Interview with Lena Wiberg

She believes continuous improvement is something we should all strive for by keeping up to date and always challenge ourselves, our assumptions and the way things are done. She is an avid blogger, speaker and workshop facilitator. Lena lives outside of Stockholm, in a big house filled with gaming stuff and books with her family.

She is currently working as an Engineering Manager at Mentimeter and the author of Would heu-risk it? (book available on Leanpub and Amazon, card deck available through Ministry of Testing)

What inspired you to write poems for your book Would Heu-Risk It?

I have always loved rhymes and poems! I love word puns, music and rhythm and I like the way they can say so much with so little. I loved the way Lisa Crispin framed it as “Lateral thinking in a box”.

They give you ideas but without telling you exactly what to make of them. It also looks pretty and Trish Khoo did an amazing job at designing the cards around the titles, rhymes and the illustrations she created for them.

Is there anything you find challenging about being an Engineering Manager? (Compared to being a tester or developer)

Yes. The fact that so much of my job is “invisible” and so little are things I can check off of a list!

I remember in a particularly exhausting period I spoke to my friend and said “I am not DOING anything” and she reminded me of all of the one on ones, all the conflict resolving talks and all of the meetings I had, all the people I talked to. It can be so hard not to see the real effect of your work for a long time.

Pro tip: I keep a pile of small easy things I can do when I am drained, just to make me feel like I produced something.

Testing was mentally more draining than coding but people management is definitely one step further. You have to work on so many levels in parallel and have to work indirectly instead of directly to an extent that I never understood the complexity of.

Not being able to be 100% transparent about everything can also be frustrating at times. Knowing that information is necessary to share, what is beneficial to share, what would help but can’t be shared even if it would be useful and what information is just noise or disturbance.

What have you found to be the most rewarding as an Engineering Manager?

The same things that are draining actually. When you see your tiny nudges make big effects. When you can actually make a difference to a person. When you get to sponsor someone and see them soar to the skies.

Building people is harder than building software but also more rewarding!

I also really love strategic work so everything in that area is rewarding. Thinking 1-3-5 years ahead and actually seeing the ripple effects happening. It is really cool!

I always was very good at connecting the dots and I love planning. I also find weird enjoyment in budgeting and forecasting and I did not think I would love recruiting so much!

When it comes to software testing, what have you changed your mind about and why?

Oh lord … most of it!

I used to LOVE waterfall projects. I felt I could only do good testing if I could plan forever. A horrible project around 2014 forced me to try something different and the results amazed me. I guess Agile wasn’t so bad after all :-D

I didn’t trust developers with testing. A few amazing people showed me how much more powerful you become when you work as a team. And I guess I improved my soft skills enough to stop treating them in a way that alienated me so today I work much more through nudging and suggestions and less through “Stop doing the same stupid mistakes CHILD”

I thought testing in production was a mirage. I have seen first hand how amazing it can be to let go of control and trust in the fact that someone will actually notice, prioritize and fix when something goes wrong.

Being able to deploy many many times a day even in a non-microservice environment is not impossible and it is bloody cool!

It is easy to convince people through facts. It isn’t. Emotions are so much stronger. It is impossible to convince management to prioritize big projects/improvements. It isn’t. You just need to figure out what motivates them.

What do you do to create an environment of psychological safety in your teams? (And why do you think it’s important to create such an environment?)

I guess my main thing is to be vulnerable myself. I am very open and honest about when I don’t know something and I am open about when I screw up.

Other things I like to do is making sure to let everyone speak. This can cause a lot of extra work for me because it means making sure to note who does not speak, checking in separately with the silent ones or straight up stopping someone from taking up too much space (…but in a kind way. Which is really hard). Simple things as well, like trying to be explicit about agendas and outcomes.

I also believe a lot in some principles I learned in a communication and leadership course by Dale Carnegie (my interpretation):

The honest part is important. There are always good things. Learn to see them and genuinely appreciate them!

Instead of cornering someone, try to show the other person mistakes without making is seem like a big deal

This makes it less threatening to make mistakes

Try to understand why it happened. Honest interest and curiosity is FAB!

Again: it is very often possible to make it seem like not a giant deal that a mistake happened. Bringing attention to it without making the other person lose face makes it so much less threatening

If nothing else - a good relationship makes the other person want to help you. You liking them often makes them like you a bit more

If they feel your genuine and strong belief in them - they will want to live up to that

Most mistakes can be fixed.

You want them to want to do it. If possible. Make it seem like a good thing, not a horrible burden.

All in all, the above makes it so much more likely to influence someone to do something.

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