October 31, 20212 minutes to read — Tags: mental models, management, leadership

Recently, I’ve found 2 leadership techniques particularly helpful. They’re both highly leveraged: they empower those around me to work effectively with less direct input and coordination from myself.

Completed Staff Work

Completed staff work is a rigorous “definition of done” when one needs to clarify and recommend a decision to someone else.

It’s useful when for the responsible person is different from the accountable person in a RACI matrix.

How I’ve applied it

When my colleagues present a decision that’s incomplete, my instinct is to do the additional work myself and model what I think is missing. Completed Staff Work helped me recognize that I overplay that Do-It-Myself technique (often at the expense of other priorities), and can instead give clear feedback about what’s missing

Commander’s Intent

Commander’s intent is about explaining “why” a particular task or instruction is important. Then If the particular task becomes unrealistic, knowing the intent allows others to creatively and independently solve the problem with less input from the “commander.” I think of it as the “spirit of the law” rather than the ”letter of the law“.

Knowing the intent empowers operators to better improvise and improve on rote instructions.

How I’ve applied it

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I used commander’s intent to evolve Glossier’s incident response process. We wanted to better detected and mitigate incidents. And we wanted to prioritize remediation work that would eliminate several types of failures. When this work inevitably ran up against product feature tradeoffs, the team was able to navigate those tradeoffs well referring back to the explicit intent of our incident response process, namely to continuously improve product quality and team productivity.

I encourage other leaders to use ‘completed staff work’ to teach their team to make clear decisions, and use commander’s intent to allow individual autonomy while staying aligned with the group.

Aaron Suggs
Hi, I'm Aaron Suggs. 😀👋

Welcome to my personal blog. I manage engineering teams at Instructure, previously Lattice, Glossier and Kickstarter. I live in Chapel Hill, NC. Find me on LinkedIn, and GitHub.