Appendix J: A Metaphor for the Long-Term Value of “Documenting Champions”

I’m trying to write a blog every 2 weeks. Next week, I wanted to write about the Q4 ’22 Kubernetes Job Market report from Kube Careers, but the universe has told me that I need to do this off-cycle post because someone reached out to me this weekend about something I am pretty proud of doing and a process I’m trying to innovate on well. We’ll see if next week I come back to reflecting on K8s stats.

We’re going to talk about the infamous Appendix J.

Appendix J is a metaphor because I do not actually recall what the letter was. It may have been J, maybe F, maybe G. What it was though, was a list of people I had gotten feedback from in a proposal. It was people who came before me, people who were invested, people who were scared. Before you read on, I want to clarify that “Appendix J” (and similar appendices) very much changed how I think about people and approvals and I can’t talk about anything else about that very specific appendix, but because this is a process I do generally (before I even wrote that one), I’d like to provide context to the “why” so others do it too. Please honor me by honoring its spirit if you’ve ever read anything I’ve ever written over a decade – if this post results in others making their own lists in their docs, awesome. I’ll talk more about the “why” listing your champions and those you champion matters. It usually looks like a table – I’ve had these in SOWs, proposals, technical design docs…etc.

Name, Role, Devision, Date of Review, Optionally Related Doc / Design They Wrote

No approval status. Just their name and credits to their work. If they were contributing something to that doc, then more details related to the contribution. I aim to be flexible, but inclusive. I remember getting feedback from someone on this and she said “No one else does this here” and I simply smiled. How can things possibly get built if you just run them straight up to your boss and hope people aren’t angry? Maybe one shouldn’t. You know what scares me more than a list of people who aren’t sure if they are working together? Not wanting to have one at all because everyone is too scared to try.

I had this kind of appendix in all my key docs because I realized how much it mattered – now I’m currently trying to give feedback on other processes. “Appendix J” and lists like it showed the volume of people who cared about what we were, together, trying to understand – whether they were “in” or they weren’t – mattered to me. I cared just as much about a ‘no’ as I did a ‘yes.’ I wasn’t always looking for an approval or a yes- sometimes I needed a ‘no’ and they needed mine. It made it so power wasn’t so centralized and workstreams were evenly distributed in the many things I wrote – it made it so people knew who to talk to. It gave visibility. It was inclusive. They were champions of each other, but also scared they wouldn’t be included in whatever decisions impacted them. That’s how I see lists of people. For that one, when I wrote it, that environment had never seen that before and there were many who, that list existing, scared the crap out of them while others cheered it on. Some individuals were completely operating in silos trying to rush up, not including others – stepping outside my own made a few uncomfortable.

First, at a high level, if you ask me how I read a technical design doc or a business proposal of any kind: I skim the first part, check the depth of the appendix, understand the content in it and the purpose from hopefully an exec summary, try to understand the template the author was beholden to and process they are in, then go back to the top and re-read. If an appendix is 20+ pages, I’m already invested – unless you have left out one thing.

Your people. Your situation may be fascinating and you’re truly trying to innovate in an environment where people are the challenge more than the technology, but if you didn’t try to include your people – your teams, your partners, your customers – that tells me alot about your context and ability to thrive and that you still need to go through that exercise and that’s going to take you 3-6 months to do so. The output on the other side will be extremely different once you have perspective.

Documents formalize trust, they don’t build it. Future documents can take it away. Only you can build trust through choices and holding your ground on your principles, being honest. I say this because documentation and approval processes have been something I’ve been a part of for a decade now – I tend to be drawn to writing cultures and understand the problems systems in them create on a deep level.

Always credit the list of people you are responsible for caring about in things you want to build…and what they did and the time they gave to your idea. This is my guiding principle – If I “don’t have time” to do this we are moving too fast – or I haven’t let go enough to the right party to move on my behalf I’m probably losing vision and injecting risk. If partners don’t have time to read it, we are moving too fast. If my boss doesn’t, we’re moving too fast. If all of these things are true we are not giving people business unit autonomy and spaces to operate well. Again, these are my guiding principles.

‘No’ in the Right Direction

Leaders may not be ready for you because they don’t have the time to make at that moment – they may tell you to do something and then say “but don’t add it to your plate” because they don’t have space. They may say what you do next, is completely, 100%, up to you. That’s a hard pill to swallow. So you tighten your lip, take all your feedback, and digest all the energy in front of you while mentally thinking about all the people you have to try not to disappoint tomorrow.

Write your list of people you care about regardless of where they sit, and make decisions around that appendix that are selfless, fair, inclusive, and good for the business. Always try to be kind.

I teach these days about saying ‘no’ in the right direction because I know just how powerful it can be. “No, we are not building that over here yet” can be what someone needed so they could get approval from their own leaders to build a small thing themselves to get you the answers you, or someone better, would have needed.

These lists of who is included is now burnt into my mind as the list of people I care about for the choices I make and what we build together. That will never change. It is quite possible, Appendix J is the most important part of any narrative I will ever write and any document I will ever read – whether it’s at the top of the doc, the middle, or in the appendix. Whether it’s split into different roles. Whether it’s for a technical design doc, a business proposal, a promotion. I will always recognize it as Appendix J.

Image Credit: Nasa “Jupiter in the Rearview Mirror: In the final minutes of a recent close flyby of Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured a departing view of the planet’s swirling southern hemisphere.”