Stepping out of the comfort zone with adventures of ADVANCED

Mandar Kale
6 min readSep 13, 2020
Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” -John Dewey

This blog is an attempt to reflect on my time in the team Advanced (the last 8 months or so). I hope and wish this reflection might help a few. I have added tips for the folks who can relate and can benefit (take it with a grain of salt).

The “Advanced” in the title is a product edition and my team name. Till last few years at Intuit (my employer), we have only catered to small business segment in QuickBooks Online(QBO) edition. Two years ago, the team started working on solving for the mid-market segment. This version of QBO is called as QBO Advanced. This is a natural evolution of the product that has matured in the US and spreading fast globally. From the sidelines, I knew what Advanced is. But I learnt a lot more after joining this team. This blog is about the same experience in team advanced for the last 8 months.

I used the “challenges in Advanced” because, after joining this team I learnt that everything in the Advanced is challenging 😃. Even taking time off and disconnecting completely. This is what I did two week’s back and I feel very happy about it. It was also my first time when I disconnected from work completely. And, I can tell you it feels good. I will cover this at the end again.

Before Advanced, I worked for Intuit in the UK for 4 years out of London office and joined QBO Advanced at the end of the year ‘19 in Bangalore. I was managing about 6-8 member team and max two projects at a time for around 3 years. This was my comfort zone.

When I was about to join the Advanced team, I started talking to the leaders and learnt a few things about the expectations and requirements. My boss was managing a team of 40+ single-handedly. It was evident that I would be managing half of this team. This sheer team size thought itself was making me nervous and excited both at the same time. I knew that this new opportunity was going to put me out of my comfort zone.

I spoke to two of my mentors and created a plan for 30–60–90 days. It helped a lot to boost self-confidence. Taking out some of the project-specific details, my plan looked something like this (inspired by the book The First 90 days by Michael Watkins)—

First 90 days plan for starting a new role

TIP: Before starting in a new role, it is good to plan just enough to feel that you have a direction to make progress. If possible, run that plan through your new manager (it will help to get the alignment early on).

First few weeks, fortunately, I started just after Christmas, so the office was a quiet place. I got a few days to get onboarded. My boss gave me areas to own and assigned to the team. As expected the team size for me was around 21 engineers. The onboarding was pretty smooth thanks to my boss, the team and the stakeholders. This was the time I met my direct reports and stakeholders 1-on-1. I got to know the organisation and started understanding how to navigate. Even after the first few weeks, many of the times, I used to be worried, that I may not recall all the team members names. Glad! No one tested me at that time 😆. The second thing to be worried about was, the time to manage such a big team? Very fortunate that two events came to rescue for knowing the team 1. Customer care code jam (internal hackathon) 2. Agile training for the entire team. Both these events got me a lot closer to the team. Meanwhile, I was making pretty good progress on my first 30 days goals.

First few months into the role, as I was settling down I worked on a few priorities like knowing people around me as individuals above and beyond what they do at work, my direct reports get what they want to be productive and my boss is offloaded from the areas that I own. I started asking questions like what is the one thing that I can do to improve your work conditions? What are you concerned about? For my direct reports, these questions helped me add value from setting the right priorities to going back to stakeholders about setting the right expectations. From my boss, I learnt that I could help in things like the PR review process, prioritizing long pending issues/bugs and being on top of operational excellence. These questions will work across your peers and stakeholders also. It helped me to add value from the very early days of my start.

TIP: No one likes to get questioned or get caught off-guard; ask questions with empathy to learn and add value.

In the third month, I vaguely remember once or twice looking at the plan but that was the goal. Just do enough planning to make you feel good while starting in a new role.

TIP: Let your plan evolve! Too much of planning might not let you adjust and adapt to the new situation OR will be wasted effort if you have to pivot. Be lean and do just enough.

As I reflect back on my 8 months, my team has successfully (at least I feel so 😆) delivered on two and half quarters in advanced, released some major user-facing and non-user-facing features, the team managed to be productive through multiple organisational changes, and I am doing okay at managing 20+ member team. I still meet all my team members twice in a month (fortnightly). And all this is possible due to this amazing team. The great support I got from peers, superiors and my team made it possible to survive. During these times, I also have gotten a very friendly group of stakeholders in other engineering groups or other functions like experience design and product management etc. Thanks to a lot of learning/coaching I got in my previous role in the UK, I always try and take everyone else with me. The goal is to make sure no one is left behind or is surprised while I am in charge.

TIP: Manager’s job is to avoid surprises for anyone around herself/himself.

Overall, the Advanced team is so fast-moving, that I used to be amazed by the kind of things get delivered by all the functions in a very short time. We also have a lot of alignment, timezone challenges but amidst all that, the team is extremely accountable and very smart. This team delivers years worth goals in months and months worth in weeks. That’s also the reason I feel it is so challenging to take time off and disconnect from work. In these situations, it is very important to build a team empowered to make decisions and have solid progress even when you are not around.

TIP: True test of a leader and manager is when she/he is NOT present at work. So take time offs and test your empowerment levels.

While the whole world is waiting for the year 2020 to end soon, a few good things that happened with me this year are —

  • My decision to move back to my home country (India) just before the pandemic.
  • The opportunity I got to scale up and learn with bigger and bolder responsibilities.
  • Inheriting an awesome team to lead.
  • Learning to work from home for such a long duration (I am sure like me, a lot of us thought it is not possible).
  • Able to apply what I learnt from leaders during my time at the UK

TIP: Take calculated risks and push yourself and your team to step out of the comfort zone all the time.

If I were to live these months again, I would probably do a few things differently like —

  • helping the wider team to be successful beyond my areas.
  • focusing more on my personal development plan.
  • be more involved with the team to continuously improve agile practices
  • managing time better

TIP: Very useful thing learned from my manager — treat your time as the currency. You only have so much every day. Be very critical on what you spend those 24 bucks (hours) on.

Ending this blog on the learning from reflections — This writeup truly helped me to think about a few things that I could do differently going forward. I plan to do this more often. I wish we all take time to do the same.