Closing a chapter - 6 Years at Slack: Thoughts on change, transition and growth.
For what is time but continuously moving forward?
6 years is a long time - but honestly it only feels like that looking backwards. In a lot of ways, it feels like it passed in a blink of an eye.
I joined Slack in Aug of 2016, and I had just turned 34. Joining a company that was only a little over 350 people strong, to growing to over 3,000, and now becoming a part of one of the most successful enterprise companies in the world - to say that this will always be one of the highlights of my career would be a huge understatement.
I am almost 40 now, and before I move on to my next chapter, I wanted to take a minute to step back and collect some of the thoughts percolating around my mind - and put them down on (virtual) paper.
This is not a list of the lessons I learnt, because I learnt way too much to encompass in one post. Instead - these are the things that I find are bouncing around my mind, during this time of transition & change.
Deadlines are both completely made up and very, very real
Take the time you need to get it right. Don't ship it just because you made up a date and put it on a slide months ago. It is much cheaper for the business to take a few additional months to iterate on something to ensure it is crafted to solve the problem it is intended to solve (and just that problem) - than it is to ship something that is wrong.
Wrong can be trying to solve too many problems. Wrong can be solving a problem no one asked for you to solve. Wrong can be so many things - but fundamentally - the cumulative time it will take to communicate, support, educate, and then eventually unwind a wrong decision while it is live to everyone - is much more expensive and time consuming then it is to take the time to have confidence that this is something that all of your users will be happy with for years.
How much time is too much time? How much time is too little? How much confidence do we need? If you are in Product, answering this question is your job. For everyone else, helping to find that clarity is why we are here.
Happy, healthy organizations create incredible products
Stop thinking about your tiny little box. All of the really great PM's that I have had the opportunity to interact with are thinking about so much more than just the Products that they are working on. Organizational design, trust building, process inefficiencies, better ways to structure teams, manage capacity, and measure success. They are actively building cross company connections - not just for themselves - but team based relationships that extend beyond themselves.
They do this, because they know the truth of it: humans that truly enjoy working together, who only have to deal with a minimal amount of overhead, that don't have to deal with politics or organizational inefficiencies - those are the humans that find it really easy to show up every single day - because they are excited about the impact they can make.
Great PM's focus on creating healthy, supportive & productive environments for their teams to work in, as much as they make sure that their teams are working on the right set of things.
As humans, it is worthwhile taking a step back and thinking of ourselves as much as we think about our products
During this time of transition for myself, and chatting to many of the PM’s that I know in my network - this is one of the things that I find myself repeating often.
We spend a tremendous time thinking about the Problems that we are trying to solve for the humans that use our software. We think about the best way to solve those problems, the best ways to measure success, and the best ways to motivate our teams to go about and get it done.
When was the last time you took a step back from your own life, and looked at the problems you were facing, and how you might solve them - with the same amount of intensity & tenacity?
And I don't mean just thinking about them on long walks or talking with your friends over beers & coffee, I mean really doing the work. Take a step back and evaluate: What are you actually trying to solve for, for yourself, as a human?
- Your next promotion? Hint: your boss is not the one who unilaterally makes that decision, even if they are your greatest champion.
- A more healthy balance between work and family? Hint: not everything is the same priority, and not everything you necessarily think needs to get done actually has impact.
- A feeling of satisfaction or a way to find joy in your work? Hint: It’s hard to find the philosophical ideal of “happiness” - it is way easier to fill your days full of the small things that bring you joy.
It helps me to write things down, and I usually recommend the same to the people I talk to. It can be easy to get lost in our minds (for me personally, even more so now that we all work from home) - and structuring your thoughts is always useful. These two resources below were tremendously useful to me, and I find myself recommending them to others often.
- Job Crafting - Turning the job you have into the job you want - HBR
- The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers - Patrick Lancioni
Be Yourself. There is no one better.
Working at Slack taught me that I didn’t have to put on a face to go to work. That I could do some of the best work of my life while also being my genuine self. I don’t know about you, but for me personally, that was a very new experience. I talked to my friends about making an active effort to code-switch less, because I knew I was in a place that would not only be ok, they would be supportive of that.
And in doing so, I got the opportunity to solve some of the hardest problems out there, at massive scale, with a group of some of the smartest & most talented people I know.
We often convince ourselves that we have to put on faces to show up at the office - and honestly - in a lot of offices that is actually true. But if working from home has really taught me anything - it is that we are all humans - with complete and full lives beyond the versions of us that we used to bring to glass and steel towers in the center of the city.
Embrace the version of yourself that is truly you, and aspire to work with people who want to see you for who you are.