Transitions in life are hard. I remember when I left college and started to work full time, I felt like my world was turning upside down. I did not have the autonomy I once did. In a similar fashion, I felt this when I became a department lead. I became abstracted from the day-to-day work of the individual contributors while tasked with creating a product vision for an entire team. Admittedly, I wasn’t perfect at it and am still learning. However, I feel it is vital for directors/VPs/CXOs to ensure scrum teams underneath them have these four things.
1. A Single Leader
Growing up as a football fan, I often heard the saying, “If you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” This is also true in software development. The majority of my career has been spent in tech, where there are single product managers for development teams. When a team has a single leader to follow, be it scrum manager, product manager or engineering manager, it reduces politics and churn. Office politics arise when there are multiple leaders giving marching orders as it causes confusion and some form of favoritism almost always follows. Engineers are not sure which product manager’s roadmap to execute on and the product managers are frustrated since they are competing with each other. As tech leaders, it is important to structure your organization in such a way that everyone’s objectives are aligned.
2. A Clear (And Realistic) Vision
Companies generally are fairly good about outlining visions for the entire company. It is no secret that Amazon wants to dominate the world of e-commerce. However, when there are thousands of engineering teams in some of these large companies, it is sometimes difficult to see how these teams’ work maps to the overall strategy or how it makes an impact in the grand scheme of things. As such, it is very important for team leaders to have well-defined, attainable goals. At a previous employer, I tried to create a stretch goal for my team, however, they saw these goals as unrealistic. Setting unrealistic goals can be worse than not having goals; teams feel like there is no reason for them to work toward the goal if they can’t achieve it. However, when goals are attainable, I have seen teams go to great lengths to achieve them. At another company, my lead engineer would consistently email me at 3 a.m. and be in the office by 9 a.m. the next day. He was obsessed with accomplishing the goals we had set. After discovering this on my own I was not surprised to learn Google’s Project Aristotle found that meaning and impact of work are key to the success of teams.
3. A Defined Process
Have you ever joined a team and just wondered how they get anything done? Not because the people aren’t smart, but because the team is disorganized and full of disconnects. Unfortunately, this is all too common in tech. While tech can teach other industries many great lessons, defined and standard processes are not among them. Danaher and Fortive are two companies that have seen consistent returns in the stock market, which they have credited to their process. Applying a consistent, lean process while fostering a culture of continuous improvement is something leaders should strive for. At a micro scale, scrum is a great start. However, teams inevitably interact with other parts of the company and need a formal process for doing so. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and other like systems are not easy to apply, but they make everyone’s lives easier.
4. The Ability To Work Like An Adult
Marissa Mayer was a hero of mine for many years, though I was disappointed when she banned remote work at Yahoo. While I do not know the ins and outs of the situation she faced, I do know that no one likes being treated like a child. Whenever I have led a team, I have had much better results when I asked my team to act in the best interest of the company instead of giving them a long list of rules to follow. Weave CEO Brandon Rodman simply asks his team to be adults, and he has a history of sharing the wealth when the company does well. It is no wonder Weave has a 4.9 Glassdoor rating. When companies make it a rule to share rides to the airport on corporate travel or block social media, it is not surprising they get complained about on sites like Blind. The good news if you are nervous about giving autonomy is that Google recently found that remote workers can be just as effective as in-office workers when given the proper process and infrastructure to succeed.
Product development is the lifeblood of tech companies, and it is important for executives to understand they are not the ones who build the product — engineers and designers do. As such, it is important to set every scrum team up to succeed.
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