growth management support

Coaching with empathy

Have you initiated a PIP on one of your reports? Did they improve and maintain their enhanced performance? So far, in close to 20 years of working in tech, I have not witnessed the first individual that survives a PIP.

Imagine a world where most PIP sections are there, but we remove the “if you don’t improve, we’ll let you go.” clause

I argue that removing the option to fire someone for performance reasons makes it so that we genuinely care for a successful outcome of any improvement plan.

Here is how this would look.

Goal settings

Most PIPs will come with a pre-determined set of goals already laid out for the individual.  

In my opinion, this removes the power of commitment from the individual, so instead, I suggest you present a set of the underperforming areas with information to back up your claims and then ask them to define specific goals to improve in those areas.

Action items

After setting goals, the next step is to work on action items planned to get to the goals.

Let’s say one of the goals is to improve communication.

Specific action items could be

  • Write up a standup update daily at nine AM
  • Set a reminder five minutes before a meeting to read ahead and participate in meeting conversations
  • Set aside one hour weekly to write up about technical decisions taken during the week

This should be a collaborative exercise where both of you work on a set of actions that will get you closer to the goals you have set.


Lastly, we’ll make sure that we have a way to show progress on the actions and the goals.

Following the example above, to improve communication well be writing standup updates daily. 

To hold us accountable, we can report weekly on the number of standup reports completed. We can further survey the team on how they feel about the individual’s communication practices.


PIPs don’t have the goal of improving performance. Instead, they aim at driving someone out of the company.

By constraining ourselves by removing the option to fire for performance reasons, we change the process so that the goal is to see improvement truly.

We get there by working together to set up goals, the actions to achieve them, and ways to measure our progress.

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quality stories support

Customer service – learnings from airline experience

Today I had to deal with customer service for a major airline, and it was such a negative experience that I feel compelled to write about it.

If your product offers customer service, there are some suitable lessons here.


Our problem was the interpretation of essential guidance by the CDC needed to travel into the USA. 

We had the latest guidance, but the airline operator didn’t, so we lost our flight.

  • Now think about software for a minute. If you are on a team that subscribes to continuous delivery, how is your support team made aware of new changes?
  • How often is the documentation that users and support rely on updated?
  • When you have conflicting information, do you train your support team to re-validate their assumptions?

In our case, the airline didn’t propagate regulation fast enough.

They didn’t train for edge cases and trained their staff to go with their assumptions rather than empowering them to verify the information.

The result was abismal customer experience and various unhappy flyers with lost flights complaining about an easily avoidable situation.


Our situation didn’t fit the usual support request that most users deal with, so we contacted the airline via phone to speak to a representative.

Here, we ran into an automated phone system that didn’t offer any of the options we were looking for, so we got routed to use WhatsApp.

Thinking I was going to chat with a representative, I got on WhatsApp, and to my surprise, I got another bot 🤖.

This bot didn’t provide an option to reach a representative.

I went on social media, and they routed me to a form, and guess where the form sent me? Another automation.

Automation in customer service is excellent for well-defined problems, but human interaction is required for edge cases.

  • When automating customer service, do you offer the option to speak to a human?

In our case, the automation didn’t help. 

The routing from one automated system to another made the experience worst.

In the end, the support experience just added to our grievances and set a bad reputation for the airline.

Thinking back to how this relates to software and the lesson is clear, Don’t let your support process mess up your reputation instead of helping it.

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