You’ve worked hard as a software developer for years and finally got the promotion you were looking for. You’re now managing a team of software engineers, and you need to lead them through their next big project. Developing good products is important to the team’s triumphs, but novice managers sometimes aren’t sure how to get there.
As in other lines of work, employees often become managers because they’re excellent performers. However, effective leadership requires a different skill set than the technical aptitude of an individual contributor. Management training, experience, and rallying the team around common goals are ways to overcome the learning curve. Here are five additional tips you can use to set your software development team up for success.
1. Use Project Management Software
To stay on top of to-do lists and group progress, a team needs tools that make collaboration and organization easier. A software development project management tool lets the group see how individual assignments fit into a project’s overarching goal. Managers structure, assign, schedule, and prioritize the separate tasks that make up a single project. Simultaneously, team members can use various view filters to see assignments in Kanban boards or flow diagrams.
When each software developer sees tasks as part of a whole, they’ll know they aren’t simply sending their work into the void. They’ll be reminded that their contributions impact the success of co-workers, the group, and the organization. Project management software also gives your team a simple way to collaborate and communicate. Whether team members work in-person or remotely, they can keep track of conversations and alert each other when assignments are ready for handoff.
2. Practice Active Communication
Although collaboration software has come a long way, it’s not a complete substitute for communication with your team. Employees expect leaders to show that they’re genuinely interested in individual and group welfare. This doesn’t mean you have to become best friends with everyone, but regularly reaching out or scheduling periodic check-ins helps. Just keep in mind that daily check-ins might be viewed by some as intrusive or overkill.
Biweekly individual meetings often hit the sweet spot for many workers. They’re frequent enough so questions and concerns don’t get forgotten, but not so frequent that they feel like micromanagement. During these sessions, ask about individual and group tasks, stumbling blocks, and suggestions for improvement. Work on establishing trust as much as displaying empathy and attentiveness.
3. Set Clear Expectations
It’s much easier for team members to find themselves on different pages than you might think. Remote and hybrid employees are especially vulnerable to this. When employees are out of sight and out of mind, they’re more likely to become isolated. They may start to feel out of touch with the rest of the group and like they’re working in a vacuum. Data silos might form between team members with similar personalities, backgrounds, or work perspectives and others of a different temperament.
Project management software will help overcome some of this, but it’s critical to set clear project scopes and expectations. A software development team has to work within established and centralized guidelines to be effective. Determine the project’s scope, such as desired functionalities and features, as a group. Define a timeline for individual stages and deliverables. You might also want to define a minimum viable product to allow for flexibility.
4. Be Mindful of Workloads
Managers don’t control the size and makeup of the teams they inherit. Leaders also can’t predetermine the projects their teams are already working on. But what new managers can do is assess what’s currently on everyone’s plates and the skill set of each direct report. They can then look for ways to balance and match assignments according to strengths and priorities.
Having the wrong team size for projects is one of the reasons why software development projects fail. When teams are too small, workloads become excessive, and engineers become vulnerable to burnout. Adding too many developers to a project results in wasted resources and drives up costs. So ask your team for feedback about whether current workloads and deadlines are realistic. If they aren’t, advocate for more resources and time to complete projects.
5. Encourage and Develop Soft Skills
Like it or not, technical teams aren’t always known for soft skills like empathy and collaborative communication. Personalities that gravitate toward technical positions may also value tech skills over the ability to work well with people. Challenges managers of technical employees sometimes face include animosity, the use of sarcasm, and a lack of cohesiveness.
Brilliant coding and troubleshooting skills alone won’t lead the team to success. Emotional intelligence, cooperativeness, and the ability to understand users’ perspectives will have more influence over a project’s success or failure. You can cultivate these qualities by providing soft skills training and recognizing team members who display them. Implementing peer recognition and mentoring initiatives is another powerful tactic.
Leading the Way
The transition from individual contributor to manager isn’t something anyone masters within a few weeks or months. It often takes years of trial and error and learning from your mistakes to go from being a novice leader to a seasoned expert. Leading a team of software developers can be challenging because of competing priorities and the complex work involved.
Fortunately, you can accelerate your progress by implementing project management tools and studying others who have shifted into managerial roles. Effective leadership isn’t so much about displaying technical knowledge as it is about understanding and influencing people.
Remember to foster open communication, establish expectations as a group, prioritize and balance workloads, and develop your team’s soft skills. Doing these things will help take your team further toward its goals.