Cognitive load, professional coaching, and good OKRs 💡
Monday Ideas — Edition #64
Hey, Luca here! Welcome to the Monday Ideas 💡
Every Monday I will send you an email like this with 3 short ideas about making great software, working with humans, and personal growth.
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1) 🪴 What is professional coaching useful for?
I often recommend managers who feel stuck or are facing tough challenges to get some professional coaching. Many, though, are confused by what coaching is useful for.
External coaching is different by the coaching you can get from co-workers in some decisive ways. For example, an external coach is rarely effective on hard technical skills, because 1) they have little context into your work, and 2) because you only talk/work with them e.g. once every two weeks.
What a coach brings, instead, is an external perspective backed by their extensive experience in the industry. This is especially useful for:
✨ Universal skills — leadership, management, collaboration, communication
🔄 Processes — e.g. how your dev process works, how to manage tech debt, how to organize teams, etc.
🪜 Career growth — e.g. advice about direction, having more impact, goals, etc.
🌱 Personal — e.g. relationships with co-workers, healthy/toxic environments, stress, discrimination, etc.
For many of these, having little context can even become an asset. In fact, when you talk with co-workers, you might both take for granted something that you shouldn’t. Say there are some toxic dynamics around management — you might not challenge these with co-workers because hey, it’s been like that forever, it’s ok. An external coach, instead, can tell you “it’s not ok” because they look at things with a fresh pair of eyes.
💼 What jobs coaching is best for
Based on this, I feel like the more your impact is removed from your pure tech chops, the more external coaching is valuable. So, I recommend coaching for managers—even fresh ones—and ICs at least at senior levels.
In general, the higher your level the more the external perspective is valuable. Also, the higher your level the less you will have peers to draw opinions from, and the more you risk living in your own echo chamber.
We talked about this and a lot of other stuff with Andrew Twyman, professional engineering coach, in a recent interview 👇
2) 🧠 Cognitive Load Assessment
Team cognitive load measures how hard or easy teams find building and maintaining their software.
A high cognitive load can be a symptom of various diseases, like high technical debt, or wrong organizational design. For tech teams, this concept was popularized by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais, in Team Topologies, which we reviewed here 👇
They even designed a template you can use to assess the cognitive load. You can find it here.
You can run the assessment periodically, on a quarter or semester basis, together with your wider planning activities. If you have never done this before, this is a great addition to your arsenal for this year.
You can find more techniques in the Tech Radar edition we issued early this year 👇
3) 🎯 Creating OKRs together
One of the main reasons why OKRs fail is that they are not participated by people.
Creating OKRs is a collective process. By involving your team you create commitment towards the goals. The ideal journey is a blend of top-down and bottom-up input. Here is a simple process:
🎯 Objectives — The leadership team sketches high-level goals. These are mostly qualitative, non-measurable, and based on themes that may span multiple quarters.
📈 KRs — Some initial KRs are created top-down, involving managers of the respective teams / functions. These KRs are totally provisional and serve as a basis for discussion.
🔨 Initiatives — The initial version of the OKRs is presented to the team. People come up with initiatives to achieve the KRs and possibly adjust KRs themselves in the process.
🔄 Iterate — KRs and Initiatives are challenged and improved over a couple of rounds of iteration.
More ideas on creating good OKRs 👇
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I wish you a great week! ☀️