I recently finished reading An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management by Will Larson. Larson is a solid writer, but what makes this book relevant is his time in the trenches—in management—at companies like Yahoo, Digg, Uber and Stripe.

An Elegant Puzzle is written for managers and aspiring managers. It’s a cookbook—built from posts on his popular blog—and it covers everything from sizing teams to presenting to executives. The appendix alone is 50+ pages of references to books and papers for further/deeper reading.

As an engineer, the metaphor of a "a puzzle" (think Rubik's Cube) appeals to me—managing feels like solving a puzzle, at times. An Elegant Puzzle is a collection of recipes that you can apply to parts of the puzzle. Occasionally, I feel like my own recipes are better than Larson's, but on the whole it's a pretty good cookbook.

There are a few gems:

Make your peers your first team. One of the first mistakes a new manager makes is failing to realize that, with their promotion into management, their team changed. Their team is now other managers—their old peers are maybe now their direct reports! The book explains why new managers should lean in to this change.

Work the policy, not the exception. Another common mistake is spending too much time dealing with exceptions to a policy (vacation, on-call rotation, technology...). It's not that no exceptions should be granted—because no policy is perfect. Rather, exceptions under consideration should be used to test and refine the policy and then the policy should be applied uniformly. (Of course, allowing no exceptions ever causes problems, too.)

Systems survive one magnitude of growth. Regarding infrastructure, I feel like this is reasonably well understood—the challenge for a manager is figuring out when and how to plan for and address it. Less obviously, but equally truthfully, this applies to organizational systems of people and teams and departments.

#bookreview