Tips for managing technical people: Set a vision


8 March 2015, by

Galvanizing the geeksThe following is an excerpt from my new book, “Galvanizing the Geeks – Tips for Managing Technical People”. You can buy the full book on my website, here.

As well as goals, you may also need a “vision” for your team. These two concepts overlap slightly, but essentially by ‘goal’ I mean a description of a task or other discrete output that needs to be produced, whereas by ‘vision’ I’m talking about an overarching ethos or way of producing the output. 

Only sophisticated and well-functioning teams can be led by vision. In high-level terms, as a team, what you need to deliver is always going to be the same: high-quality code at the best value for money. There may be additional requirements in your team, or different balances between quality and productivity, which will combine to produce an overall vision. If your team is well-versed in setting their own goals and delivering in accordance with the vision, you need only communicate that vision well and sit back and watch the team deliver.

I once worked on a long lived product for a digital media client. The software ran across several mobile and desktop platforms and had a very sophisticated feature-set developed over five years. At any one point, there were many things that need to be managed: support requests on the existing platforms, development on new platforms, underlying maintenance of the code, and a long backlog of new features and enhancements that will allow the client’s sales team to sell more products.

The client provided us with a product owner. The product owner met with the technical team at least once a week and explained how the business was prioritising different development efforts. On top of that, the team had been set a vision: the product was the core of the client’s business, and needed to be both robust and scalable to keep existing users, as well as feature-rich in order to expand to new users. This vision was well understood by the team, and meant that, rather than the client product owner setting us detailed goals, the team could (and did) challenge the immediate prioritisation of work when it didn’t conform to the overriding vision that they have been set. This ability to ‘work to the vision’ resulted in, for example, critical server availability work being carried out in preference to more exciting new development. This server availability work paid off in spades when a server fault took an entire disk array out. If you have a team of highly-skilled technical staff, make sure they understand the bigger picture to which they need to deliver. This will allow them to deliver the best results.

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