Sketchnote: Sociotechnical Path to High Performing Teams

I think it was Abby Bangser who first introduced me to Charity Majors‘s work during one of our conversations at European Testing Conference (or was it Agile Testing Days? in 2018?) when Abby introduced me to the concept of Observability. Charity Majors is the cofounder and CEO of Honeycomb.io and co-author of Observability Engineering. She writes compelling articles on Engineering Culture & Engineering Management on her website, which is just a treasure trove of a great information.

At GOTO Chicago in 2023, she presented the talk: The Sociotechnical Path to High Performing Teams. Charity stressed the concept that teams and not individual engineers become high performing. You build great engineers by great teams, and not the other way around. (Charity mentioned that your productivity tends to rise or fall to match the team you join – a statement which definitely held up in my own personal experience).

High performing teams deploy much more frequently (208 times more often!), have a faster lead time from commit to deploy, recover faster from incidents and have a 7 times lover change-failure rate. Charity listed the DORA metrics to assess how well your team is performing:

1) How frequently do you deploy?

2) How long does it take for code to go live?

3) How many of your deploys fail?

4) How long does it take to recover from an outage?

and added one of her own: 5) How often are you paged outside of work hours? (The bonus metric echoes Alex Schladebeck’s CEO Quality metric of undisturbedness: how often am I called into escalation meetings).

Charity used wikipedia’s definition of Sociotechnical:

Technology is the sum of ways in which social groups construct material objects of their civilizations. The things made are socially constructed just as much as technically constructed. The merging of these two things, construction and insight is sociotechnology.

Charity offered a few suggestions to build a high performing team:

  • Hire people who share your teams values
  • Construct sociotechnical feedback loops
  • Add instrumentation and observability
  • Practice observability driven development
  • Instrument, observe, iterate and repeat

I loved Charity’s statement how computers exist in a constant state of entropy. We need to keep learning and growing together, and as Charity so eloquently put it: “we need to leapfrog occasionally.” The teams we are on impact our scope of learning. The organizational environments can accelerate or stagnate our growth. High performing teams are fun to work at and they PERFORM. (CI/CD is Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment after all 😉 ).

Listen to Charity’s talk here:

And read her followup here.

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