Lars Bergstrom

Lars Bergstrom


I am a Director of Engineering at Mozilla, managing the amazing teams building Firefox Reality for VR and AR devices, Hubs by Mozilla, and the Servo web engine.

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Learning a key management lesson from a children's book

Have regular 1:1s. Provide private, clear feedback immediately after either positive or negative work. Don't micromanage. Have clear goals that roll up into a w…

Lars BergstromLars Bergstrom

Have regular 1:1s. Provide private, clear feedback immediately after either positive or negative work. Don't micromanage. Have clear goals that roll up into a well-articulated project strategy that rolls up into the company vision.

Most of the key behaviors and activities that a new manager needs to learn are pretty straightforward - easy to explain, easy to see the value of, and easy to understand why doing them incorrectly will go badly for the individual and team.

But one of the most challenging tasks to teach managers is when to be more hands-on with task assignment for an otherwise very senior staff member. And that's where I like to turn to the lessons of Moby Shinobi.

One of my favorite management books.

The general plot of all of these books is similar - the little guy is literally a fully trained ninja. And he'd like to help out around the farm or firehouse or, in this case, a pizza shop. But in the case of each task he's given, incomplete instructions such as "throw the dough" or "slice the pizza" go hilariously awry when interpreted from the context of a ninja.

The key lesson here is one that I've also had to learn over and over as a manager: deep expertise in one area may translate to finding good synergies and breakthroughs in another deep area, but it doesn't mean that the individual will magically have zero ramp-up time. When asking your experienced C++ developer to do some JavaScript work or your 2D designers to branch out into 3D design, make a lot of space and support for training, experimentation, and even mentoring. In many cases, the pressure of their existing productivity and expectations on themselves will require you to insist that they take a week to onboard: do some samples first, take an online (or travel for!) a course, etc. And that request will cause you a bunch of second-guessing around whether you are micromanaging.

But if you don't find a way to make space for them to build new expertise and ramp up, it'll end just like in the Moby Shinobi book above, where they lose the key down the sink and - rather than just pulling it out of the P-trap - he breaks the security mechanisms with a ninja kick. Clearly not the best or even a good solution, but one where everyone involved can all publicly claim success and then move the ninja out the door and swiftly back to their original work. We've all lived through that situation, where the expert was called in to help and delivered a solution that technically worked or was a reasonable workaround but everyone realized it would have to be rewritten ASAP. And so you all "declare success" and move on.

Commit to doing well for your team, providing the opportunities to create breakthroughs, and the fact that sometimes exactly the right thing will feel like micromanagement.

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