs as they need to, that they’ve got some backing in me and that if they had blockers, don’t be afraid either say, this thing is not going well, or I’m seeing a problem. Because it’s when we don’t have that open communication, that things start to slow down.
So that’s one of the things I do is try to make sure there’s very open that people know that it’s okay to raise those questions, raise those concerns. The earlier we get at the better. So that’s one of the things I try to do: to just kind of free up that communication. And that ability for people to really plug themselves in and dive into what they need to do. That they can feel both safe and supported.
DAVID MURRAY: [11:08]
Yeah. So I hear, you know, words like “empowering”, “unblocking”, “support”. And I imagine particularly for early engineering managers who are still kind of figuring things out, right? They came from a world of like, “they are in control of everything and all of the things in front of them” right ? Now moving to this world where, theoretically, they could maintain that, but then they might be seen as a micromanager, not perceived quite as well. Right? The idea of empowering or blocking or supporting, that that’s a personal thing that you can do. You know, some people might go into this being, “that’s not, that’s not me actually doing stuff. I feel like I’m not doing anything” you know.
The Mechanics of Supporting Your Team
STACIE FREDERICK: [11:52]
So that’s kind of the soft part. And then there’s also mechanical, right? There’s actual practical things that you also need to do to support your team correctly. Right? And it’s not just, “oh, go off and do the thing and come back when it’s done.” I‘s also, “how do I make sure that we are as a team checking in, so that I’m verifying that everything’s going the way it should be.” And if I do need to interject that I am doing that as needed because sometimes the team does need that help as well. So there’s mechanics around: we have check in periods, do we have milestones? Let’s make sure to ask the questions so that the right thinking is happening within the team and then really being that kind of backstop of, are we doing all those right things.
STACIE FREDERICK: [12:33]
Because when you’re in deep, right, sometimes you’re not taking that step back and thinking, okay, “do I have a plan?” Do I have a plan B? What happens if this or that? What is the point where I need to know that it’s going good or bad and, and do we have decision points? So I also do that kind of support system, but more in a concrete way of making sure that I am helping them to check and stay basically healthy is what I’m trying to do is keep a project healthy. And even trying to get an idea, will there be blockers? Are there things that will become red right. Red in that project down the road, if we’re not addressing them up front. So also trying to do that.
DAVID MURRAY: [13:15]
Right. So it’s kind of like, as everybody has their heads down, there’s a set of things that they won’t see simply because their heads are down. So being that person who has the head up, that actually is something you’re doing personally. That is something that requires actual like action from you. It’s not just kind of herding cats, so to speak. It’s actually like making sure the cats get fed, you know, it’s very, very cool. All right. Moving on question wise, what are the qualities of a highly effective engineering leader that you would be looking out for when, when you think about hiring engineering leaders yourself?
What to Look For In an Engineering Leader
STACIE FREDERICK: [13:50]
So that’s a great question. And that also plays into the previous one around, how do you set up your teams correctly? So it’s one thing to say a team, “okay, go do it.” But if you haven’t put that team together correctly, then you haven’t also done your job. So part of that is leaders, and what do I look for in them? Number one for me is, we do software engineering. So part of it is technical, right, in terms of both foundation of, do you understand the technologies and how to actually, get code built that is a good quality, and is going to perform the way you need it to perform? All these as their foundational, right? Like checkbox number one. And then number two is, do you have experience either leading or being involved in this type of project, whether it’s size, complexity, type of software or hardware, or whatever it is, right. Do you have some experience to draw on to help you? So I’m not just throwing you into the water with absolutely no idea of what you’re getting into. And then the third thing is, can you lead at that higher level? For your team, are you looking out for your team? Do you understand how to kind of look around corners, start to anticipate what that is? And that’s really where that range of experience as a leader comes in. Early on, you might be more looking at the day to day and that kind of really tactical execution. And with more experience then you’re probably able to look at a higher level. And so that’s what I start to look at as I look at more senior leaders.
DAVID MURRAY: [15:25]
Makes sense. So your technical expertise is kind of the core foundation, and then, just experience leading and exposure or experience relevant to the domain of scope. Kind of whatever’s relevant to what you’re looking to hire for. And then sort of that looking up while other folks are looking down, anticipating things. And the word that comes to my mind when you hear that is, “pattern matching,”. In terms of, if you’ve experienced five versions of this thing you go, “oh, I can anticipate that Z is probably going to happen, you know, more likely than X, because five out of five times that I’ve experienced this exact same situation, that’s what’s happened.” And so you kind of, see what’s coming.
STACIE FREDERICK: [16:08]
Yeah. And it can take on different forms. Right. It can be a technical thing. It can be a product thing, like a user interface thing. It can also be a, “I’ve dealt with partners before, I know that this part goes south.” Or it can be anyone like any kind of dimension, but your leaders should be able to start to anticipate those things. And that’s really where it helps because it helps your team get out of the reactive of just, “oh crap, we landed in this thing” to, “oh, okay, this may be an area that if I start to put attention to it now, I’m going to keep that path clear and not actually let my team run into a block.” Yeah. So that’s where.
DAVID MURRAY: [16:46]
That makes sense. I’m just anticipating, even though this isn’t a actually post here, that probably people who’ve heard this and think to themselves, crap, how do I get better at these things? Right? I don’t have experience. So how do I get experience? I don’t know if you have any advice or thoughts or recommendations in that regard.
STACIE FREDERICK: [17:03]
Yeah. And it really is just opportunity. And so that’s where your management, your support around you, that’s where they make a difference. And so the question is: is your boss, is your leadership, is this a type of organization that actually looks to grow people and give them opportunities? Because there’s no way to get experienced until you have that chance. And so the idea is, if you’ve got the right boss leader, that they can support you through that learning. That is key, right? If you don’t have the support through the learning, that could be super painful. Both for you and for the team. And really, responsibility for your team should come first. And so you want to make sure you’re taking them through whatever it is that you’re doing successfully, but that support is really needed.
STACIE FREDERICK: [17:57]
And is it an environment that allows you to have those opportunities? Because that’s the only way you grow, right? Cause you need to be leading bigger projects. You need to be entering into more ambiguous things. That’s how we grow as leaders is to be able to handle bigger things that are less defined. And being able to learn, how do we navigate through those and get our teams from “this is the vision to we’re starting here, and these are the steps we’re taking.” But you need to go through it in order to be able to lead your team through it in a safe and sane way.
DAVID MURRAY: [18:29]
Sure. Well, opportunity seems like such a topical thing just as we actually think about like the greater sphere of challenges as they relate to race and representation and that opportunity itself is not equally distributed, right? So for leadership folks that are listening, it’s worth keeping in mind, that if opportunity is the means through which people develop this kind of thing, that there needs to be some kind of equity to be able to enable people who don’t historically have these opportunities or who might not otherwise be thought to have been given these opportunities to proactively think about it. Like where can I distribute my opportunities? Where have I been mindlessly giving out opportunities without thinking about it? Opportunities are things that leaders give. We have to be mindful of that.
How to Get the Right Kind of Experience
STACIE FREDERICK: [19:17]
Yeah. And that’s why, when you join a company or when you’re joining a team, that’s why it is really important to understand what type of leader, what type of boss am I going to be putting myself into? Is that the right thing and place for me? [Right] And part of that is also just for yourself, how do I evaluate, is this going to be a good boss or a bad boss for me? Because we go through interview, it’s the same thing. You need to evaluate is this the right person for me? One of the things I figured out early on in my career, maybe too late was, when you can sense that someone feels very comfortable in their role and kind of where they’re at, they’re more likely to be generous with you. It’s when you see those leaders that are scraping to get to that next level. They’re the ones that are probably going to be less generous with you. You can sense, the [ones that] feel very comfortable, they’re very good with themselves and where they are at. They’re the ones that are going to be like, okay, let’s give you this, let’s give you that. They’re going to be very much more generous with their knowledge and with their time and space for you.
DAVID MURRAY: [20:24]
Speaking of pattern matching, it sounds like you’ve definitely identified a clear pattern here. So that’s great. I love that we’re talking about this again, given that it’s so topical, I’m going to continue on with the questions given how many that we have. How do you work with external engineering teams? I know that we’ve kind of briefly touched on that. How do you measure them in terms of team extension and high-performance? Measuring a team that’s internal versus external.
Working Seamlessly with External Teams
STACIE FREDERICK: [20:57]
Yep. Actually for me, I don’t look at it that differently because if you’ve got an external team, part of the success is do you notice they’re an external team or do they feel like an extension of your own team? When they feel like an extension of your own team you’re winning. You’ve done a great job because then everything flows correctly, right? The communication channels flow correctly, they know what they’re working on. It’s not like you’re treating them differently. It’s not like you have to say, they can only work on this because of that. Right? You actually have freedom to be able to use them in a way that you would use your own team, you know, that they have the knowledge about your area, your product, and that you can trust them to do that work for you right in the time and the way that they’re committed to it. And so for me, it’s one of the success factors. One of the things that I’m looking for is how well–integrated is that team with the rest of my team? How well are they working? Are we aligned in terms of kind of our values, but also how we work and how we achieve our goals, right? And is there a consistency in delivery? Is there a consistency in what they say and then how they get there? So that’s the same as I look at my teams, our internal teams as well. Those things actually are pretty consistent across external and internal. And you know, when it’s different, your external team is, eh, not quite as good.
DAVID MURRAY: [22:17]
Fair enough. And I imagine that as you’re experiencing an external team, that feels like the internal team, you would probably continue working with them. You know, I’ve seen a lot of other organizations, that we’ve talked with that are working with third parties, such as Lohika right, and I find that when there are those relationships that work and things are going well, you know, even if they’re external, why not continue it? Right? Because you can, again, scale rapidly and trust that third party where you don’t have the means to aggressively hire yourself.
STACIE FREDERICK: [22:49]
Yeah. It’s, it’s interesting because it’s actually very similar to, even if it’s your own internal team and I’ve had this at another company where we basically started like a new office in a different location. And that actually is very much the same. Can you bring up that team that’s physically separated from you? Can you get to a point where you have shared both what you’re trying to get to, but also a little bit of values, right? In terms of what do you value? Like it comes down into like code reviews and things like that. And if your teams are very well aligned in terms of what are the most important things and how we do them, then they’re going to work really well together. There’s going to be pretty seamless. There’s differences: that’s where you do have difficulties in, “well, we thought you said this, when you meant that, you were going to deliver that” but it wasn’t. And that’s where you have much more disconnect as well as it takes much longer to get through that communication process into what is that thing that you’re going to deliver. How does it come together? But when you have that alignment, then you’re more likely to go work those things out along the way and get to the right things faster. That is part of the speed is when you do have teams that are very well aligned, then they will work much more fluidly together, versus kind of against each other. Or there’s so much more communication when you are different, right? In terms of your teams.
DAVID MURRAY: [24:13]
It’s interesting because I imagine some of the folks listening, given that the kind of the question is about like measurement, right? I imagine that there’s a set of folks who were kind of waiting to hear something, very [metrics–driven?], metrics driven and deep and triggers. Right. But actually I appreciate that. Like you lead in with value alignment and consistency and delivery and accountability and kind of doing what you say you’re going to do, because it, it reflects on the reality that, you know, as a leader, we don’t always know the details of the nitty gritty and even sometimes how to measure right at that level. But the point is that if you have a team that, you know, you get to agreements on in terms of what they indicate, they’re going to do that, their ability to actually do whatever that is with whatever metrics they’re using to measure that like that that’s sufficient,
Measuring with the Right Metrics
STACIE FREDERICK: [24:57]
But your metrics should follow. Right. It shouldn’t be different. So you should be able to both measure your own team and their team in terms of similar things. In terms of, we said it was going to take us this long. And it’s simple things, right. In terms of: it starts with estimation, we are going to take this long to do this thing. Okay. Did you hit it? How good were you at actually predicting what you were going to do? And then how did that come out, Quality wise? Where there a lot of bugs? Did we go through extra QA cycles? Were there unexpected things that happened along the way? Was the design doc that we saw at the beginning, did that actually play out or were there things that were missed in the early, or in the middle? And so those are all the harder metrics that we all look at within our teams and should also do with an external team, right? Any team that you’ve got, it’s kinda the same. So I always assume that those are again, I’m looking for health in my teams and are those things all looking pretty good and healthy? Are they normal, or do we have a team that’s always late or doesn’t like to estimate, or has a really hard time predicting how long it’s going to take them to do something. And so those are, to me, red flags.
DAVID MURRAY: [26:06]
Very interesting. I appreciate that you lead in with kind of the more qualitative cultural elements and alignment elements before kind of going into the hard metrics. But I acknowledge that both our values and it sounds like what you’re saying for sure. Great. So moving on, what are some tactics or strategies that you’ve had success with to increase your engineering and or product teams’ velocity?
Tactics for Increasing Teams Velocity
STACIE FREDERICK: [26:30]
Yup. So one of the things, and this this is pretty recent in terms of, we work with product, we work with design, right? This is a pretty typical kind of environment with engineering. And part of that is how quickly can we get through that process of understanding what a feature is? What it all entails and then get into design process and then into implementation, the breakdown of the work. How long is it going to take? So for me one of the things in terms of speeding that is, how good are our PRDs? How soon do we have them? How early in that process can we get into design? Does that allow us enough time to do the right thinking and scoping and then into a project? And so the more that you can smooth out that process so that we’re not sitting waiting or that we get a doc and then it’s not even close. Like that is always a slow, slow down.
STACIE FREDERICK: [27:25]
The smoother we can work our process out. And the more frictionless, all of that is, to me that is really where you get a lot of good speed. Because then if you’ve done all those, if you’ve invested up front correctly, right? Good thinking on the PRD, plenty of review on the tech and what we’re going to do, by the time you get into an implementation, usually it’s pretty straight forward. And that’s where your teams really appreciate that. I know what I’m building, I’ve thought through how I’m going to build it. And so now I can focus on that execution of actual coding and then testing. Because that’s really what you want to focus on once you get into that phase, right? You don’t want to be going all the way back saying, Oh, crap, we didn’t think about that use case or that, we didn’t have a definition for that thing. You really want to stay pretty focused and hit that thing and deliver it. To me, what I’ve seen over my years, that’s really what engineers and myself, even when I was sitting in that seat, that’s what I wanted. I just want clarity, what do I need to do so that I can get there in the best way possible.
DAVID MURRAY: [28:30]
It makes sense. And this ties back to some of the earlier stuff that you were saying regarding the, for lack of better word, is support. I don’t need a support role quite as supportive, but in other words, in terms of anticipating and, because I envision early managers and folks who are again, used to doing all the work themselves kind of may tend to see things from the perspective of how do I make my team go faster? How do I make them do more? It’s kind of like the only analogy that can come to my mind for some reason is like processing garbage. I don’t know why. If people are working at a recycling plant, and if everything that’s coming down the line is just like everything under the sun, like they’re going to be struggling and they’re gonna be frustrated, et cetera. But if somebody at the front and if, and if there’s a manager there, who’s basically like work harder. That will maybe produce short term results, but it can lead to long–term fatigue. But if, instead you have like that same manager who is maybe occasionally going and saying, y’all are doing okay, but then goes to the front and goes, well, why don’t we like presort some of this? Why don’t we make sure that only recycling comes through? So that anticipation will lead to the team, even if you’re interacting with them relatively speaking, less than if you were the workhorse driver, you’ll get a better result because you have a team that’s dealing with things that they feel at capacity to handle them. Their job will be more delightful and they’ll be able to be more productive, et cetera. You know?
STACIE FREDERICK: [30:11]
Exactly, exactly. And that’s the big shift for a lot of folks into management. It is how do I get things done when it’s not my own hands. Right. It’s the feeling of “I know exactly how to do it, and I know exactly what I would do” and it’s the taking your hands off the wheel that a lot of times is where a lot of ICs making transition into management is where they really struggle, because it is a pretty big shift in terms of how you work and basically how you get things done through other people versus yourself. And it is kind of retraining of how do I then take what I know in my experience to enable others, to be able to do it in their way. And it is a little bit of letting go.
STACIE FREDERICK: [31:03]
And that’s also where others, the next level of leadership can help them in terms of checking in. Okay. Have you thought about it this way in terms of, are you helping your team to work backwards from where we need to be at? To get to where they need to go? Have you thought this through. Ask all the questions, right? And it’s really that question asking, I get, this is like the lay man, the lay management thing that everyone says lead by asking questions. Right. And it sounds really stupid, but it is one of the best teaching and way of helping someone else, to basically grow, get into how they need to do their job without actually taking them and moving them around. It’s leading through that. Have you thought this, have you thought about this because that’s what you’re trying to shift. You’re trying to shift how someone thinks about a problem and where they enter into that solution, because every one of us has a different job in that solution. Where is yours?
DAVID MURRAY: [31:55]
When I was doctor.com you know, CTO, they would kind of make fun of me, call me chief therapy officer, you know. You’re asking lots of questions. Right. Having people self-reflect right. But even if you’ve never had therapy before, you can imagine it’s going to be asking a lot of questions, but that’s helpful. Right? Because reflection causes people to look up instead of looking down to do their job. Right. Makes a ton of sense. There’s an astute comment regarding the question that I asked around increasing velocity, technically speaking, cycle time and throughput may be better metrics to track. Nevertheless, the summary is kind of the same, which is, look ahead, anticipate so that what folks are actually doing can be more streamlined.
STACIE FREDERICK: [32:45]
Yeah. But even with that, cycle time, throughput, all those things are definitely metrics that you may want to be measuring with. The question is what are you doing to impact those? And so this is again where the soft skills come in, are you asking questions and are you actually listening? And then do you have a way to actually help to achieve that outcome? Whatever it is. Are you opening the box to allow your team to imagine, are there other ways to solve it? Versus we only have this tool [so] we’re doing it this one way. And just how do we do that a little better? Sometimes you do have to solve outside of that. Maybe it’s a different group or a different tool that you need. But are you facilitating the conversation and the problem solving around that? You know, maybe your throughput’s not good enough, maybe you’re not producing enough. I don’t know. But are you entering, helping your team to enter into that and providing them open space to be able to solve for that problem in an open way?
DAVID MURRAY: [33:42]
We have a lot of folks who are posting questions in the chat but we’ll post them in the Q&A. We have about 20 minutes, so I’m going to do a little bit of kind of rapid fire for lack of better word, try to answer quickly. What would be, and this ties into a little bit of what was asked before, what would be the key observations and measures you’d look at to determine team health or high performance? So maybe a little bit more of the quantitative side and like the most important ones. Yeah.
Quantitative Ways to Measure Teams’ Performance
STACIE FREDERICK: [34:11]
So big ones are delivery. So how good are you in terms of actually delivering on those estimations? And this is across different projects, things, and then things you don’t know, the things you don’t know is the really good test. Because those are where you do have to add into that as well as unknowns. And so how good is your team at even going through that type of process? So those are really good. Also in terms of quality. So when you do produce, how good is that in terms of: do you have testing? How good is the quality of the number of bugs that come out? These are all pretty basic things, right? As well as once it gets into hands of whether you have to train an Ops team or whether you have to have a demo for sales or where they’re actually gets into hands of customers, how long until you see bugs? Where are the bugs?
STACIE FREDERICK: [35:03]
How did we not anticipate those areas? And then also gets into, as it’s running in production in terms of scale: how long does the thing stay up? When does it go down? How much more hardware do we have to throw at it, as it scales? And is that okay or not? Is that going to cost us way too much? So you start to look at all these things and then you also look at your team in terms of how are they doing in terms of performance. When we do performance reviews, are your teams growing and are you promoting people? Are your folks meeting expectations and exceeding, or are they struggling? And then, are you addressing those folks? Whether helping them to get to a better place or even maybe “this is not the right fit.”
STACIE FREDERICK: [35:47]
So also gauging that, as well as retros and sentiment. So in retros, what’s coming up? Are the people suggesting, are people actually talking? You’d be amazed at how much that is actually a really good signal on how healthy is your team. And then also are people volunteering, are they plugging into your culture? Are they volunteering for things? Do they feel invested in where they’re at? What they’re doing? Are they suggesting things for your product? These are all the signals, right? That are sometimes soft signals, sometimes very hard signals in terms of actual product and performance, and quality of deliverable.
DAVID MURRAY: [36:30]
Yup. And I imagine some of these soft signals you can translate into sort of harder signals so that you can quantify them, measure them, put them on perhaps. Right. So great. This is great. Moving on, how important as a VP of engineering, is it to have hands on experience with the code base and have a background as an engineer?
What Engineering Managers and VPEs Need to Know
STACIE FREDERICK: [36:47]
Yeah, so I would say background as an engineer is, that’s one that I find super hard to not. So I have this term that I use even with engineering managers, [which] is that I don’t want someone that’s a one–legged manager. I don’t want someone that has to rely on an IC for technical questions. Like you should be able to deep dive into either a problem or a product, and be able to help your team to be able to navigate through that. And can you coach, and can you manage, so you do have to be able to have that ability to coach folks in whatever it is: coding or testing or whatever it is that your ICs need to be able to do. So I do believe that you need to have some understanding of your team and that means spend some time living in their shoes because there is value in understanding that perspective.
STACIE FREDERICK: [37:45]
Then as in terms of a VPE, understanding that exact code base that you’re sitting on top of? Sometimes not so much. And also I tend to look at it, like if you feel like you have to be looking at the code every day, like looking at code reviews. [where’s the trust] A little bit of a red flag, right? Yeah. So one thing, maybe that’s your personal thing. Like I have a need to look at code That may be your personal thing, but if it is because I don’t feel like my team knows how to code review well enough? That’s a different sort of flag. So I think that you should be building your team and just depends on the size of your org. You could be VP of two people, in which case yeah, you will need to be very hands on. If you’re early, super early stage. If you’re a little later stage and you’ve got, 50, 60, a hundred people, you probably shouldn’t be. Your job is actually to be dealing with bigger issues. And if you are spending a lot of time in code, you may not be spending your time quite right. So you do have to gauge that
Measuring Individual vs Team Performance
DAVID MURRAY: [38:48]
Makes sense. How do you measure when you think about – we talk about this a lot, so maybe just touch on anything you might want to – [when] measuring individual performance in a complimentary fashion to team performance. So in other words, looking at the team level versus the individual level. How do you do them both at the same time and in a smooth way?
STACIE FREDERICK: [39:06]
Yeah. Is this for ICs or is this for managers? [Feel free to pick] Okay. So say the question again.
DAVID MURRAY: [39:16]
How do you measure individual performance in a complimentary fashion, the team performance I imagine folks only do one or only the other, how do you,
STACIE FREDERICK: [39:25]
Yeah. Yeah. So that’s interesting. That is, um, there is, that is sometimes a challenge, right? Because oftentimes it’s never just one person that’s delivering on a thing. It requires a team [or if it is, that’s also a red flag.] Exactly. So then how do you gauge where someone’s individual contribution versus the team was the reason for the success? Or how do you attribute that? That’s my interpretation of the question. And I would say, one, is you do have to, when you’re trying to gauge the individual, you do have to look at specifically [are you OK] What specifically did that individual do? And how did they do it? And then you also look at the individual in terms of maybe cross projects, what types of things are they working on? Because most likely, particularly if it’s someone that’s more senior and is getting to lead, they should be doing things that actually impact across more than just their team. Right. It starts to go outside of their team. In which case we can start looking at that person. You can start to see, okay, yes, they contributed to, and this is what they did there. But then also how are they going up above and beyond? So looking at that person in terms of what they’re doing, how is that affecting and impacting others, is where you start getting a leadership. And then of course, but you’re part of a team. And then also, how do they play as part of that team? Are they actually enabling their team? Other people on their teams? Is there positive feedback from their team on their contribution? And does that jive between what they said they did and what their teams says they did? That’s a big signal.
DAVID MURRAY [41:04]
That’s a good one. Well, I’ll continue on, I can say so many things. How do you improve cross team interactions and avoid negativity stemming from teams feeling that they’re competing versus like competing with each other?
STACIE FREDERICK: [41:14]
Teams Competing Together vs Against Each Other.
Yeah. Competing with each other is something that may be part of a greater environment. In which case, that’s what they’re sitting in. That may be a different issue, but if teams do feel like they’re competing with each other… This could be interesting. Sometimes there is a time and place where you have a need and you have like, no one solved that problem yet, but it may be showing up in two different areas in your business. In which case, when you need something now it might be okay, you may make that explicit decision to have both teams actually go after that similar capability that’s needed. It’s better to have two teams than have zero in the early times. And so it may feel a little bit like competition between the two teams. The key thing between getting beyond that competition is our overall goal. Where does that align in the company’s goals? How is that important to the business? How is that important to us progressing in our business? Right. And a lot of times that’s much clearer in a startup than it is in a bigger company. But if you can align your teams that way, then you can see like, okay, actually if we share what each of us is doing, maybe it helps us both to progress faster and to get to a point where we can bring that sucker together to have one instead of two. And so if you can get your teams to agree that, “okay, we’re both both trying to get to the same place” but we’re doing this separately right now, eventually we want to come together because that’s the right thing for our teams and our orgs. And then other people can then also use it that may help them to get past that initial us versus them into way. Okay. We are trying to get, move ourselves as a whole, into a better place.
DAVID MURRAY [43:01]
Yeah. And I hear elements of an emphasis on communication and that there’s conscious decision making, as opposed to somehow out of the ether, two teams find that they’re competing against each other. And sometimes that can occur actually, right? Like you don’t even know that there’s some side project going on, there’s competing happening there. One thing that I reflect on when I hear this is like a book that was very useful for me in terms of navigating these types of conversations is “Crucial Conversations”, to be able to address head on when folks do feel like they’re not getting along with other teams or team members or that they’re competing. Being able to have the difficult, uncomfortable conversation and be aggressive head on as opposed to kind of just like hoping things go away. Cause they never do. Right.
Transparency in Leadership
STACIE FREDERICK: [43:48]
No, but that’s where the transparency comes in, right? So the senior leadership: if you are helping to set the vision that helps your teams to operate better may be to be very transparent. We’re going to start off these two things. They’re both doing the same thing, but eventually we need to get to a one thing. And so we do want to have plenty of sharing. Like every team is going to review what that team’s doing. Every we’re going to have open review on what the other team is doing. And then we’re going to evaluate how both of those, what happened in both of those scenarios and then approach it as a very open thing in terms of “why we’re taking this and why and how we’re going to get to that next phase.” that this is not the end. Like this is not the final thing that we’re just making our way to a better position. But the transparency I think is what really helps because when teams work in isolation, that’s where it absolutely is an us vs them because you have no idea what’s happening over there and whether that’s good or bad.
DAVID MURRAY [44:45]
Totally. I always think about the roommate situations, the analogy I always use, right? Where like you see something going on, you don’t say anything. They don’t say anything. Nobody says anything. Then somebody says something. Then the other one blows up. Then you go so much easier if you just have the comfortable conversations early and often. Right. All right. This one was heavy and important. How has the COVID-19 situation impacted hiring and team building and how do you anticipate it evolving from here?
STACIE FREDERICK: [45:11]
Yep. I would say the most immediate impact for me and for my team right now is on the team building and I would say feeling connected. So previously when you sit in the same building, you just see more people, right? And so you feel some kind of connection with those folks. When you’re in zoom, you only see people you’re in meetings with. And so I know for myself, I don’t feel as connected to my team. And so the challenge really is how do we establish that? And it is the casual connection that is not because we’re in a meeting. And that is one thing that is very top of mind for me right now, because I know, um, for me even just doing this is high energy, like I’m an introvert, so this is high energy for me.
And anytime I have to get on zoom, it is a draining thing. And so, but I need also just connect with my teams. And so how do I, when I am at the end of the day, all the last thing I want to do is get on another zoom call. How do I still facilitate some kind of connection? And so that is something we are, my leads, we are trying to figure out how do we do that in a way that for those who do have energy and want to, and feel the need to connect, how do we enable that? Like making it yet another, like for those who are tired and who do need to disconnect, they can disconnect, but allow opportunities for us to connect because we need that. Right? We need those relationships in order to be able to work well together and to feel like we belong to a team and we feel like we belong to a mission. And so it is a challenge in this time. So that is impacting us.
STACIE FREDERICK: [46:51]
The hiring part is super interesting. So we still see lots of candidates, lots of pupil hiring for me, myself, psychology, like making change like that through this time for me would be super scary, but plenty of people still looking. And so we are going through hiring, we’ve adjusted to remote everything online. It is a little weird. You hire someone, you haven’t actually seen them in person. Um, but we’re doing our best. Um, and so doing the best we can to get through that, as well as onboarding another one, that’s really hard when you’re not in person, but doing everything we can to continue to, to, you know, make progress on those areas. It’s really about experimentation. Just try things, try things and see how it works, whatever works, stick with it, and then try to dig deeper into things that feel right. Or like, if something’s not right, bring it up. Let’s bring up some ideas. What can we try?
DAVID MURRAY [47:47]
Yeah. So many of us are in it in a situation we’ve never been in before and like the pattern matching. So you have to try things and fail. Right? I see a suggestion for someone in the chat, virtual coffee pairings, three person, 15 minute talks once a week, you can rotate the pairings and do it across the team department. Right. So lots, lots of things that you can do. So yeah, that’s, this is another topic we could talk about forever, but we only have about five minutes. So I’m going to rapid fire with as much as we can. Okay. How do you help your team identify their calling so that we can motivate them intrinsically their best results?
STACIE FREDERICK: [48:21]
Yeah. So for a whole team, um, identifying the calling, maybe in that domain space that they’re solving for in terms of how does that fit into the greater business, the impact in the business. So that is at a team level, which is very much around connecting dots between what are the most important things for the company and how is what that team is working on directly hits into that. Right? So it’s redrawing that. And oftentimes it’s amazing, but you do have to repeat that regularly. And as you spin up, like every new project, it’s the same team and working in the same area, but it’s a new project. Like remind everyone, this is how this ties in. And this is why it’s important. This is the latest information from our customers on why you’re saying is so important. So that’s good. It’s we need to remind ourselves on a regular basis, realign on regular basis. So that is one of them.
STACIE FREDERICK: [49:20]
And then in terms of individuals calling, that’s where relationship is needed you to understand who people are, what their strengths and weaknesses are? And then also what is their interest? And this is the thing that each one of us has to take responsibility for in terms of what is your vision for your career in three to five years? And if you haven’t thought about that, that’s your homework. You need to go do that because it actually is your responsibility. I can help you, but I can’t tell you. So you need to do that. And again, self-reflection, you mentioned very important in terms of what you want to do. Take note, what gives you energy? What drains you go towards the things that give you energy, go towards the things that you find super easy that other people “uh, I say hate that.” And you’re like, what? It’s nothing. Those are the things that you have, natural, whatever talents, gifts, passion for go there, like explore that more. But it’s really encouraging people to identify for themselves. You may have strengths that you may not have interest in. So spend some time sitting with that and understanding how that plays into where you are right now. It may not be a thing you go to right now, but it may be something you go to later, figure that out for yourself.
DAVID MURRAY [50:35]
Yeah. So many people in this life don’t self-reflect unless something actually forces them to write [and it’s usually something bad] Right. That’s great. I love that. And the sort of intrinsically motivating teams based off of like purpose and giving presence to, what are customers saying and doing that so valuable. And so what I find is it’s very under done. In our engineering world, we dive in, you know, to the problems and forget about the high level. But my goodness, the power that I see you win, for a frontend engineer, being able to sit in and observe a user test of their UI, right. The lighting up that happens and participate in that process. Right. Even just a little bit of time taken away from coding time. Like what you gained in terms of the intrinsic energizing is probably net positive, you know? Yeah. That’s awesome.
Diversity and Inclusion for Better Problem Solving
STACIE FREDERICK: [51:37]
Yeah. You also want to tap into people’s problem solving. And that’s where the creativity comes into play. Right? That’s where all your experiences come into play. And that is exactly why we need diversity and inclusion in our teams is everyone brings something a little differently and we need to have all that problem–solving capability available to us in whatever it is we’re building.
DAVID MURRAY [52:00]
Yeah. And we only have one more minute, but I like to chime in with a fascinating study from that came out of Carnegie Mellon a little while ago about gender representation in teams. And like basically the punchline is that majority women teams are actually intelligence-wise and perform higher than any other combination, half-half, 100%. So I mentioned that, but then also like all of the things that folks from a different background, whether it be racial, ethnic, et cetera, they see a set of things that those who don’t have that background do not see it. So we’re talking about like your job as a manager is to look up and see beyond. You have to be mindful that, if you’re experiencing, you know, privilege, or if there are things that you don’t see, because you’ve only lived one life, you need the help of other perspectives to help guide you. [Right.] Awesome. Well with that, I wanted to ask more of the work but we’re out of time, so Stacie thank you so much. It’s really wonderful to hear your wisdom. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. Thank you.