Crossing Cross-functional Chasms

Initialization Phase

My first evening in La Ciotat: I picked up a rental car in town due to the good graces of Giulia, the front desk assistant who was coming off of her shift. She called, then insisted she drive me to the pick-up office where the lady attending was on her way out to deliver a car. Thirty not so awkward minutes later after discussing dog grooming and training techniques in great depth, the attendant came back and shortly I had a car. It was just starting to rain and it had been years since my last stick shift. Crossed fingers and no stalls to get back to La Rose, but by that time, waters were pouring out in sheets. The sprint from car to lobby was in place of the shower I had hoped to take earlier.

The hotel restaurant was leaking everywhere and occasionally losing power. The great thing about room charges is that a full bar downstairs doesn’t require the internet to hand over all sorts of drinks. People outside the lower forty-eight seem to intuit what to do when the credit card terminal is out of service. The lightning was faster and closer than I’ve ever seen from my fishing town, so it was a good time to revert to battery power and write this.

My recent recipe is bourbon (or tequila) and a splash of each lemon juice, creme de cacao, absinthe, shaken and filtered into a highball with a thick peel of an orange. A few months ago it was half high-quality sake and half Prosecco with a flake of rosemary. In a pinch, anything works, and when your bartender has got flooding issues to deal with, you can ponder life under a canopy and try to stay dry. The following are my thoughts from underneath all of this.

Planning Phase

The thing about my work, it isn’t scalable because it serves different goals than other kinds of work. Like Kent Beck describes in his “3-x” model, there are modes of work that optimize for different localized outcomes but all serve the same high-order goal. What is that goal? As Eliyahu Goldratt states, “the goal of an organization is to make money”. Certainly commercial ones, but even non-profits need to do this in order to exist. I exercise aspects of each of Kent’s 3 modes: explore, expand, and extract. I dig holes to find gold and when I hit it I dig hard, and then try to scale that out to optimize efforts to extract that gold.

In his epic distillations, the Innovators Dilemma and Solution, Clayton Christensen puts a fine point on how if a company is not thinking of its next horizon at all points in the current extract motion, it has no lasting future. Despite the dilemma of where to divest funds and how to prioritize “next” work, I am looking to do that for whomever I work with. I want to help optimize what’s currently being extracted, translate learnings into gaps and undiscovered opportunities, and continuously listen and learn “what’s next” (ref: Tim O’Reilly in “WFT?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us”. If we’re not doing that, either homogeneously as all actors in an organization or as a unique sub-function, then we’re dooming our employees and product to obsolescence.

Implementation Phase

I do…a lot…of things in my current organization. Pre-sales guidance, analyst relations, strategic product planning, blog writing, speaking, webinars, on-site customer planning sessions, technical prototyping, automated pipeline and testing examples, collaboration with support on key customers, building examples, positioning and messaging assistance, customer engineering, amongst others. “Cross-functional” is an easy way of putting it. When friends ask about what I do, I just say “I help technology companies make better decisions.”

But when your cross-functional, you get to see how diverse people groups are and how differently they structure their goals. For some, it’s money, but for others it’s lead acquisition, and for yet others, it’s sprint deliverables and low-defect release cycles. For leadership it’s all of these things plus happy employees, happy customers, and happy selves. I want all of these things and more…happy me and happy mine (family) which requires balance. Balancing multiple objectives takes a lot of practice, similar to my experiences with Uechi Karate-do. Balance isn’t a static state, it’s an ability to re-balance and prioritize based on shifting needs and constraints.

In planning one of four strategy sessions with one of the founders, I found myself thinking “our goals are not the same, he wants to prioritize an existing backlog around reporting, but I want to define the new state of the art for our industry”. After realizing that he had a different goal, we played better together; but I am not distracted. Maintaining the status quo has never been my strong suit and I’m more useful when focused on what’s next, not just what already was.

This is my current approach to balance: understand what drives people (myself included), listen to everyone, provide value that’s aligned to these motives, and circulate what makes sense to the organization. Catching the moment when a founder’s goals and my own differ happens in real-time, but only if I’m exercising balance along these guidelines.

Deployment Phase

This week, the plan is to listen, a lot. Especially because of the language gap, but also thanks to my eclectic manners of verbal communication, as evidenced last time, less seems to be more here. I am working to lock down the details of a new position, focused on bringing the customer perspective to every area of business and a translation of my own invention. The activities performed today have a tendency to be…predictable, easily replicable, and therefore boring to someone like me.

Though billed as “strategy sessions”, my feeling is that current leadership understands the need for all elements of the business to be engaged deeply…”lean forward” as I often call it. The real strategy happens next week, in decision meetings amongst founders and key business owners separate from the rest of the employees. This is an interesting model, right-fit I think for humans who need time to digest and consider various perspectives and potential directions.

Though many ideas and directions will be discussed over the next 7 days, we’ll need to prioritize and I don’t own the company. All I can do is help those who do have a clear understanding of internal and external dynamics, provide requisite evidence for my positions, and improve relationships with my counterparts here in France.

Monitoring Phase

Feedback loops are important whether you automate them or not (but automating them is the smart way to do it). How do you automate human interactions though? The closest I’ve gotten is to “pull forward”…in my upcoming role, building in the demand and supply of effective internal and external collaboration. The partner channel is a significant dynamic in my current organization, much of it is channel but there is also a contingent technical element, as all good partnerships between tech companies should have. A colleague of ming is fantastic at tactical and technical delivery in this scope, but to scale these efforts out to the whole organization takes project/program management that he’s not particularly keen to deliver himself.

A key element to “monitoring” my effect is to A) have traceable inclusion in conversations (via Salesforce currently) and B) through volunteered backchannel context measure how many times my involvement improves what we’re doing, in the partner, sales, marketing, and development work. This week would be an example of execution, then after next week, I would explicitly ask my leadership what value they heard as a result of my presence. Pull forward isn’t a zero-effort enterprise, but is absolutely necessary if you take your individual impact lifecycle seriously.

Reintegration Phase

The bartender tonight quickly called for backup and started taking care of the flooding issues. I suspect this was because he knew that if he had just sat there and let the hotel restaurant get flooded, someone would ream the shit out of him the next day. He got ahead of the problem and solved it. This is what DevOps and SRE is all about, seeing that no one else is solving for the lasting value and putting patterns in place to help others to do exactly that.

In our current state, this organization takes its time to synthesize and integrate learnings. Faster than most other teams I see but not as fast as some, as with everything pace can be improved. More importantly, alignment and transparency must always be improved and that is not zero-effort in the slightest either. In a prior position, an SVP once stated that “alignment is about 50% of my time spend”. With marginal variance, I wish that applied across all roles and responsibilities in every team and every organization I work with. Imagine the impact you’d have if 100% of your 50% heads-down work was wildly effective. That is what rowing in the same direction looks like.

Reprise

For this post, there is no “call to action” other than if you want to leave a comment or engage on social channels. I can always find something worthwhile for you and I to do together. Drop a line and let’s chat about that.