If you’ve constantly worked in bootstrap or greenfield projects, you develop an intuition for partnering with the customer and assembling a sharp team that will build out the product. Bootstrap projects come with their own challenges but everyone is new on the team and goes through the team journey together. However, entering an existing long-standing team as the Development Manager is a different ball game altogether. Like a movie director, every manager has his or her way of leading a team. That is great, but there are a few things that put you on the wrong side of the road. Here are the nominees, for the top mistakes while taking charge of an existing team, in no particular order.
Have you been in a team where the new ‘boss’ steps in and instantly starts explaining how things are going to work henceforth?
Don’t be that person. Nobody likes that person.
The team has existed for a long time without you and they can certainly continue without you. Spend some time and effort to know and understand your team – the history, the technical leads and the engineers. Take inputs from the previous Manager if you have the access. It might sound a bit old fashioned but go slow and steady.
Meetings ‘R’ Us
Consider this. When you’re the new Development Manager in the team, you want to build context. So the best way you feel you can do that is by holding meetings. The more the meetings, the more the scope you build. You quickly get up to speed on a variety of things. But soon, the current sprint spills over and everyone’s unhappy.
See what you did there? The current sprint had never planned for endless meetings with you.
It’s important to build scope quickly. But first, try to figure out what is the situation of the current work – releases, demos, etc. Now, find pockets of free time with the technical leads (or senior engineers) and have distributed meetings. Get them to introduce you to the rest of the team. Start getting to know what each one’s career aspirations are. The team will slowly warm up to you.
In a new team, your mind will instantly see the many “gaps”. You will notice how some of the coolest “best practices” are not followed. Also, you have a solid experience with many amazing teams. You plan on making that difference by quickly changing things up for the better. Why wait, right?
Don’t. Just don’t.
Trust is a two-way traffic. It’s built slowly and plays a very important role in the way forward. Understand the existing culture of the team and integrate with it. Trust the team with their decisions. Don’t interfere, simply observe and understand. Identify the pressing matters which the team wants you to help them with. Focus on those. Eventually, you can heal the world and make it a better place.
God of Small Things
Your team has frequent calls with the clients and stakeholders. Wouldn’t it be obvious to join the calls, introduce yourself and begin working on the immediate action items? Everyone loves a man/woman of action, no?
Well, they might. But as a Development Manager, your important function is to be a sounding board for your customer.
The only way you can do that is by understanding the big picture. First, get your reporting manager to introduce you to the customer. Understand the genesis of the product and the vision of the customer. Customers will always be glad that you want to know their journey and the roadmap ahead. Get the customer to introduce you to all the other stakeholders. Try and do this in person as it helps to build a better working relationship. Focus initially on comprehending the long-term roadmap and how the current work ties into it.
Now that you have been established the new Development Manager, you want to put the process in place for escalations from customers. You want to be able to trace back the escalations and find the root cause. So begin working on the best way to do this. Now you keep alert and wait.
Hang on. Aren’t you missing something here?
Regardless of who joins an existing team (be it a Developer, a QA, a BA, or a Development Manager), you will need to learn the product, learn the technology stack, and learn the domain. Exhaustive knowledge is the one thing that is going to help you earn the respect of both the team and the customer. Also, it is the core to helping you in your contribution to the product and will facilitate innovation. Avoiding an escalation is definitely better than handling one.
There you have it. It’s not an exhaustive list, but are surely top nominees. While the team might accept you as their Development Manager quite instantly, it will take a great deal to be accepted as a leader by the team and partner by the customer. After all, even Jon Snow was given the knife.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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