Buddhism is a rich tradition concerned with an individual’s ability to conduct an upright and skillful life. As such, it recommends three ways to simultaneously train oneself:
…the scope of the first training, morality, is the ordinary world, the conventional world, the world that we are all familiar with before we even consider more specialized topics such as meditation. The goal is to think, speak, and act in ways that are conducive to the reduction of suffering as well as the welfare of ourselves and others. The scope of the second training, concentration, is to focus on very specific and limited objects of meditation and thus attain specific altered states of consciousness that cultivate positive mental qualities and reduce negative ones. The scope of the third training, that of insight or wisdom, is to shift to perceiving reality at the level of individual sensations, perceive their three characteristics, and thus attain profound insights into the nature of reality and realize stages of awakening.
I know this is all very abstract and a little hard to grasp. However, at its core, it’s not saying anything too complicated. The first training is acting skillfully in your daily life. The second training is improving your ability to concentrate by sharpening your mind. The third training is to combine the first two trainings to draw conclusions about the world in which you live.
Although I’m no evangelist of any religion, I believe the core of these principles can be applied to many areas in life that require careful consideration. One such area is technical team management.
As a tech lead, if I wanted to apply these concepts to my day-to-day, I’d rephrase them to:
- Software reliability
- Short-term focus
- Long-term vision
Let’s break them down one by one and see how they influence each other.
The Three Aspects
Software reliability is a subject with entire libraries’ worth of books about it. Building reliable software requires discipline and relentlessly high standards.
On a day-to-day basis, a technical team has an obligation to maintain its production software. The software’s ability to meet its SLAs is top priority.
When the software’s stability reaches a certain stage of dependability, the team can stop putting out fires and start thinking about achieving its other goals. By eliminating distractions, higher-level functions start to emerge, allowing the team to achieve its long-term and short-term goals more painlessly.
Short-term focus, to me, can mean either of these things:
- Daily execution of sprint tasks or Kanban cards
- Project management rituals on a weekly or bi-weekly cadence
These are tactical choices that, when applied effectively, allows the team to collaborate seamlessly and break down tasks into bite-size pieces.
In addition to project planning, the idea of focus could also be applied literally to team members’ focus in their day-to-day tasks. Uninterrupted, quiet work hours on the maker’s schedule and other such Deep Work best practices can really supercharge individual contributors.
The aspect of Focus will support the other two aspects of this framework when it becomes something each team member can take for granted. On one hand, this level of achievement is only possible when Reliability has been taken care of, and team members are rarely fighting fires. On the other hand, the ability of the team to focus is a key component of operational excellence, which involves leveling up the software’s reliability.
On a day-to-day basis, achieving a high level of focus sharpens the team into a formidable force.
The vision is a cohesive long-term view in total sync with business goals. Having a strong vision, translated into a product roadmap, is paramount to a high-performing team. The other two aspects, when executed properly, clears the way for the team to make progress to achieve the vision using the roadmap.
The product roadmap provides a certain amount of coherence for all team members to lift the short-term projects into the long-term context. Consequently, the team becomes more motivated to achieve day-to-day software reliability and short-term focus on the prioritized list of tasks.
The old Buddhist teaching of the Three Practices, morality, focus, and insight, is a generalizable framework that a tech lead can apply to their team. Each aspect supports the other two and opens the way for the team to achieve its goals in a virtuous cycle.