Technology leaders require a wide range of skills in order to be successful in modern organizations.
I believe everyone who steps into a technology leadership role has good intentions and wants to be successful. However, the role can be overwhelming due to the many competing areas of focus.
From my experience, the following are the four key areas that technology leaders should be focusing on and striking a balance between in order to achieve success:
- Technology stack.
As a leader, you are measured on how well your team performs. As such, you should be creating an environment in which people are supported in their career journeys and are set up for success: an environment in which people are happy and thriving. To be an effective leader, you need to understand the potential of each of your team members and develop their skills and abilities to help them achieve the goals they set for themselves. This can be accomplished through mentoring, sponsoring, and coaching individuals.
Mentoring is relationship-oriented and occurs when a person who has years of experience in a field provides guidance on career progression to an individual with less experience. The needs of the mentee are important in this relationship, and the mentor helps wherever possible in this development-driven relationship.
Sponsoring helps engineers get onto projects they may not have had access to on their own. The sponsor identifies projects they believe would be beneficial to the sponsored engineer’s career and suggests them for the position. Additionally, the sponsor lets the engineer know when opportunities arise that they may be a good fit for.
A coach takes time to understand what individuals want to achieve in their career before becoming their accountability buddy and supporting them in moving closer to those achievements. Understanding an individual’s goals is attained through career conversations and is specific to an individual’s needs. Effective coaching involves asking leading questions and giving advice but allowing the individual to make their own decisions and set their own path.
Regular check-ins between technology leaders and their team members allow for mentoring, sponsoring, and coaching to happen frequently. A consistent weekly check-in with each team member is recommended. This helps ensure that you are focusing on your people. Project and business success is much more likely when an organization has a healthy, engaged, and talented technology team led by folks who prioritize their development.
To be successful as a leader, you should have input into the product your organization is building. You should be focusing on customer needs, and striving to develop the necessary technology by creating efficient solutions both in relation to the speed of execution and the cost. Understanding the why is important before you can decide on the what and the how.
You also need to have a good understanding of the product your organization is selling and the different business models. Which market is the org serving? Why do people buy the product? How does the org make money? Understanding all these product-related questions and more will help you make better decisions with your teams on how technology solutions can serve the product in the best way.
High-performing technology teams have processes in place that ensure they deliver high-quality software at a good speed for their organization. As a leader, you should establish work processes that allow your team to work as efficiently as possible. There are now many established ways of working that teams can adopt.
Agile methodologies have dominated most organizations’ technology team processes in the last decade. Even within Agile methodologies, there are many different approaches a team can apply. Deciding to apply either Scrum, Kanban, or Extreme Programming will all result in different working practices.
You should identify the most efficient process for your team and constantly evolve it as your own context changes. It is important for you to have a good understanding of the different processes and methodologies a technology team can apply to work effectively. Having these options in your process toolbelt will give your teams a better chance of working as proficiently as possible.
Technical context continues to be important in management and in having a solid understanding of the technology stack your organization uses.
You do not have to be the most knowledgeable in each and every tool or programming language your organization uses, but you must have a sufficient understanding of the technologies, architecture, and tradeoffs your team has to make. This will make it easier for you to participate, facilitate, and make decisions in technical conversations with your team members. Engineers will also have more respect for you as a leader if they know you understand what’s being discussed.
You will often be representing your teams in conversations with other non-technical departments, so understanding your organization’s technology capabilities ensures that you represent the technology team adequately in these conversations.
Finding the balance of focus between people, product, process, and technology stack will vary from time to time depending on your organization’s current context.
What I have observed from my experience as a software engineer and technical leader over the last ten years is that if those four focus areas are well nurtured, a technical leader will put themselves in a good place to build high-performing technology teams that have fulfilled individual engineers.