Expensive Routers Create Connections

Indra Klavins
Director of Design Operations, Verizon

From the DesignOps Summit website:
DevOps has spent a decade focused on tooling that allows developers to code, deploy, monitor, and optimize quickly and efficiently. Along the way, many within that community forget that the people within that community and the developers that they serve are, first and foremost, people. Hear what happens when a Design Ops professional finds herself embedded in a DevOps team, helps them see each other as people, and applies a bit of design thinking, tools and techniques to help them learn the skills necessary as the people they serve move from the information age to the conceptual age.

Indra is the ‘expensive router’ referenced in this talk.

She often starts projects with a vocabulary lesson – UX design, UI design, technology design, or at WeWork we can talk about architectural or interior design.

Grammar lesson about You, I, and We. Is the WE about the company, about us, or the royal we? At the We company, she had a chance to experience a lot of the same challenges that many of us have experienced as well.

The pace, though, is completely different. The volume and rate at which she had to solve problems was 5x faster. There was joy and delight, she was bringing program management into technology, and there were six of them, They did everything that wasn’t assigned to someone else, and things that were assigned to others but weren’t getting done.

Their new colleagues knew what they were doing, but not HOW. One executive described Program Managers as ‘expensive routers’.

Some people were really upset. But we’re bringing EQ and other things that computers can’t do.

She committed to getting to know people through their Origin Story. You get to know what means the most to them. There were new people people hired every single week as the company was growing quite fast. So she also wanted to know the evolution they had experienced at the company.

The first team she supported was related to real estate acquisition – supporting technology, user experience, and more until the building opens. That team had tech debt galore given the pace at which they were working. There was another tech team without tech debt that was not fully integrated. The program management team had operated at scale, but they were operating in new territory.

She had to move them together from Joy & Delight through Fear & Shame to We Can Do This. She used Agile Scrum training as a trojan horse, because many people didn’t actually know how to get from story map to user stories. She made it short and practical enough that it helped people level up, and it wasn’t a waste of time for those more seasoned people.

They asked her for additonal training, and a new hashtash #sharedunderstanding. But they still hadn’t really addressed Fear & Shame. She facilitated quarterly retrospectives, but she ran them a little differently. They collected accomplishments and roadmaps, and then established ground rules for those conversations.

For the retrospective, there were only three questions – What went well? What didn’t go well? What started off poorly but improved over the quarter? The magic happens in that last question – about collaboration and more. What happens in retro stays in retro – that ensures honesty in conversation.

They built stronger teams, but they were missing a connection between teams. They mapped stories to OKRs and ultimately to the organization’s goals. Team members began to realize that multiple teams were supporting the same goals, which led to other conversations.

They also had silver hard hat awards to recognize important contributors – she collected nominations and tallied results to ensure fairness.

That helped her teams establish emotional connections. But, remember ME and not just WE. Her second touchstone is ‘find the people with whom you can lock eyes’. Her program management team was that team at the outset. But sometimes you need to build and rebuild that tribe, because people come and go. There was a re-org and technical program managers were distributed, and new ones were hired.

Create an imaginary Board of Directors for your career. For her, it’s Brene Brown, Malcolm Gladwall, Simon SInek, and Joan Rivers. She references them when she needs them.

You already have a tribe – we are in the room together. Stay in touch through Slack, and remember to take care of yourselves that way.

In summary:

  • Learn people’s origins story
  • Find those people with whom you can lock eyes
  • Teach others how to do the same thing

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