I’ve been meaning to write my thoughts on software leadership for a while. I’ll try to do tht here with a series of posts on the topic. Let’s start with fostering a strong team.
First of all, most teams are already great, they may just not know or show it. The talent is usually already in the building. I’m confident in the abilities and potential of most engineering team members to succeed with any project we throw at them.
But all teams can do better. We can do better as organizations leaders by setting a good example. And we can start by setting an example in 3 key ways: Transparency, Respect, and Accountability.
One thing I am not confident in most teams to do, is communicate the company vision. I think very few of developers could tell you how what they’re currently working on lines up with company goals, or what priority it is.
We can start to change this with transparency, which happens to also be a core tenet of Scrum. By being transparent, as leaders, as an organization, we can empower our product development teams to make good, informed decisions about their projects. And we can show them the visible importance of their work on our backlog.
In setting this example, we can expect the same from them. It is as simple as professional courtesy. We can show our steps in decision making, and they can show theirs. The same goes for progress. This expected transparency will increase mutual understanding between product development and all other departments and department heads.
By increasing this communication and buy-in, we will provide our teams with intrinsic motivation. We will all be purpose-driven, and we will see better results in quality and productivity.
Respect may be the hardest thing to foster in our product development team. From my perspective, mutual respect between all members of a team is often missing in many of the relationships. Sometimes it is simply person to person, but other times it is person to department. A lot of the time it is person to organization. And again, we can fix this by setting an example. We can lean on our teams harder than we have to date. We can expect great things, and we can communicate our expectations. And not just verbally. We really need to trust our teams to solve problems, and not to simply follow instructions.
I often see team members hesitating to make suggestions or question the projects goals. This is a bad thing. We should be fostering these conversations, because these conversations lead to innovation and creative solutions. Let’s encourage questions, and expect great solutions from our development teams.
With our freshly conveyed respect, we gain accountability.
Most notions of accountability come from negative perspectives. We only need to foster accountability because we need someone to be accountable for something that has gone wrong. It’s true, and from time to time we need in our organizations. It’s also a key part of coaching. And sometimes, it’s a good motivator to know that if a project fails, some person or group can be held accountable.
The concept I think everyone misses with accountability, though, is that it’s a two way street. Early in my career, I worked on a team for 18 months before I knew about my accountability for someone’s positive experience with our software. That’s right, for a year and a half, the only post-release feedback I received for my code was the negative type. Obviously my team appreciated my work, but all I really ever saw beyond that were the bugs.
The feedback loop needs to continue regardless of the feedback.
We all go to many postmortems when something our team worked on broke. We rarely go to a meeting to explain why or how something our team worked on was produced so well. As engineering leaders, we need to be asking a lot more questions of the successful teams than the unsuccessful ones. We should maximize our success instead of minimizing our failure.
It’s amusing how little software leadership has to do with the actual software sometimes. I promise I will have some more technical leadership topics in the future, but many will be like this. I hope some of this will help you with your teams. As always feel free to send any comments to me on Twitter at @clintcparker.