When I thought of this title for a blog post I had one of these moments where you sit back in your chair (I have a standing desk, so in my case it was a metaphorical chair; just for full transparency) and think to yourself. “Oh my god this is great. Clickbait-ey yet exactly what I would have needed when I started in my current role. I’m a genius.”

Now turns out getting together a top 10 list like this is actually pretty difficult if the writer wants it to be applicable, general, and not just pure clickbait. I’ve done my best here to not fall into clichés, but obviously accept that you – the reader – may disagree with my ranking or the points.

So without further ado, here is my list:

10. The Tools Battle

You need to pick your battles and you shouldn’t be having a fight about whether ADO or Jira is the better work item tracking tool for your team to use. What you should be fighting for is the ability for your team to get work done. If that means using BitBucket (other options are available) and even if you hate the tool itself or the company behind it, then bite your tongue on that conversation. Only pick these battles if a tool can help you generate way better business outcomes than another one and you have data to show it.

9. Deprioritizing technical learning and understanding

If you want to build a rapport with your technical team you are going to have to spend some of your time learning about the products in your program. It’s one thing to understand processes, it’s another to be able to speak your team’s language. Pick carefully and prioritize your time. You do not need the full detail on everything, but you need to be able to field customer questions and also have a strong network of people behind you who can help clarify.

8. Too many cooks

Big meetings are usually inefficient – especially when they are held virtually. Help your colleagues by putting a lot of structure around what you are trying to achieve and value their time.

If you want to make them aware that something is happening, but don’t need them to attend, make them optional.

Record meetings and write notes so people can follow up asynchronously and don’t feel like they have to go to meetings to be in the loop, even if they are not key to a decision.

7. Doing secretary work

You are not here to e-mail people for other people. You are also not here to look at calendars and book meetings. Obviously if either of these tasks enables you to get stuff done that drives impact absolutely DO IT.

But equally feel empowered to decline meetings that aren’t necessary for you to attend and push back hard if people assume that you should own a process that doesn’t help with an outcome.

I know I said ‘push back hard’ but also always assume good intend. Explain what you are here to do and what you need to be successful. Context helps create clarity.

6. Forgetting to manage up

Want that next promotion? You better tell your manager and work on a plan on how you can get it.

It’s true that good things come to good people, but equally you need to invest into your own success. Make sure others in the organization (not just your manager) know what you are good at.

If you want to progress, tell your manager so. Get them to work out a plan with you together. That’s part of their job as well as getting you visibility across the organization.

5. Failing to take ownership

It’s really quite frustrating if you are talking to the PM of Project X and their answer to every question is ‘Ask Y’ or ‘I don’t know, you would have to speak to person Z’.

Obviously I’m not telling you to make stuff up. Not at all. If you genuinely don’t know, own that too. Say ‘I’ll find out for you’ and set yourself a timeline.

In a similar vein if something isn’t working out, buggy, or bad quality acknowledge it. Feedback is gold dust and we don’t get it enough. Ask customers to tell you why you are wrong about deprioritizing a feature. Get them to work with you. It’s super rewarding.

4. Building incomplete coalitions

You may find that this contradicts ‘too many cooks’. I said earlier that you shouldn’t invite every person and their dog to a meeting, but am I now saying you should do that anyway?

I don’t think so. What I’m trying to say here is that you need the right people to give the input that you need. I know that sounds super hypothetical as a concept so here is an example:

Say you want to open source part of your product.

  • You need to find somebody you can give you the technical lowdown of what the feature is you are open sourcing and whether it is a ‘new invention’ or of ‘value’ to your company.
  • You then need to bring them together with a legal expert who can talk to how OSS licenses work.
  • You may also want to involve somebody in your team who has gone through the process of open sourcing a feature before.
  • Finally you may need somebody to make the decision too, but I tend to think that this works better in an asynchronous fashion and in writing, where you write down what you heard and get all of the people I just mentioned to give their support before sign off.

3. Being afraid to have an opinion

Oh dear, I’ve done this one too much, because I didn’t want to offend anyone. Please just skip this step (and oh god is it hard) of taking a new job and being afraid to offend. Most people love someone who has strong opinions.

Obviously be sensible and ground them in something. I’m not telling you to be controversial here for the sake of it, but please give yourself some color and personality in meetings.

Let me explain what I mean just to be really clear: Don’t schedule a discussion to decide about how much your service should cost without having an opinion on what the figure should be. Do your research and compare the market. Talk to owners of similar services. Form an opinion and then present your findings and ask others to do the same. It makes a much better discussion than ‘Oh I’m just really interested to hear what y’all think’

2. Being a passenger in a meeting that you are driving

Okay, yes, this one is a bit of a cop out given that we’ve just talked about having an opinion. The reason I made this a separate point is because I think this is a broader topic though.

If you have got a meeting in the calendar with your name on it, people will usually assume that you own it. Please do own it, it’s very awkward if everyone joins to radio silence. The added benefit of this is that you can keep a firm grip on the agenda and get through what you wanted to talk about.

If you start off quiet it’s much harder to get a word in later. Also if you want to reset expectations and start owning more of your meetings, just go out and say it. Most people love a bit of structure and appreciate somebody hosting.

1. Undercommunicate

I feel like I can maybe do this one almost in one sentence:

Never assume that people take from a conversation, e-mail, or interaction, what you want them to take from an interaction.

Everyone today lives in ‘communication overload’-land. We all have notifications popping up left right front and center and need to priortize.

Be kind and assume good intent. You are totally in your right to send friendly reminders. Most will appreciate them. Those who don’t usually have bigger issues 😉

Work on your communication to make it as short and to the point as possible. If you waffle people will lose track and get stressed. If context is important, make it optional. Give the main pointers at the top of an e-mail or a chat message or link.

I want to cover concise communication in a separate blog article as this is a big topic in and of itself.

Obviously you will also realize that I’ve completely broken my own rule with this very long article and the informal, flowery language that I used in places. If you got this far, I still hope you enjoyed it though.

Let me know if it was useful.