Supporting People, Process, and Projects

When you approach a bridge that overlooks a river do you tend to look upriver at the past, or downriver to see the future? I am naturally drawn to looking downriver because I like to plan for the future. For the role of manager, you have three major areas of responsibility, the people, the projects, and gluing those together. That last part is where the magic happens. If you get great alignment with your people and what they work on, that is where you have the best outcomes.


Helping people thrive is the cornerstone of any people manager. How we align people and set them up so that they can be at their best self is critical to our success, and the success of the company. It's a win-win-win situation. It all starts with hiring and onboarding. For me, there are three critical areas that I focus on during the interview process. Do they have a growth mindset, do they include others during their decision-making process, and overall is the candidate a kind human being? Beyond the typical questions that we have for every stage of the interview, I ask myself these three critical questions:

  1. Does the candidate have the skills to do the job?
  2. Will the candidate want to do the job 6 months or more into the job?
  3. Will you want to work with this individual?

I figured out these answers throughout the HM interview. During the interview, I take mental notes of how difficult the conversation is. If it feels like a naturally flowing conversation, that is a good indicator. If the individual comes off as really interested in the role you have presented, that is a good indicator. You can tell if they are interested in the specific role by how they ask follow-up questions.  If you can answer yes to these questions, then you are off to a good start. Obviously, you'll also want to have others interview this candidate to see their impressions of their skills to ensure they align with the job description, but this is a good indicator that they could be a good fit for your role.

The next step in helping people thrive is onboarding. The thing that I love about new hires is they come in with their eyes wide open, meaning, they can often see things that others have simply grown accustomed to. When you invite a change to your team (like a new hire, or someone shifting to another team) it becomes an opportunity to refresh your team's values and walk through what we believe is important. There is a great book on this, called Dynamic Reteaming. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend it. I used this as a conversation starter when introducing a reorganization to my group of teams. I simply asked a question from the book, “How many people have ever been on a team that remained the exact same people for more than 5 years?” Not a single person was able to raise their hand. The learning there is, teams change, and new teams are formed with every change. The last critical step in successfully onboarding is finding easy wins for this new hire. To accomplish this, my team reviews the backlog regularly and marks things with a "good new issue" for people that are just learning how to contribute to the team.

Another great tool that I use during onboarding is the FBATR survey that is based on the book of the same name "First, Break All the Rules.". To be honest, I found this book pretty dense, but it really had some good takeaways. If you'd like the lighter version, here is a book review that is only 9 minutes of your life. The TL;DR of the book is there are 4 camps for a new hire: What do I get? What do I give? Do I belong here? and How can we all grow? Each camp has a set of questions you can ask your new hire to see if they meet the criteria to move to the next camp. Similar to building a house, it doesn't make sense to work on the roof if the foundation is not done yet.

Lastly, with any individual you support, you should be meeting regularly in 1-1s. I have a set of questions I like to ask early in the relationship that help me understand where the person is coming from. In turn, I also answer the questions for myself so they can understand a bit of where I'm coming from. The latter point has a nice side-effect, it makes the individual feel comfortable sharing. Here are a few of those questions:

  • What did you enjoy most about your previous work experience? What brought you here? (If an existing employee) What keeps you here?
  • What do you think your strengths are? (Skills, knowledge, talent)
  • What about your weaknesses? (it is good to go first for this one, lead by example)
  • What are your goals for your current role? (Ask for scores and timelines, goals)
  • How often do you like to meet with me to discuss your progress? Are you the kind of person who will tell me how you are feeling, or will I have to ask?
  • How often do you like to meet with me to discuss your progress? Are you the kind of person who will tell me how you are feeling, or will I have to ask?
  • What personal goals or commitments would you like to tell me about?
  • What is the best praise you have ever received? What made it so good?
  • Have you had any really productive partnerships or mentors? Why do you think these relationships worked so well for you?
  • What else might you want to talk about that could help us work well together?
  • What are your future growth goals, your career goals? Which particular skills do you want to learn? What are some specific challenges you want to experience? How can I help?

Establishing roots with someone you support by building up a career growth plan with them. I suggest not starting on this or broaching this topic until at least 3-9 months on the job, depending on the role. The key to knowing when is if they feel comfortable doing 80% of the work, and they start asking questions about path progression. You can have light conversations, like what you want to accomplish in this role, but usually, a career growth plan extends well beyond the current role.

I define successful onboarding as the individual feeling part of the team and they are able to successfully contribute at the level that we expected them to contribute given the responsibilities of the job description. Once you have successfully onboarded an employee, congrats! Now what? This is where we get into a bit of a routine. Sharing feedback regularly, learning about what engages them (this can change over time), building up a personal relationship with them by simply being human, and checking in on objectives and goals frequently. In the past I've also run the FBATR survey on a 6-month cadence, it was interesting seeing the trends over time. In my most recent role, I've used the 15Five check-in tool to get a pulse on the individual. It's a great tool that lets the employee fill out a check-in weekly that goes over 1) objectives, 2) how the past week went, and 3) what are your main blockers. It also takes a pulse. I've found it to be a valuable tool to understand what is important to ask about in a 1-1. Of course, you don’t need to use 15five to check in on these topics, a simple Google doc works as well.

The best managers I’ve worked with all had this common trait, they knew that working with the people they supported wouldn’t be forever. That is the best part about being in a community, people come and go. Sometimes, the individual loves the role at first, but eventually, they disengage or lose interest, or find something else they are interested in. One great question you can ask is “If nothing changes in the next 6 months in your role, would you be happy? What about a year or two?” This happens, but that is when we can do something about it. I like to ask people “So what’s next?” Typically it falls into 3 categories: Next project, Next team, or Next role. Each of these has different paths to take and I won’t go into depth, but the first is within the team, and the other two are coordinating with other people managers or the People Team to align someone to something they are passionate about. For a high-performing individual, this is worth the effort it will be. First, they will be forever grateful you made it happen, and second you are doing your best by supporting them, even if that means letting them go do something else great.

The thought-provoking question is, what do you do to support your people?


Helping projects thrive is another part of the manager triangle that is critical for success. There are many different types of teams and each one requires a tailored process to help them organize their work. Project organization helps individuals align what they are doing with a bigger picture. It also helps individuals organizing many projects understand how each project is doing.

I really enjoy the quarterly cadence process for evaluating what is important, coming up with a plan, and executing it. I like to have a quarterly kickoff meeting to walk through the things we did last quarter (celebrate here), then pivot to what is important to the business this quarter. I walk through the company goals, and then ask “How can we help?”. I let the team write down ideas, and bring in projects that we know we have to do. We then stack rank them based on ROI and commitments, then we talk about how we will measure the success of these objectives. The outcome of the discussion is all the building blocks to create my quarterly goals. They don’t all have to align to the company goals, but they should have a good reason if it doesn’t.

The kickoff meeting is important to set the tone of the quarter, but we reinforce that message with the weekly sync-up that I call the 4-square check-in. The 4-square has 4 sections; Priorities for this week, Priorities for this month, the objectives and how they are going, and lastly team health and metrics.

  • The priorities for the week are a space where everyone on the team can talk about what they are going to be focusing on this week.
  • The four-week priority is a place for leadership to share the most important projects to be tackled this month.
  • The objectives section is a great gut check on our goals. I won’t go over them every week, but it's good to have them there so people see them and keep them at the top of their minds. When I do review them, I ask the team “1-10 how is this objective goal lining up?” This can be an indicator that you may or may not hit your goal.
  • Lastly, the team's health. In the book Radical Candor, from where I got this concept, this section was about metrics that we wanted to ensure didn’t change with our newly introduced change. Sometimes change can have interesting side effects, and this is a tool to keep those things in check. You can establish the metrics you care about by having a future perspective to highlight the things you should keep an eye on. I’ve overloaded this quadrant a bit by adding in team health. I thought this was a great way of highlighting how people are doing and how the world around them is doing. I also believe this is a great way to understand if people are going through a tough time, or if life around them is crazy. Giving people insight into what others are experiencing can grow empathy throughout the team, which is an invaluable thing with all the craziness going on in the world these days. We also added in some fun metrics, like how everyone's caffeine intake 😂, because the best work is fun work.

Project Tracking

Outside of these syncs we also use GitHub Projects to track our work. GH projects really let you customize your workflow by adding the ability to create custom fields, auto-import GH issues, and create different views on your project data. They also have some statistics that help, but if you really want to have a cool dashboard, Grafana has a GitHub plugin that now supports GitHub Projects.

Here is what my dashboard for the Grafana as a Service department looks like:

I use this to get a high-level overview of my team’s projects. This is very valuable since shifting to supporting multiple teams. This links back to a GitHub Project.

Between the Grafana dashboard and the project board, I can asynchronously get updates on any of the ongoing projects. We are also working on some enhancements to this workflow with GitHub, which should come out later this year.

The last tool I use for organizing projects is a wiki. Right now we are using the GitHub repository’s wiki feature to write about our team and our projects. It is great to have a place to let the team write down what is important to them and their process. You can use this as a source of truth to the expectations and also bring it into your team retrospectives as something to update. Often I would have action items after retro to edit the wiki.


Being the glue between people and projects is a manager’s superpower. We understand our people’s strengths and weaknesses, we understand what is important to the business, and we are also the glue that aligns the people to the vision.

One great way to iterate on your process is with your people, and that happens in the retrospective. A retro should be a safe place where everyone is comfortable sharing. There are a million different formats of this, just Google it or ask ChatGPT, and pick your poison. A very common one that I use regularly is the 3 Ls, Liked, Learned, and Lacked. Another handy tip I picked up along the way, have an ice breaker, but it can just be a topic, don’t burn too many calories to try to come up with the perfect conversation starter.

In summary, the teams you build are unique and you will never have two that are the same. There are a number of great processes to set your people up for success. There are a number of great tools out there to effectively project manage. You as the manager are the glue that builds the team and holds the team together.


Popular posts from this blog

Async Standups

Year in Review - 2021 Edition