Everyone talks about a role called team lead and effective processes, but my experience has shown that the meanings behind those words are like day and night. Let’s talk about the software development team who is responsible for developing a digital product (or part of the product).
We live in an agile world where we don’t have project managers telling each team member what to do, and we don’t have architects making all the technical decisions. Instead, we have self-organizing and cross-functional enthusiastic teams where everyone generates ideas, expresses opinions and feels ownership. Sounds perfect, but even those teams need guidance.
Last year I spent time on how to define that influence and what it consists of. What is this magic team-leading we wish but can’t put into words? Can one person be passionate about both - people and technology? And what is the most common mistake I have seen in countless software companies and startups? Let’s get into more details...
For me, The Three Musketeers of leading product development teams are: people lead, product lead and technical lead. If the team has all three triangle tips covered, then it’s go time and only then can a team talk about having effective processes.
People lead. A person with strong leadership skills. Listening, coaching and spotting possible conflicts are just a few things this person brings into the team.
It is the people lead’s responsibility to build team vision and merge it with each team member’s personal visions and goals. It is someone who continuously finds retrospectives necessary as there is always something to learn and something to improve. It is someone who makes sure that the team has a trusting and open culture and everyone is heard, developing themselves and happy.
Product lead. Someone passionate about product development, and challenges the team in this area.
Someone who constantly shares new ideas of better product building and always reminds the team to validate new ideas, measure end-user actions and satisfaction, prioritize and so on.
It is not the same as the role of the product owner (they can be the same but don’t have to). Product lead in a development team makes sure everyone in the team knows all the why’s and gets the end-user feedback. It’s someone who implements a growth hacking mindset into the team.
Technology lead. Someone with a strong passion in technology - always reading about new solutions, challenging the team with proposals of new technologies, making sure the team thinks creatively and doesn’t get stuck with the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.
It is not someone who makes architecture decisions, as those are still the team’s responsibility, but this person understands the big picture of the technical solution the best and can answer the questions other team members get.
Each of those three has their part in building effective development processes. People lead knows what is needed to build processes that create ownership feeling and personal growth. Without those, teamwork can never be effective.Product lead knows how to build processes to spend your valuable time on the most important thing. Tech lead knows how to build automation into processes, what tools to use and how to use technology the wisest way.
It’s the cooperation between those three that gets us to the best solution.
Finally, we will get to the mistake I have seen so many times. It’s called team lead and it is expected that one person can fulfil all the Three Musketeers “jobs”. Yes, it’s possible. And sometimes it works. But more often than not, it doesn’t.
Because those are very different angles and with the 24 hours in a day we all have, you cannot have passion and excellence in all of those. I can say, from a personal point of view, that even though I loved programming in university and I love to learn about new technologies, I just don’t have the time (read: it is not on top of my priorities) to learn it in detail as my main passion is people leading and product leading. Even there I learn and discover something new each day, and will continue doing so. Then I see those extremely talented tech leads who are really passionate about technology. But companies find that they should be “promoted” to be a team leader who takes care of all those three triangle tips. In a few years they are unhappy and burnt out since leading people is not their passion.
So, even leading means teamwork where 2+2 can equal 10. Make sure your product development teams have all the Musketeers present but don’t worry about it being one person. It can be divided, as long as it’s there and working, and the team is productive and happy!
“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”
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