Can humility help engagements succeed?

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I was reading this article on Vox recently titled Intellectual Humility: the importance of knowing you might be wrong.

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It caught my attention, and I think we can expand on it a bit. Here are my thoughts.

1. Admitting when you’re wrong

Of course we’ve all had moments when we’re wrong. We make a proclamation, which turns out wrong. We measure something incorrectly. Or we forecast imprecisely.

It is hard to stand on the stage. The spotlight is on you. And when you do that you can be the object of criticism, and speculation. Just like everyone you may make mistakes, but when the spotlight is on you, it can weigh heavier.

That is exactly the time to be a bit humble, acknowledge your thought process, and where you went wrong. By standing up and admitting your mixup, you will come out the other side stronger.

Related: How can we keep cloud architectures simple

2. Admitting you might be wrong

This can be harder. As engineers we like to problem solve. We spend years exploring math & science, looking for the “truth”. The more one searches for it thought, sometimes the more illusive it can be.

Measurements are never exact. And theories and architectures often fail in the face of real world traffic. Applications fail. Servers fail. Outages happen. Customers especially paying ones will inevitably get angry, and this can backfire onto you.

Be prepared for the real world. It gets messy.

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3. Allowing space for others to be wrong

This is a tricky one. You may know what others don’t, but it may take finesse to share that truth. You may have to sell your perspective, even while another perspective may be measurably wrong.

Be prepared to sometimes let things break a little. As hard as this is, it may allow for others to learn.

Like immunizing, sometimes failure can teach what words cannot.

Read: Can communication mixups sour an engagement?

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How best to do discovery in cloud & devops engagements?

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Customers reach out to me asking to do implementations, that is architecting applications, deploying code to the cloud, optimizing, tuning, and automating all the things.

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But there are also a portion of engagements the require an amount of discovery. Some of that is technical in nature, and some is more around people and process.

Here are my thoughts.

1. Technical discovery

This is the most obvious type of discovery I might do. It would involve code reviews to begin, and then architecture reviews. Diagrams, microservice communication, apis and so forth.

Here’s a sample executive summary I did for one engagement, with names changed.

Next there is infrastructure, which of course should be defined in code. Terraform and CloudFormation provide good solutions here.

There also is hopefully documentation to review. This includes README’s and code comments, but also confluence docs as well.

Related: Can progress reports help engagements succeed?

2. Process discovery

Understanding the process of how the engineering team builds software, and gets new features to customers cannot be overstated.

What is the methodology? How are deployments managed? Do they break often? How quickly can a developer get changes to production?

I’d recommend this a16z podcast on devops to get a better understanding of this process.

Related: When clients don’t pay

3. Team discovery

This is another area that is key to success. Is there an offshore team? Are SRE’s working remote? Are devs all here in New York or elsewhere? How well is communication happening? Are there trouble spots? Bottlenecks?

In particular it’s worth looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to team and cohesion.

Related: A CTO must never do this

4. Tools discovery

I’m often surprised how many firms don’t know what they have. As enterprises grow, and as team turnover changes, the institutional knowledge can sometimes move with them.

In these cases review of systems and tools in place can be very helpful. Tracking a product, its deployment, and the components in place to facilitate that.

This process can uncover surprises and much room for improvement.

Related: When you have to take the fall

5. In Summary

I’ve uncovered opportunities for improvement in all of the four areas. Although technical discovery high on the list, the other areas can also be ripe areas for investigation.

Production quality, efficiency, and speed of execution and overall team morale and communication all contribute to the velocity of the firm in the marketplace.

Related: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

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