EM Starter Pack: A System For Maintaining Oversight

Quick Start #

Enough talk about strategy. Let us discuss how to execute, focusing on routines and methods for maintaining oversight.

Daily Routines #

  1. Review dashboards and metrics.
  2. Capture, triage, and organize follow-ups and action items.

Review Dashboards and Metrics #

List the metrics (e.g. Service Level Objectives, Key Performance Indicators) that I care about. This can be some kind of pulse (e.g. API traffic, payments, reservations), health (e.g. latency, error rate), or backlog (e.g. findings from bug bounty program, support tickets).

By review, I quite literally mean: just look at it. This is useful for gaining intuition about my business (e.g. there always seems to be two bursts of traffic at 11am and 2pm on weekdays) and sharpening my instincts. Eventually, I learn to tell when something looks “off” (e.g. length of a team’s maintenance backlog is growing faster than I expected, or a customer’s onboarding is late.)

Fig. 1: List of URLs in my Google Calendar event.

I use a recurring (weekdays only) event on Google Calendar with convenient links to each place I should look. This includes a State of Affairs dashboard which contains most important KPIs and SLOs. I use it to show my managers, my stakeholders, and my teams what we are focusing on this quarter (alignment).

Capture, Triage, and Organize: Follow Ups and Action Items #

The most important aspect of Getting Things Done (GTD) is having a mechanism for quickly capturing tasks. This is different from note-taking. My keyboard shortcut is ⇧+Esc.

Fig. 2: Capturing an action item for myself in Remember the Milk.

Inputs often come from:

  • a stakeholder asking me for something in a meeting
  • a direct report asking me for something in a 1:1
  • an idea from an interviewee
  • a question I have as I review the dashboards and metrics above

Every time I say “yes”, I hit my hot keys and record the task so that it is immediately popped off my mental stack. Then, I rely on my daily and weekly triage habits to triage & organize the task inbox. See https://hamberg.no/gtd for more.

Weekly Routines #

Every Monday, I go through “GTD for Work”. It is my weekly review of all the projects that my EMs and leads are working on.

  • For each project, I go over the milestones, check-in on progress, and ask questions where I see risk.
  • For each direct report, I go over recent work and jot down feedback notes. This includes recognition, kudos, and opportunities for growth.

Depending on the degree of granularity at which I am operating that month, this may be even higher level initiatives (e.g. managing multiple EMs with 6~9 month programs), or lower level tickets (e.g. managing 3~6 individual contributors).

This is the template I use: GTD for Work Template.

Evolution #

Every 6 months, I go through the following quick exercise:

  • What does a healthy team mean to me?
    • e.g. Person X just transitioned to remote work. How are they engaging with others on Slack?
  • What information do I need?
    • e.g. what is causing alarm noise
    • e.g. when and where do build flakes happen
  • Create a system of rituals that gets me that information.

In recent years, my experiences (and ideas from several books such as The Power of Habit) has led me to this mental model of The Programmable Manager.

  • I write down a system of rituals and routines.
  • I observe how well this system is working and identify its gaps.
  • I update this system regularly as my career grows and the business’s needs change.

Recommended Reading #