So you are an energetic and inspiring leader who is beloved by your teams but you are missing dates and the teams are getting frustrated. What could be the problem? It is possible that you are not demonstrating the necessary management skills alongside those great leadership skills. Whereas leadership is all about having vision, developing strategy and inspiring teams, management is about methodical attention to detail in developing a plan, communicating the plan, and then measuring against the plan. The word methodical should not be confused with the oft- used pejorative “micromanagement”; “methodical” in this context means a consistent and persistent diligence on the details that get things done.
We use the term “plan” here to cover everything regarding your product plans; from product vision and product roadmap to the actual project plans that implement them. The project plan is something that is probably left to your CTO, VP of Engineering, or Director/VP of Project Management depending on your organization but it does not hurt for you to understand what a good project plan looks like. A project plan can take shape in a variety of forms from an excel spreadsheet to a Microsoft Project Plan to story cards depending on the product development methodology being used (agile, waterfall, etc). Some factors that are important in determining the level of detail of the plan are the complexity of the project and the maturity of the team (not maturity as in whether your team shoots spitballs in meetings, but rather as in repeatability, see Capability Maturity Model). The longer the project, the higher quality required, the more modules of code, and the greater the number of engineers are all likely to require a greater level of planning in order that the project complete on time, on scope, and on budget. A great rule of thumb is that no single task on a plan should constitute more than 3 days of effort. The reason is that it is difficult to notice if you are behind schedule when given a 5 or 10 day block of effort for a task. The bottom line here is that the more complex your undertaking is, the more focused and precise your planning should be.
Once you have worked with your team to develop the vision, the product roadmap, and the project plan, you must then become the advocate for the plan and constantly communicate with your teams. You are a change agent and change requires communication. Most “change consultants” will explain that the most common reason in failing to create change is the failure to communicate. Simply put, you cannot communicate enough. You have to take every opportunity afforded to you to communicate your vision, goals, milestones, and most importantly why your plan is important. Explain and create the causal roadmap and perhaps most importantly ask questions and receive guidance. Communication, after all, is a two way street.
Nearly everything you do in the technology and product world can be measured. You should measure the costs of your initiatives, and their return to the shareholders. You should measure availability of your product, customer satisfaction, the speed of your product (site speed if you are a SaaS platform), cost of operations to deliver your product offering, time to market, etc. Do not allow your team to argue that their efforts cannot be measured. What we do not measure, we simply cannot baseline, compare and improve. Measurement is an absolutely critical component in attempting to improve teams and it is absolutely your job to demand that it happen. As emphatically as we believe things should be measured, we also understand that people’s behavior changes because of measurements. Consider individual’s reactions to measurements and ensure you are motivating the right behaviors. For example, you may want to have higher quality releases but by insisting on measuring individual engineers might make them not want to work on larger features or not help each other out on bug fixes. An alternative would be to make quality in this scenario a team goal where everyone gets rewarded for meeting it.
Not everyone who is a great leader practices or focuses on sound management basics, just as not every great manager practices or focuses on sound leadership basics. They are fundamentally two different disciplines and focus areas. It is possible to do both well, but only by focusing on both. By focusing on the three areas of management above (plan, communicate, measure), you can improve your effectiveness in management and improve your team’s performance.