Driving productivity within technical teams at Wiredcraft
Project management for technical projects is different from other projects. In this piece, the author reveals the truth behind the common challenges teams face and suggests guidelines on how to drive productivity.
This is a summary of the talk I gave last year at Le Wagon’s event.
After years of experience working with technical teams as a product manager or a project manager in consulting, agency and in-house contexts, I’d like to share with you my observations and learnings.
Working with teams that consist of a lot of technical profiles, including developers, designers, product and business owners, we as a team often run into these challenges:
Struggling to catch deadlines
Too many scope changes
Lack of explicit alignment in conversations
Lack of understanding and trust among team members
Project managers often see these issues emerging for all kinds of tech related projects, whether it’s a design project or a product launch. Countless articles talk about using different tools, making process changes and hiring more people to solve them. Yet I can’t help but wonder, what is the root cause that lies behind? Are there best practices for us to follow in order to avoid these?
Before getting into the solutions, I would like to first outline the underlying truths behind each of these challenges:
You Grow or Die. Running a business in today’s market, as the old Chinese saying goes, is like rowing a boat upstream: to not advance is to drop back. So this means the team we are running is dynamic, growing with our business cycles, and we don’t always have the luxury of being comfortable with a small and efficient team who have worked with each other for a long time.
Resource Scarcity. Scarcity of resources is a basic economic concept which influences our life profoundly in every way. In the specific context of technical team productivity, it serves as an external limitation that we simply can’t increase our output by adding more people in most cases. We are more than familiar with the term “budget” or “headcount”, which is usually a simple indicator that the business does not have sufficient resources to support further growth of the team in numbers. In many cases, even if the business has sufficient financial resources to recruit more team members, it is not necessarily easy to find a good fit since there is scarcity of good talents in the market as well.
We work with humans. We work with people, this is self-explanatory, but what does it really mean? Why is it relevant in the context of technical team productivity? In the world of intellectual work, most of the work needs creativity and innovative thinking to achieve excellent results. Thus, the traditional management theories that focus on rigorous process and control don’t apply in this situation, since efficiency is essentially the trade-off of personal motivation and creativity.
It’s all about leading people
At Wiredcraft, we try to drive productivity within technical teams by focusing on two areas.
Aim to have effective leaders.
The goal as a leader is to achieve target performance as a team.
Be conscious of the shift of your role. In many cases, tech leaders are pushed to leader positions, but usually prefer the innocent world of only producing code. As we know, this usually doesn’t work, since the first step to be an effective leader is to understand the significance of this role and the responsibilities that come along with it. The essence of leadership in a technical team is not much different than with any other functions. An effective leader needs to understand that his/her success is not measured by their personal technical excellence anymore, but by the overall performance of the team.
Willing and capable. Effective leaders need to be aware and willing to accept the challenge and extra responsibility of this role. Specifically, leaders need to actively identify problems, be ready at all times to take the blame and be capable of finding solutions for known issues with team members’ performance.
It’s a process of influence. We are still a small organization undergoing rapid growth, allowing our team to have way more flexibility and ownership compared to large organizations. The down side for leaders is that they are not able to fully rely on processes to manage the team, rather they need to influence the team effectively to achieve performance targets. We encourage our leaders to apply the Situational Leadership approach where the leaders should understand clearly which quadrant each of their team members lies depending on their competence and commitment level on the job. By using Coaching, Directing, Delegate and Supportive leadership style selectively, leaders drive every team member to achieve their personal potential and thus reach the team performance target.
Focus on building the “right” organizational culture.
It would be difficult to give a definition or standard on what is right or wrong culture. Rather, the term “right” here looks at the effectiveness of the culture within the organization.
The “right” organizational culture drives:
Cohesiveness. Good organization culture encourages the team to stick together, fighting for the same goal as a squad.
Motivation. Good culture boosts team spirit and personal motivation at work, it helps drive team members to work more effectively, continuously seeking better performance and achieving higher goals.
Mutual understanding. Good culture facilitates understanding across team members from different backgrounds and different skill sets. This helps the team to share a sense of empathy and gives them the ability to be able to put themselves in each others’ shoes when encountering conflicts.
Transparency. Good culture promotes transparency in team communication on all aspects. This will help including but not limited to:
More effective and efficient collaboration with higher visibility on project progress and communication;
Better understanding of company vision and how it impact everyone on personal level