Nuno Silva is the first guy I remember meeting when I started at ISEL. We’ve been friends ever since. We’ve done most of the course together, we started Orion’s Belt as a school project and worked at the same companies on our first years as developers.
At some point we parted ways and gained different experiences in different fields. But practically at the same time we started leading teams and trying to be better at it. He’s usually my advisor whenever I have some tricky situation to attend to.
In this interview I try to get some insights on how Nuno works and some best practices on leading teams.
Hey Nuno, what can you tell us about Sky and about the project you’re working on?
Hi Pedro. First let me thank you for this opportunity.
Sky is one of the major broadcasters in Europe with branches in UK, Germany and Italy. Its objective is to lead, not only with the normal broadcast services, but with cross platform applications that provide digital content to the end user. The main areas of penetration are Broadcast, DTH (Direct to Home) which is basically the content provider by the STH (set-top boxes) that we have at home, and OTT (Over the Top) services which allow Sky to provide content over the Internet.
I work in Sky Store, more properly in the backend of Sky Store. Sky Store it’s Sky strategic OTT platform. This platform allows the client to buy or rent movies and boxsets. The client can watch the content in a web page (skystore.com or store.sky.de), in an Android Device, IOS Device, Desktop (Windows or Mac) or at his on on his STB.
Sky seems to be huge and to have lots of moving parts. With how many teams do you interact? And how do you tackle dependencies? I mean, if you have a feature that touches several teams, what’s your process from start to delivery?
It depends on the feature or how many features my team is implementing at a certain moment. Typically is 3, but can go up until 7 or more.
For big features that envolve several teams, we always have an HLD (High Level Design) where the requirements of the application or feature(s) are converted into a description of contracts through which we interact. This HLD can take days or in some cases months to create. E.g. I’m currently in a project that besides costing a couple of millions, it has dozens of people working both in Lisbon and in UK (almost all Sky Store Lisbon is working on it). In this case, the HLD took about 2 months to create and involved several people. At the end, although close to final, is not perfect. Several CRs (change request) normally occur, errors in the design are detected and things that were not considered have to be done.
Of course that in these projects we do not interact with all the teams involved. Last year I was involved in a even bigger projects with literally hundreds of persons involved, but we always interact with the teams on our frontier.
At the end, we continually integrate the features on our test environment, have a phase of SIT (System integration Tests) that involves all the teams, we have a trial phase were only some of the clients can see and interact with the new features (in special production environment) and finally we have the go live were the feature is available for all our clients.
It’s needed a lot of coordination to orchestrate that. Imagine that you have some delay, for illness or bad estimates. What kind of tools to you have to handle that possible deadline breach?
You basically hit the major downsize of working in a company with over 30k people, with teams spread in several countries and a culture that has been evolving for 27 years now.
I recognize that the process is not very agile and we take a lot of time to put large features into market, specially because the waterfall part of the process tends to delay everything. We don’t have a silver bullet. We try to respond rapidly to changes, like illness, spreading the knowledge between several people to reduce the risk. Regarding bad estimates, we always have a plan B, what is usually called a tactical solution, to overcome unexpected scenarios that other way would delay the project. This usually get us time to implement a more strategic solution, one that we are proud of. And this is one of our major concerns: always implement strong solutions that solve problems in the best way possible.
To have the team always at a high level is not easy. What do you do to ensure that your team is growing and healthy?
I think 1 on 1s are essential. I do a formal 1 on 1 each 3 months. Between those formal meetings I usually use lunch time to speak with each one individually and try to understand their problems and pains. I try to be proactive and understand if there is a problem as soon as possible. This actually works very well because I can mitigate them at an early stage and everyone is very direct to me, even when they are contacted by other companies which shows the level of proximity I have with everyone.
Also I try to understand what are they expectations in terms of evolution inside the team and inside the company and act accordingly. Those who want a more technical career I usually give a more complex tasks where they can improve they architecture skills. The ones who want a more management role, usually are the ones that replace me and are giving projects were they are the ones that manage dependencies and timelines. I always help both because at the end of the day I am the responsible, but the main focus is that they shine, not me.
Finally I have a huge focus on joining all the team together at least once every 2 weeks. We choose a nice restaurant and, without any time constrain, have fun and hang out. Usually this day corresponds to the end of our sprint.
Having the team healthy, growing and productive is always an on-going task. How do you handle new additions to the team? Can you talk a bit of how you do recruitment and onboarding?
Regarding the additions to the team, it always depends on the number of additions and who is the person to be added. Always make a small onboarding section were I share the values of team (like bringing custards for the team every week) and explain the business end to end. Of course there are complicated persons that sometimes do not adapt or have a more stronger personality. I had 3 in my previous team. What I do is more regular 1 on 1s with them, trying to understand the why in their behaviours and work with them to resolve and improve.
The recruitment at Sky is usually split into 4 parts. The first is an online test where we evaluate the technical capacity of the candidates with some simple exercises. This process is a triage that removes about 60% of the candidates. The second part is an interview were we explain what Sky is, our values, culture, perks, where we know the candidates, their expectations, what they want to achieve. At the end we ask some basic technical questions. If the candidate passes the second interview, the third is typically a more technical interview were we discuss technical problems normally related to some that we had at Sky. The Fourth is where we make the final proposal and explain all the conditions and how the perks work.
We’ve talked about growing our team and how to have a happy and productive team. But what about we, the managers? We also need mentoring, coaching and to grow. What would you expect from your manager and what can we do to level up?
From my Manager I expect full transparency even if that hurts. I would expect straight feedback specially focused on what I did wrong and what I can do to improve and reach the next level. I would also expect continuous and frequent 1 on 1s so we can not only review my latest work, but specially my performance and results.
That’s great. Thanks for answering my questions. One last one: can you point me to someone to interview next? And explain a bit about why you choose that person?
First let me thank you for this opportunity.
If I had to choose a person, I would pick my good friend Ygor Cardoso. He has made a similar path within Sky as I did. We were part of the same team, he was promoted to a leadership role some time before I did and is now the Delivery Manager of Sky Store and my boss. :)
So I’m sure that he has a lot of interesting insights to share.
Author Pedro Pereira Santos
License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0