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Wednesday
Sep162009

9 Articles from Joel On software for Tech Leads

JoelOnSoftware has a bunch of links under the heading of "Tech Lead".

I've read some of them, but for future reference I'll post them here as well:

Hey Joel, if you ever read trackbacks, I want a guest post from you here!

The thing about Joel is simple: It's not like he's the world's perfect manager, and I wouldn't recommentd that you follow blindly anything he says. I woud however recvommend that you read some of the things he writes about this topic because

  1. He writes really well
  2. He makes good points
  3. He challenges you to think

so even if you don't agree, at least you came out a but more invigorated about what you do.

Wednesday
Sep162009

IDCC talk: Beautiful teams and code leaders is online 

yesterday the first IDCC conference took place - it is a grass roots community driven conference and it was great!

My talk on beautiful teams and code leaders is online here (in Hebrew). 

The list of questions  every team lead should ask themselves I showed at the end can be found here.

I will post a better one on this blog soon.

Tuesday
Sep152009

Poll: Would you join a team leadership forum on this site?

Please answer this quick poll, so I can decide if I should spend time on creating a forum for team leadership on this site. A forum will only work if there is a critical mass of people watching it, and I want to make sure it doesn't wither and die in a week.

if you said "no", I'd love to know why, in the comments.

Maybe there already is a good one somewhere out there that I don't know about. Maybe there's a mailing list already filled with great people. who knows!

Monday
Sep142009

How to say NO by saying YES

Johanna Rothman, a dear friend and one of the most excellent management consultants I've seen,  has a post about managers who won't take no for an answer. Read it, it's interesting!

But I'd like to approach the same issue from a different angle - Instead of looking at why the manager wants something, let's try and look on why we say "No" to that something (This is a good place to try the five whys technique). 

Usually we'll find that we say no because the requested item might be of lower priority and could interfere with much more pressing items. Sometimes we'll just feel like the manager is asking fomr something just because he\she can - and we don't like people wasting our time.

Instead of saying no, let's let the manager figure out if a "No" is indeed in order. WHat you'd need for this is at the very least a Visual Task board or an excel file with the list of tasks you're doing and backlog of items to be done, ordered by priority.

Next time the manager comes in and asks for something  in the middle of something else, drag them over to look at the task board. Now, create a new post it note with the task at hand, and ask thema simple question:

How important is this?

If they say "I'd love to have it today", ask them :

OK, that means we will have to stop working on one of these following tasks (point to the "in progress" column).  Are you OK with us stopping to work on [pick one of the cards in progress]?

If they say yes - great. Not only did you find an important feature to work on, you've also let the manager know the cost of doing that feature: Stopping to work on another feature. But what usually happens is that the manager soon realizes that this cost exists, and may not want to replace an existing in progress task  - since these are all pretty important as well.

The manager might say "well, no, it's not that important". 

This is the point where you ask them to actually place the card in the "TODO" column just above one of the other tasks in it. They get to choose which is more important. More often than not, the task at hand will not be important enough to trump any of the existing "TODO" cards, so it will be at the bottom.

Now you've gained something else - the manager has agreed knowingly to delay that feature request, since they know its true cost.

Visual Task boards help you teach your manager when to say "NO' all on their own.

 

Monday
Sep142009

Document Your Air, Food, and Water

Editor's note: The following is a guest post by Travis Illig. Travis Illig is a .NET developer who enjoys the art of solving problems with technology. He is currently a Senior Software Developer with Fiserv, working on next-generation online banking products. He holds a BS in Computer Science from Portland State University and is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) for .NET. Travis can be contacted through his blog at http://www.paraesthesia.com.

  • If you'd like to submit your own guest post, contact me.

Think about all of the things you need to know when you're new to a team. There are a lot of things, right?

  • Where is the source code repository?
  • Which tools need to be installed on your developer environment?
  • What are the steps to build the product?
  • Is there a pattern for how the code is laid out in the repository?
  • How are tasks tracked?
  • What is the task branch pattern in the repository?
  • Where is the continuous integration server?
  • Are there any specific development methodologies that should be followed?

...And so on. This is, from a peer mentoring perspective, the "Air, Food, and Water" for the group. It's the stuff you need to know in order to basically get around.

Many times, the answers to these questions aren't actually documented anywhere. It's "tribal knowledge." People just sort of "know" what needs to be done, and if you don't know, you ask the group. That sort of approach might work well in a small group that doesn't change a lot... but what about in a larger group? Does everyone actually know? Or is there a slightly different understanding of how things work from person to person? And what about new team members?

It's a good idea to document your air, food, and water in a central location that's accessible to everyone. Keep sort of a "team FAQ" that has the answers to all of these questions and make sure everyone knows where it is. It doesn't have to be reams of heavy documentation, but it should contain enough to clearly answer the questions.

Why document?

  • Enable team members to help themselves. It's generally understood that "quick questions" causing team members to task switch are actually not as "free" as one might think. If there's a place that folks can go to answer simple questions, it reduces context switches, particularly when there are newer members on the team.
  • Give new team members confidence in the team. Last time you joined a team, how was the experience? Did it seem a little jarring or was it really smooth? When you're new to a team it's like meeting a person for the first time... and you only get one chance for a first impression. Wouldn't it be nice to join a team and have the reassurance that there's a plan and a simple document that lays out everything you need to know to get going? If you saw that, wouldn't you gain a little confidence in the team?
  • Add visibility into your team. If there are other people or teams in your company that are interested in seeing how you're doing things (maybe to learn something from your team?), having a document makes it easy for them to see how things are done and understand what they're looking at.

How do you get started? How do you maintain it?

  1. Find a location. Find a central place on your company's network that you can store the document such that everyone has access to it. Maybe it's a wiki. Maybe it's a SharePoint site. Maybe it's a simple file share. As long as everyone has access to it, it's perfect.
  2. Document as you get asked questions. As people have questions about how the team works - where the source code is, etc. - Refer them to the document. If the answer isn't there, consider adding the answer to the document and providing the document to the person asking the question. Eventually you'll have a document with the answers to the most frequently asked questions about the team.
  3. Pass it by exiting team members. Team members come in, and team members move on. Before a team member moves on from the team, part of the knowledge transfer should be having them review the document and fill in applicable answers. There may be some things that team member was responsible for that no one else really knows about.
  4. Give it to new team members. When a new member comes on board, give them the document as a way to get them set up. It will quickly become apparent if the information on the document is incomplete. When incomplete/incorrect information is encountered, have the new team member work with the team to find out the correct information and update the document.
  5. Update as changes occur. As changes are made in the way the team works, update the document to reflect them. There shouldn't be so much information there that it's overwhelming to maintain, but the doc does need to be a living entity, just as your team is.

Make sure to keep your document fairly lightweight and easy to maintain. If it's too thick or complex, if information is repeated in multiple places throughout, people will skip updating it and eventually it will become stale. You don't want that - you want it to be easy so when it's time to update, it's simple, simple, simple.

It doesn't take much and it pays off in spades. Why not start today?