96. Health Check

On today’s show we talk about team health checks. You have to check on the team, see how they’re doing and multiple squads throughout your organization. We discuss one of the few ways that we found helpful when running these team health checks and we’ll take some time and actually run a live team health check on the podcast, about the podcast, right now. We all know insurance is expensive but thankfully doing a health check on your team is FREE.

We would implore that any person in leadership, whether you’re engineering manager or a product manager, to take the opportunity and the time to run Spotify Health Check with your team so you can know how your team feels about the team that they’re working in and the product that they’re working on. So for an interesting and informative discussion on health checks, be sure to keep listening!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • What exactly is a health check for people who aren’t familiar.
  • Why you can’t compare across teams.
  • Looking at trends over time within the same team.
  • Different types of team health checks.
  • Listen as the team does the Spotify Health Check Live.
  • Using the Green, Red and Yellow index cards.
  • Questions relevant to your health checks.
  • The importance of health checks for a team.
  • And so much more!

Transcript for Episode 96. Health Check

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in fantabulous Chelsey Manhattan. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today.

[0:00:09.8] DA: Dave Anderson.

[0:00:10.8] MN: Our producer.

[0:00:12.0] WJ: William Jeffries.

[0:00:11.9] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about team health checks. You know, you have to check on the team, see how they’re doing and multiple squads throughout your organization and we’ll talk about one of the few ways that we found helpful running these team health checks and we’ll take some time and actually run a live team health check on the podcast, about the podcast right now.

[0:00:36.0] DA: Yeah, not a lot of people could do third health check, you know, with the doctor and all that, flu shot.

[0:00:45.1] MN: Yeah, I mean, insurance is expensive so you all watch out.

[0:00:48.1] DA: Thankfully, you know, doing health check with your team is entirely free.

[0:00:51.5] MN: No insurance required for this. Maybe, I don’t know.

[0:00:54.9] WJ: No preexisting conditions.

[0:00:57.6] DA: What exactly is a health check for people who aren’t familiar?

[0:01:00.4] WJ: You need to check your health before you wreck your health.

[0:01:03.4] MN: That is true. That’s correct. That’s what they say, I’ve heard that in the streets.

[0:01:06.9] DA: I think that’s why you do it. Yeah, that’s true. I guess health check maybe it’s like periodic survey that you’ll do, you have a base line of questions that you're asking the team, trying to get a feel for how people’s attitudes towards different topics. And from those attitudes, you can kind of decide how you want to focus on improvement in the future.

[0:01:28.0] MN: Yeah, normally, these health checks are run anonymously so that people can be totally honest about some of the feedback that they would like to give so that it is unfortunate that some people may work in a hostile environment. But, if you have the ability to say what you feel and understand that like some things are not well and we need to fix them then it allows the managers and leadership to attack the things that need help basically.

[0:02:00.0] DA: Yeah, although, it may not be unhealthy environment, you may actually find that people just don’t feel comfortable being attributed to it. Although, in some environments, you might be more open and you might be okay with having a public health check where people are aware of the answers.

[0:02:17.6] WJ: Yeah, I think anonymity is going to get you more honest answers almost always. Even if you have a really high functioning team that jives really well.

[0:02:26.3] MN: Right. Man, I think that when you run these health checks, you’ll definitely see some trends and see some things whether they’re improving or not, depending on the action items that were chosen from the previous team health check on what to fix, right? If you see that a particular – there’s one of them sneak peaks, spoiler alert, one of them being like the ability to – easy to deploy or something of that nature. If you see that that’s red and you figure out strategies tot improve that process and then in the next team health check you see that it’s yellow then you know that the trend is moving up which is great.

Once you know the thing that you’re working on is improving.

[0:03:03.3] DA: Yeah, I guess, to that point, is a tool to like facilitate discussion and identify ways to improve. In a way, it’s kind of like a format for a retro where there might be some action items coming out of it. You might be following through on it. In the meantime,

[0:03:19.2] MN: Right, you also figure out the things that are actually working, you know? If there are certain topics that are green, you know, you want to keep doing those things to ensure that hey stay there.

[0:03:27.0] DA: Yeah, I think one of the tricky things with like getting these kind of metrics out of doing a health check is there might be a temptation to try to compare across teams. You might look at that our team that’s doing like dev ops, they might have one kind of a health check where they have a different set of values from the team that’s doing CSS layouts or something.

Hopefully you have a more integrated team but –

[0:03:53.7] WJ: Yeah, it’s like story point estimates, you can’t compare across teams. Just because it’s a number, it doesn’t mean that it’s comparable.

[0:03:59.5] MN: Right, it’s just something to keep in mind for engineering managers and leadership when they get these numbers across teams just to be mindful of that.

[0:04:07.8] WJ: You can look at trends over time within the same team.

[0:04:09.9] DA: Yeah, that’s where the value really lies. Like, especially if you are a stake holder from outside the team and you’re trying to understand how people are trending.

[0:04:19.5] WJ: Yeah, I think that’s where the best warning signs come from. There was this steep drop-off in one of these criteria, why was that?

[0:04:26.7] DA: Yeah, a tool for discussion.

[0:04:27.6] MN: Even upon doing the research for this topic. We found that there are many different types of team health checks. I mean, I’m most familiar with the Spotify team health check which I imagine we’re going to go over today but there were a couple of others that I was unfamiliar with.

[0:04:43.1] WJ: I think health checks have been around for a long time and were used in project management, traditional project management since way back when. Although, that’s pretty different.

[0:04:52.7] MN: Yeah, the dash boards.

[0:04:54.7] DA: The stoplight’s red, green, yellow which Spotify kind of borrows from, to a degree but the questions are a little more focused on the behaviors of the team rather than the outcomes or like the specific projects.

[0:05:08.3] MN: Yeah,, but there are others like NPS, I think the net promoter score is where you ask everyone just like a number from one – from zero through 10 on how you feel about your organization or your team or what not.

Let’s just say one question, boom.

[0:05:26.5] DA: Yeah, really simple metric and then there’s a little bit of math associated with that where you end up subtracting away people who think really poorly of it, ignoring the people who think indifferently of it and boosting up or promoters.

[0:05:41.5] MN: Right.

[0:05:42.0] WJ: Yeah, there’s also the safety check which I think we talked about in the previous episode, is that right?

[0:05:46.3] DA: Yeah, I think that was episode 31, psychological safety.

[0:05:49.7] WJ: Nice.

[0:05:50.0] MN: That’s the one that your lower back or like your size know what it is?

[0:05:53.4] DA: It’s pretty low down. I was like, 2017 so that was a while ago.

[0:06:00.1] MN: Awesome.

[0:06:00.4] DA: I wasn’t aware of this particularly from a health check but at last, also has their own form of health check with it completely different set of questions that kind of aligns more with the values that you know, those guys have as supposed to the team that was developing Spotify.

[0:06:16.7] MN: Interesting. I’d be more than happy to explore the Atlas one as a completely separate episode because you know, the Spotify one is so immediate and it has, it’s really easy for you to jump right in and kind of find the – how your health is doing in the team.

[0:06:35.3] WJ: Yeah, I think it would be interesting to try the promoter score and do a safety check as well.

[0:06:40.6] DA: One of the mechanics of like doing stuff, how do you normally –

[0:06:43.6] MN: Run them?

[0:06:44.6] DA: Yeah.

[0:06:45.9] MN: The way that I’ve done it before, I actually haven’t had the opportunity to run a Spotify health check at the client that I’m on but the way that I’ve done it, very boot leg. I have all the questions written out and we’ll get to the questions in a bit but we have three index cards that are written, it’s just G for green, Y for yellow and R for red. You just have to imagine the colors.

You have like the rest of your index cards covering what you’re going to play because the reason why I like to do that is because it’s possible that people can influence other people’s votes, what you don’t want to do so you kind of ask them on like “okay, play a card” and put it faced down for this question and then you one, two, three, draw. I think that that way works a lot better rather than having people –

Because then you decided that card, you know, you chose red for a reason and you have to discuss why you felt that way.

[0:07:40.1] DA: Yeah, I like that. I’ve done it even more low budget way where we don’t even have index cards and you just like stick out a thumb like thumbs up, thumbs down or thumb to the side but then that’s kind of like the points game where you’re like, if you throw out fingers, you might see what other people are throwing out and then you’re like, your side kind of turns into a thumbs up or a thumb’s down or what have you.

[0:08:02.9] WJ: Yeah. I definitely done this in the past.

[0:08:06.8] DA: Wait, that was in a three? That was definitely a two. I think like those two processes are really difficult to anonymize because you are either drawing a card or thumbs up, thumbs down. One way that I have seen it is using a google forms and just having someone fill that out with the responses of like the question and then the three answers being green, yellow and red.

[0:08:32.0] MN: That way, that person can feel totally comfortable answering how they really feel and you anonymize that survey so that you get the results that you're really looking for.

[0:08:42.9] DA: Yeah, there’s also the added bonus that you get some charts with the google form as well and it’s also asynchronous. The charts are great because like the colors don’t match up with the answers at all. Like green is blue and yellow is red and it’s completely upside down.

[0:08:58.4] MN: That just sounds really confusing. I think the one way that I have seen it is just drawing out like a table with all the questions and then you like – write in, there’s like three columns for red, green and yellow per question and you just vote, right? Because if everyone’s vote’s the same, I don’t think someone’s going to sit there and remember, Nancy put a red on our process and that – you probably going to forget that afterwards or like Bobby’s really messing up with the teamwork or he feels like a pawn, that kind of stuff.

With that, it’s easy to just mark up with the same white board marker and then that’s fine.

[0:09:41.7] DA: I guess that might be able to draw back of kind of steering other people, if everybody’s voting in one direction or another and you’re like late to the board, yeah, whatever you guys say, you’re good. The Spotify model itself has cards that you can print off and if you’re like, really into it, you can laminate them and pass them out to everybody and so you have like different colors and stuff like cards.

That’s like the high budget version and you can even like go so far as to like pass in the cards to a facilitator for them to count up and determine what the overall score is. It’s anonymous and not influenced by people.

[0:10:19.7] MN: That’s actually pretty cool. I was actually looking at that PDF and wondering, how much would it cost to make cards? I have no idea how that works. Probably sure you have to buy some kind of printing paper that would take those cards in and that kind of stuff.

[0:10:35.1] DA: We’re in New York, you’re just going to Kinko’s or something of those. Can laminate anything.

[0:10:39.6] MN: You guys want to do a Spotify Health Check right now?

[0:10:42.1] DA: Man, I’m ready.

[0:10:43.0] MN: All right, we’ll play the game and I guess we can go around, I have the cards that have what a green is and what a red is so like for each one, I’ll say, what’s a green and what’s a red and then we’ll discuss about what we feel. All right, cool. We got our index cards and we’re ready to go.

[0:10:59.5] DA: Bobby style. G, Y, an R.

[0:11:03.2] MN: Yeah, let’s do it. We got to read there from left to right, anyone who is following or wants to look at the PDF, they can do so. We’re going to start with delivering value. Green, we delivered great stuff, we’re proud of it and our stakeholders are really happy. Red, we deliver crap, we feel ashamed to deliver our stakeholder hate us. Let’s count to three.

[0:11:23.5] DA: One to we shoot.

[0:11:24.6] MN: one, two, three. Shoot. We got two G’s and a yellow.

[0:11:30.4] DA: Descent.

[0:11:30.8] MN: Okay, we got a yellow, what’s up William?

[0:11:33.7] WJ: You know, I feel like we could always do better and I feel like maybe we’re starting to rest on the laurels and we should be like – I don’t know, maybe this is more of a critic for myself personally but I used to listen to every episode and then give myself notes and I don’t do that anymore. I feel like maybe I’m sort of letting my – I let my quality and we should always be striving for higher and higher quality.

[0:11:58.7] DA: Yeah this is an interesting point, I like that. I think that’s cool so I will do the next one, easy to release. Releasing a simple safe, painless and mostly automated. So in the worst case for Red, releasing is a risky painful lots of manual work and takes forever.

[0:12:16.7] MN: Ooh okay. I could see that, one, two, three. I think we all agree that it is easier to release because we have engineers that will do that for us that’s great.

[0:12:26.5] DA: Yeah, thank you. We have that to keep moving.

[0:12:27.8] MN: Yeah, We Edit Podcasts. Shout to We Edit Podcasts, they are definitely the ones responsible for releasing and we have a whole process behind it and they have been very helpful.

[0:12:35.7] DA: They got a Trello board and value streams.

[0:12:39.0] MN: All day.

[0:12:39.6] WJ: Fun, we love going to work and have great fun working together that’s green and then red is boring.

[0:12:48.6] DA: That’s brutal.

[0:12:49.2] WJ: Three, two, one, go.

[0:12:51.0] MN: Yeah, it’s great. I love you guys, I really do.

[0:12:53.6] WJ: Yeah, it is the most fun part of my job.

[0:12:56.1] DA: Sometimes we have too much fun, we get started a little late.

[0:13:01.3] MN: Yeah but –

[0:13:02.1] DA: It’s more like a brighter green or like it just goes back around.

[0:13:06.4] MN: Yeah, the next one may not apply to podcasting but I will read it anyway.

[0:13:11.4] DA: Yeah, I don’t know how I feel about this label because we did this with designers and they were like, “This doesn’t apply to me either”.

[0:13:17.9] MN: Yeah but I will read the red and green and then I will try to see how we can fit this into our medium. Health of code base, green. We’re proud of the quality of our code. It is clean, easy to read and has great test coverage. Red, our code is a pile of dumb and technical that is raging out of control.

[0:13:37.8] DA: Ooh that’s harsh. I like framing this question as like quality just in general. It is like that is more inclusive of podcasts and design artifacts and product.

[0:13:48.4] MN: Right, I think this is probably just like a quality check. So let us move it, let us think of this as like the quality of the topics we talk about and how we deliver that to our users.

[0:13:58.9] WJ: And as an addendum, I would add to distinguish from delivering value, this isn’t so much about how much value the users are getting out of it like our listeners but this is about how difficult it is for us like to continue to produce.

[0:14:12.1] MN: I see.

[0:14:13.0] DA: Yeah, I feel that.

[0:14:14.1] MN: Okay one, two, three, you got two yellows on the field. Yeah I think it’s a – you know there are often times we come in and it’s like the things we got meaty and like fishing or cool for the listeners to listen to and I have been mindful of that. They’re still trying to step it up and think about how we could bring high quality topics to the table but I do love the work that we currently do. So it is like a yellow green-ish.

[0:14:41.2] DA: I feel like it was framed a little bit with what you are saying about not like iterating as much or go to feedback loop. So I think that set me off that we do better. We are not quite like planet money 99% of visible grow in large levels.

[0:14:57.5] WJ: Not yet but soon we will be number one on the charts.

[0:14:59.5] MN: There you go.

[0:15:00.7] DA: We’ll be the number one Rabbit Hole Podcast in the New York area.

[0:15:04.5] WJ: One day.

[0:15:05.5] DA: Okay, so next up we got learning. Green, we are learning lots of interesting stuff all the time. Red is we never have time to learn anything.

[0:15:16.2] MN: One, two, three. Oh man okay.

[0:15:19.4] WJ: I was on the fence about this one. I went green because I do feel that I learn from doing this podcast but I could be persuaded to go yellow because I feel like we don’t have enough time to do as much research as I would like.

[0:15:31.0] DA: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking of too. I’d like to do more deep research because I feel like I learn by explaining and by crystalizing what knowledge I have but it stays at the same level I guess.

[0:15:44.1] WJ: Yeah and you know some of the best writing comes from really long periods of analysis and thought and research.

[0:15:52.5] DA: Yeah like the 99 PI thing I was talking about before like they can take about six weeks to do an episode just one person or maybe a team of people like researching for six weeks until actually it is released.

[0:16:04.0] WJ: Yeah, it is the difference between an article that somebody bangs out in a day or several articles in a day. Well you know some of these content farms on the internet, people have crazy deadlines and you have to ship four stories per day and then in other places like the New York Times, you might have an investigative reporter who is on a single story for weeks, months, maybe even a year.

[0:16:28.1] DA: Yeah that’s true.

[0:16:28.7] WJ: Okay mission. Green is we know exactly why we’re here and we are really excited about it. Red is we have no idea why we’re here. There is no high level picture of focus. Our so-called mission is completely unclear and uninspiring.

[0:16:43.0] MN: Okay, all right one, two, three. All right, green all around.

[0:16:47.8] DA: Exactly green.

[0:16:48.7] MN: Exactly, we are if I can help one person become a better developer then I am doing great. I have said that in the first podcast and that I continue to do that every day.

[0:17:00.5] DA: You do, you are probably developer thankfully.

[0:17:03.1] WJ: Yeah, I am glad we are all in the same page about that.

[0:17:07.5] MN: Pawns or players. Green, we are in control of our own destiny. We decide what to build and how to build it. Red, we are just pawns in a game of chess with no influence over what we build or how we build it.

[0:17:21.9] WJ: Three, two, one, go.

[0:17:23.5] MN: All right.

[0:17:24.6] DA: Oh we’re doing all right.

[0:17:25.1] MN: Yeah, we’re doing all right. We all feel like we’re players out here.

[0:17:28.5] WJ: There is literary no oversight.

[0:17:32.3] MN: At all, yeah.

[0:17:33.7] WJ: It’s great, we have total creative control.

[0:17:35.3] DA: All right, speed. Green, on a high functioning team we get stuff done really quickly, no waiting and no delays. I mean it’s no waste for you people like lean. Red is, we never seem to get anything done. We keep getting stuck or interrupted, stories keep getting stuck on dependencies. All right three, two, one, dang it I look to your card. Oh well.

[0:18:02.7] MN: This is the one where it feels like we can – the listeners don’t get the opportunity to feel it but we often take some more of enough to do. I think we have eluded to that in one of the other cards including health of code base.

[0:18:16.1] WJ: Yeah, we had two yellows and a red on this one. So this is definitely our weakest category.

[0:18:21.2] MN: Yeah and I think we need to step it up but we always try to find ways to do that and –

[0:18:26.2] WJ: To be fair, we have recorded like three episodes in one session now which is pretty impressive.

[0:18:32.7] MN: Hey, yeah that is true.

[0:18:33.8] WJ: I mean we have guests, we really pull together.

[0:18:36.7] DA: Yeah, I was thinking of the speed of booking guests and getting things together too. I don’t know –

[0:18:41.9] WJ: Oh that’s another good point. That is another thing that we are not good at.

[0:18:48.1] DA: All right, the next one is suitable process. Green is our way of working fits us perfectly and Red is our way of working sucks.

[0:18:58.7] MN: Three, two, one, all right we got two greens and a yellow. I threw the yellow you know I feel like there’s always I think you mentioned it in and trying to get interviewers and our process and we can always work on that. I think it’s fun. You guys had the green so I wrote that real quick.

[0:19:15.3] DA: Yeah that is true. I guess I wasn’t thinking about the larger skill for that so yeah, there are some things we could work on.

[0:19:20.1] WJ: Yeah I was thinking about the way we do warm ups and the way we get into the episode and then the way that we hand things off with We Edit Podcasts. Support, we always get great support and help when we ask for it, that’s green. We keep getting stuck because we can’t get the support and help that we ask for, that’s red.

[0:19:37.5] MN: One, two, three, I get support from you guys. You guys are supportive, G’s all around. All right.

[0:19:43.9] WJ: We support each other. Julia helps us with scheduling. The editors help us with making things sound good.

[0:19:50.0] DA: Yeah any rotation as a whole come through.

[0:19:52.1] MN: Awesome.

[0:19:52.7] WJ: Zach helps us with marketing.

[0:19:54.1] DA: Amen, everybody. It takes a village.

[0:19:56.1] MN: There you go and last but not the least is team work. Green, we are a totally gelled super team. Hold on, we are a totally gelled super team with awesome collaboration. Red, we are a bunch of individuals that neither know nor care about what the other people in the squad are doing.

[0:20:16.4] WJ: Three, two, one.

[0:20:18.7] DA: All right.

[0:20:19.2] MN: Oh you got a yellow. You got a yellow, what’s up?

[0:20:21.1] DA: Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like we could collaborate more outside of whom are here.

[0:20:25.8] MN: That’s true. I respect it.

[0:20:28.1] WJ: That’s true, yeah.

[0:20:28.5] MN: I respect this so just a little example for everyone who is listening, you would then take those numbers, you would keep that in mind. I guess one of the examples that I would look back to would definitely be –

[0:20:42.7] WJ: Our worst category.

[0:20:44.4] MN: Our worst category which was the speed as the person if I was in the leadership role and I saw this, I would want to have a conversation around what are some of the things that are keeping us tied and speed and see what we could do to fix it.

[0:20:57.8] WJ: Yeah, how can we drive that metric up.

[0:20:59.8] DA: Speed and quality.

[0:21:01.0] MN: Yeah and I think that you don’t look at this and be like, “Oh was it Dave who said red? You’re fired” that doesn’t really helpful at all but you could try to figure out, you know Dave might be the passionate who wants to kind of boost up the speeding process so that you could actually include Dave in fixing that or if William really felt like there were ways that we can get better in this particular process.

I would implore that any person in leadership whether you’re engineering manager or a product manager, I would take the opportunity and the time to run Spotify health check with your team so you can know how your team feels about the team that they’re working in and the product that they’re working on.

[0:21:42.8] DA: Help people be pawns or not pawns, players.

[0:21:45.9] MN: Yeah, you don’t want to be pawns. You got to be players out here and you know, you want to make things fun. You want to make sure that they agree with the mission so that they write passionate code and that the support and team work is there. All these things you want to hit green and it is pass – you know it is not always easy to do that but you can use this particular strategy to find it.

[0:22:06.6] DA: Yeah and this was the baseline set of questions like this is a starting point. We might decide that some things don’t make sense for us to track or talk or talk about. So we might iterate over that like we changed quality of the code to the quality of work because for this particular example it didn’t really apply but we definitely talk about quality code when we do this on the day to day.


[0:22:29.0] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers just like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.


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