Code Your Way Up – The Getting Started for Software Developers

2020-02-11 13.50.32.pngGoing back to many years ago, when I first became a Software Manager, I was surprised (shocked) in the steps I went through in going from Developer to Manager.

Many times I asked myself questions such as;

  • Why’d they pick me?
  • Am I doing this right?
  • Should I have started earlier?
  • Is everyone laughing at me?

None of which I could answer then because I didn’t know the answers to them and for the most part they didn’t exist.  Software Leaders are an interesting breed because we are essentially promoted into the position because we excel at being great coders – we DELIVER – we get things done and we make things happen.  The next logical step is to see if you have the – DRIVE – to get yourself and another group of people to the same location but delivering an even bigger piece of software that can only be done by a team.

We’ve all had the conversations that go like – “You have a $500K budget for this project, why don’t you give me half and I’ll go into a cave and do it myself, burn myself to a crisp doing it and hope it lines up with your requirements and you’ll save all that money and not need to deal with more people as a result.” – and sure this is a valid question, but it’s not a question that will have an answer that will generate long-term GROWTH for you (forget the company, we’re talking about you).  It will burn you out or give you a bad name in the process.

In thinking of all the challenges that go into Software Development, I started to write them down, identifying the behaviours that go into being a successful leader, where they begin and how.

To be a leader, whether you’re leading a team, a project, a customer fix, a performance test in QA, a trial delivery, etc, etc you don’t need to be overtly charismatic, an extrovert, the first person who puts their hand up for everything.  You need to show the INITIATIVE in that this is something you want to do.  LEADERSHIP isn’t an overnight deliverable, it’s not something that happens all at once and it’s definitely not something you are going to get right on your first time.

But where do you start?

You start with your code, you start when you are cranking oodles of goodness to production, when you’re the key to it all, when you’re comfortable in what you are doing.  You start by executing all the behaviours highlighted above so that when you do get there, you’re ready for it and it’s not so much of a grand announcement, but a natural progression for which you have prepared for your entire career.

Code Your Way Up is available now for pre-order on Amazon (Canada and US) – it’s a great addition to your library to get going and realizing where you want to take your career (and how).

 

The Leadership Exit

Making the decision to leave is never easy.

It’s easily doubled when you’re the Leader of a team because not only are you now leaving an organization, you’re now leaving a group of people that you have invested an incredible amount of energy into their own personal and team growth and development that to leave feels like betrayal.

They bought into the story.

They listened to everything you had to say.

They jumped higher than you asked.

They believed.

And now you are leaving them. Or rather that’s what you’re made to feel like when you make this hard decision to do so.

“You’re abandoning us”

“You’re leaving us behind”

“Why aren’t you taking us with you”

“How could you?”

There are many emotions at play here when you decide to leave and most are coming at you.

Let’s dissect a few of the most prominent ones here.

You’re Not Leaving Your Team

It’s time for you to move on to new challenges and opportunities. Leading a team is like being a parent, there is a moment when you know it’s time to let your kids go, spread their wings and start leading themselves.

Every Leader knows when they’ve hit this point with a team – “I’ve done enough here and what comes next will only be incremental. You need more, you need a different approach, you need someone else.”. This isn’t an easy realization for a leader to come to, but it’s one that is realized from the view that they want their team to continue to grow, become stronger, better and share that wisdom with others.

When the Leader’s involvement is only going to result in incremental returns, it’s time for them to make the exit.

It’s Not a Betrayal

And if your team thinks it is, then you should have left much sooner. Your team is now dependent on you for more than you had originally hoped and they are fearful that without you, they will fall apart.

Fear is a powerful emotion and a Leader should never stay if the team is fearful they cannot survive without them (the Leader). If this is the case, then you haven’t done the proper work in preparing your exit strategy and ensuring they are setup for success for when you leave. A well organized team should be able to survive in the short-term without their Leader and keep things going through what has been taught to them.

Don’t fall into the trap of being made to feel you are disloyal or have betrayed your team, you are giving them the opportunity to grow and develop.

The Bought Into You

Great.

Fantastic.

Your team bought into your plan, they executed and delivered on what you asked them to do, what you inspired and motivated them to do, what they raised up their own games to do.

This isn’t a bait and switch or a pulling of the rug from underneath their feet, this is your team trusting you to lead them, you leading them and no matter where you are in the delivery of your plan, they are being successful and continue and will continue to be successful.

What everyone tends to forget when you are leading a team or a project is that this IS THE ONLY  team and/or project that you will EVER lead.

But it isn’t and will never be and for you to continue growing, you will need to work with different people, validate different approaches with a new group of people.

In the end, you might end up working with some or all of these people and that is the best experience because not only did they buy into you at this moment, but they are ready to do it again, this time without having to go through all the Interviewing and Identifying and get right to Delivering.

Don’t fall into the trap of changing your mind about leaving because your team doesn’t want you to leave.

Focus your energies on setting them up to take over from you with the remaining time that you are working them. Over that period of time, their emotions will subside and will turn to being happy, excited and proud of the tough decision you’ve made. You’ll inevitably have many one-on-one conversations that will turn out to be some of the most encouraging conversations you or they have had during your tenure, enjoy them and know that you’re making the right decision.

But don’t change your mind, over time you will resent the decision you made and depending on your team, their attitudes might change or shift as they realize you will always be there to catch them if anything goes wrong and they’ll slowly start to question what your level of commitment truly is when faced with tough decisions.

 

Collaboration’s Biggest Challenge

A few years ago, SLACK was the messaging darling, enabling quick, simplified messaging with minimal setup and management for administrators.  In addition, it boasted a robust API/Integration framework which let it do what so many collaboration applications to date had struggled with – get inside everything you work with.

Or rather, you get inside SLACK with everything you work with.

Fast forward to today and there are not only a number of challengers to SLACK but also SLACK has been hit by a few complaints about being “too much”, “always on”, “never able to get away”, etc, etc, the list goes on.

This isn’t a SLACK problem though, this problem has been in existence since the first iteration of that green jellybean icon came to represent your availability – you are here, you are available, let’s get to work.  That little icon came to represent not only your availability to get work done but also an indicator of when you are available to get work done (read: how much work are you putting in, how later are you up).

Collaboration’s biggest challenge to autonomy and not micromanaging your team has always been that little green icon.

How do I know where they are if it’s not green?

They’ve been away for so long, they must be doing something else?

Why aren’t they answering when they are green?

It’s the perceived notification that someone is available and ready to do work for you – that’s how it is interpreted but what it was never meant to show.

Want to know how pervasive the colour schemes are in messaging tools?  Look no further than them all using similar schemes – green – available, yellow – maybe, red – busy – they flow between different systems so we don’t need to relearn anything.  And just like a traffic light, they mean exactly the same things to a user.

But the question for the traffic light – Would you leave it on green all day long? – probably not, because eventually, it’d burn out.

When email took on the collaboration challenge it did so without presence, asynchronous communication – “I’ll get back to you when I can because I could get busy” – which unfortunately turned into the simplest of messaging protocols that allowed and enabled people to SPAM us with updates on everything and anything.

As much as we want to make it, Collaboration’s biggest challenge will never be the technology, the protocols, the AI to reduce message flow, where it’s hosted, whose hosting it, etc, etc, etc.  It will be the trust we put in each other around presence and messaging to ensure that those boundaries are preserved and supported.

Think that’s an easy way out?  Then here’s a question for you – What is your company’s collaboration policy and does everyone know what it is and how it works?

Doubtful, if you do fantastic and if you do, that means this post wasn’t meant for you, it’s for the rest of us that are working against that little green jellybean trying to find the right way out.

 

Lead them in the Middle

Your First Team Meeting is critical to getting things underway with either a new team or project.

How you start will set the tone for how the project will kick-off and where your team will look to focus their energies.

In the beginning, like the song, “Everything Is Awesome” in the beginning, simple because it’s all new, emotions are at a newfound level of excitement, goals have been set.

You’ve set the groundwork, the plan, the direction, the path to go down, but apart from that – but you haven’t started yet.

Nothing has been done, so everyone is happy with the dream.

Fast Forward to the end of the project, the team has come together, they’ve gone through the final pushes of people coming in early, working late, sweating more then they usually do, doing whatever they can to get this project/product out the door and make it a success.

The team has done in so again, emotions are all happy because the release has gone out the door.

If you haven’t realized it – this is where you many of the great team quotes originate from – how the team came together to become a success, how they fought through adversity and change to deliver, how they never gave up.

There is enough literature on how to start and finish any project to keep you reading well into the afterlife.

But what about the middle?

What’s happening in the middle?

What’s going on when all that code churn is happening?

When the team is having to up their growth quotient by learning on the fly and still delivering?

When frustrations over not hitting performance targets are starting to set in?

When the team is feeling worn out and knowing that they have much more work to put in?

This is where Leadership matters, this is where Good Leadership matters – Leading in the Middle.

  • Leading when things aren’t perfect.
  • Leading when everyone is complaining.
  • Motivating those around you to keep going.
  • Keeping your head when things don’t go right.
  • Knowing when your team needs a break or they will be broken.
  • Understanding what minor things manner in the grand scheme of the whole project.
  • Giving your team leeway to try new ideas and let them fail.
  • Insulate that failure and not blaming it on them.

If you can do all those things, then you are already on the right path to Leading your Team in the Middle.

The most successful teams are those that were able lead well in the middle when things became murky or the team started to struggle because that’s what every team goes through.

The middle is never perfect, it’s never clear, it’s never straight forward, how you lead in the middle does not define how you will finish, but rather who wants to start with you again on the next project.

Will they come back for more?

In the calm moment of reflection that happens after the delivery of any project, will they go back there with you?

When lead correctly, in the middle, the team is ready to jump onto the next challenge, they are sold before the project is even announced, it’s not a question of If the project will start but When.

If you start off with the right objectives, lead well in the middle, the end will take care of itself.  If you start off strong, mess up in the middle, the end will eventually take care of itself, but not as well as it could have and you probably won’t get another opportunity to start again.

 

 

The Leadership Change Goal

If you think you can change your team’s behavior, direction, and course in thirty days and have them executing on that change – you need to reset your goals.

Leadership is a long game, the more members on your team, the harder it becomes to implement the change you know that the team needs but that the team cannot reliably implement because there are more variables in the mix.

Coming in with a list of demands for behavior and direction change will only serve to confuse your team.

You need to start small and focus on incremental growth and adjustment.  If the team is not delivering, your efforts should be focused on the behaviors and attitudes that shape that delivery.

Are there internal or external threats that are preventing them from being successful?

If so, what small investments can you make that can yield larger gains in the next thirty days to precipitate those bigger changes?

If your Goal is for the Team to “Deliver Better” the first step is to work with the team to identify what delivering betters means to them and everyone on the team.

At that initial discussion, there should be zero discussion on the solution to that goal.

Why?

Because this is the first time you are discussing it with your team.  The first opportunity they have to respond, to come up with a suggestion or ideas on how that problem can be solved.

You need to hear what they have to say because this will affect the solution that together you will implement.

In holding that first meeting, you will have accomplished the goal towards getting your team to understand the problem and begin the task of owning it.

If done right, over the coming week while you are working with your team on potential solutions, team members should be coming to you with additional questions on the final goal – i.e., can we do this as well?

You want this, you want their involvement, you want their ownership.

While fielding these questions, this is an excellent opportunity to bounce ideas off of your team members on how to solve your team’s problem and what steps you can take to get there.

When you circle back with your team the goal of that second session should not be about timelines it should be about the steps needed to be taken to achieve the goal.  This is key to the success of your plan as not everyone will understand the steps that go into achieving a goal and the timelines will be dictated by that understanding.

Once enunciated to your team, the path that you and your team are going to take will then be clear, who will be responsible for what and how the final goal will be achieved – the conversation can now switch to how you and your team will achieve this goal and on a what schedule.

We are constantly bombarded with news and information that teams need to keep changing now and to meet that demand as quickly as possible.

Even during the development of a short-term project, say four to seven months, the pressure is just as great to “produce results” and “show change”.

History has always proven that the team that manages by Ownership and Adoption and treat Change as a marathon are more likely to succeed in that endeavour.

Don’t be the Leader that “hopes” the change gets implemented, be the Leader that knows when it will be implemented.

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