Monthly Archives: June 2022

Book Notes: Project to Product

Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework by Mik Kersten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Project-Oriented ManagementProduct-Oriented Management
BudgetingFunding of milestones, predefined at project scoping. New budget requires creation of a new project.Funding of product value streams based on business results. New budget allocation based on demand. Incentive to deliver incremental results
Time FramesTerm of the project (e.g., one year). Defined end date. Not focused on the maintenance/health after the project ends.Life cycle of the product (multiple years), includes ongoing health/maintenance activities through end of life.
SuccessCost centre approach. Measured to be on time and on budget. Capitalisation of development results in large projects. Business incentive to ask for everything they might need up front.Profit centre approach. Measured in business objectives and outcomes met (e.g., revenue). Focus on incremental value delivery and regular checkpoint.
RiskDelivery risks, such as product/market fit, is maximised by forcing all learning, specification, and strategic decision making to occur up front.Risk is spread across the time frame and iterations of the project. This creates option value, such as terminating the project if delivery assumptions were incorrect or pivoting if strategic opportunities arise.
TeamsBring people to the work: allocated up front, people often span multiple projects, frequent churn and re-assignment.Bring work to the people: stable, incrementally adjusted, cross-functional teams assigned to one value stream.
PrioritisationPPM and project plan driven. Focus on requirements delivery. Projects drive waterfall orientation.Road-map and hypothesis testing driven. Focus on feature and business value delivery. Products drive Agile orientation.
VisibilityIT is a black box. PMOs create complex mapping and obscurity.Direct mapping to business outcomes, enabling transparency
Flow MetricsBusiness Results
Velocity (items completed per time)
Efficiency (touch time vs total time)
Time (total time)
Load (WIP)

Flows for:

Book Notes: Give and Take

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam M. Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book presents three types of people:

  • Givers – people who give and help others no matter what. For givers they get pleasure from giving or helping others.
  • Takers – people who take with no thought of giving. For takers it is all for and about them.
  • Marchers – people who give when they have taken or in the hope that by giving they get something in return

At the start givers perform worse than takers or matches – this is because they invest more time into others. However over time givers start to accelerate their success and exceed those of takers and marchers.

Givers need to be careful not to ignore themselves – else they can become burnt out.

Book Notes: Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: Tight and Loose Cultures and the Secret Signals That Direct Our Lives by Michele Gelfand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book presents the view that there is a spectrum between tight and loose cultures – the level of tightness is driven by the history – places which have been at war or regularly experience natural disaster tend to be tighter. Those which are more stable tend to be looser. Neither tight nor loose is “right” but this can explain some of the challenges different groups have working together. It is also possible to move a culture tighter or looser e.g. by increasing rhetoric about threats to tighten a culture with fear, or to have messier/chaotic environments which result in looser cultures.

Social Order
Cultural Inertia
Social Disorder
Tight Organisational CulturesLoose Organisational Cultures
Strong socialisation
Weak socialisation

Book Notes: Staff Engineer

Staff Engineer: Leadership Beyond the Management Track by Will Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Staff-plus roles split into these common archetypes:

  • Tech lead – guiding the approach of a particular team (or two) with complex tasks, coordinating and unblocking.
  • Architect – responsible for the success of specific technical domains by setting direction, defining quality and approach within an area.  Combining in-depth knowledge of technical constraints and user needs.  This is not the toxic preconception that architects design and pass on to others to implement, in staff-plus roles this is more about influence.
  • Solver – finding solutions to challenging problems.  Either assigned for a short period (hot spot fixer) or longer.  Problems already prioritised.  Common in companies that think of individuals rather than teams in terms of planning and ownership.
  • Right hand – provide additional bandwidth for a leader borrowing some of a leader’s scope and authority to operate.  Tend to dive into a fire, edit the approach and delegate the execution to jump to another fire.  You always work on essential problems but move on before they have actually been solved.

It is quite common for people without the staff-plus title acting in many of the staff-plus archetypes – being a staff-plus role is a mix of the acting in the archetype, the behaviours, the impact and the organisation recognising these things.

What do staff-plus engineers do?

  • Setting the technical direction – effectively a part-time product manager for technology by understanding and solving real needs of the organisation, less about prioritising technology and approaches you are personally passionate about.
  • Mentorship and sponsorship – growing leaders around you to help the organisation improve its problem solving abilities.
  • Providing engineering perspective in decision making – decision making needs to balance efficiency and effectiveness, here a staff-plus engineer can help provide valuable inputs representing all the engineering interests.
  • Exploration – this can be an ambiguous important problem that the company is ill-shaped to address.
  • Being glue – doing the needed but often invisible tasks to keep the team moving forward and shipping its work.

The environment staff-plus engineers work

  • Complex and ambiguous – the sort of work tends to be poorly scoped, complex and important. From broad, unclear (and potentially wrong) statements the identification of a concrete approach that works will be needed
  • Numerous and divided stakeholders – problems might have neither alignment around the problem nor the solution.  Management might see this as critically important but engineers feel it is fine as is.  It could be agreed that it is a problem but with disagreements about the approach that should be taken.

Named bet where failures matter – it is going to be sponsored by a senior leader, the work staff-plus engineers do will likely be widely communicated.  This means that success or failure will be highly visible – as such failing well (early, with learning, appropriate level of risk) is a critical skill.

Book Notes: The Culture Map

The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures by Erin Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Culture Map provides a number of scales on which different cultures exist. The important part of the scales are the relative between cultures rather than the values themselves, e.g. in relation to low or high context Poland, Spain and Bulgaria are seen as high context in comparison to the UK, however from the Spanish perspective Bulgaria is high context and the UK and Poland are low context.


Good communication is precise, simple and clear. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition is appreciated if it helps clarify the communication.Good communication is sophisticated, nuanced and layered. Messages are both spoken and read between the lines. Messages are often implied but not plainly expressed.


Direct Negative FeedbackIndirect Negative Feedback
Negative feedback to a colleague is provided frankly, bluntly, honestly. Negative messages stand alone, not softened by positive ones. Absolute descriptions are often used when criticising. Criticism may be given to an individual in front of a group.Negative feedback to a colleague is provided softly, subtly, diplomatically. Positive messages are used to wrap negative ones. Qualifying descriptors are often used when criticising. Criticism is given only in private.


The ideal distance between a boss and a subordinate is low. The best boss is a facilitator among equals. Organisational structures are flat. Communication often skips hierarchical lines.The ideal distance between a boss and a subordinate is high. The best boss is a string director who leads from the front. Status is important. Organisational structures are multilayered and fixed. Communication follows set hierarchical lines.


Decisions are made in groups through unanimous agreement.Decisions are made by individuals (usually the boss).


Trust is built through business-related activities. Work relationships are built and dropped easily, based on the practicality of the situation. You do good work consistently, you are reliable, I enjoy working with you, I trust you.Trust is built through sharing emails, evening drinks, and visits at the coffee machine. Work relationships build up slowly over the long term. I’ve seen who you are at a deep level, I’ve shared personal time with you, I know others well who trust you, I trust you.


ConfrontationalAvoids Confrontation
Disagreement and debate are positive for the team or organisation. Open confrontation is appropriate and will not negatively impact the relationship.Disagreement and debate are negative for the team or organisation. Open confrontation is inappropriate and will break group harmony or negatively impact the relationship.


Project steps are approached in a sequential fashion, completing one task before beginning the next. One thing at a time. No interruptions. The focus is on the deadline and sticking to the schedule. Emphasis is on promptness and good organisation over flexibility.Project steps are approached in a fluid manner, changing tasks as opportunities arrive. Many things are dealt with at once and interruptions accepted. The focus is on adaptability, and flexibility is valued over organisation.


The concept of Applications-first and Principles-first only applies to western environments. Asian cultures, for example, are Holistic and neither Applications-first nor Principles first.

Principles FirstApplications First
Individuals have been trained to first develop the theory or complex concept before presenting a fact, statement, or opinion. The preference is to begin a message or report by building up a theoretical argument before moving on to a conclusion. The conceptual principles underlying each situation are valued.Individuals are trained to begin with a fact, statement or opinion and later add concepts to back up or explain the conclusion as necessary. The preference is to begin a message or report with an executive summary or bullet points. Discussions are approached in a practical, concrete manner. Theoretical or philosophical discussions are avoided in a business environment.