This week’s Tech Hug is all about getting the most out of your team! It’s almost a spiritual email for me. While it combines project management, team building, and company culture, it also embodies my life philosophy on how to get the most out of people and how to treat the people around you.
What I’m sharing is the process I use to build successful development teams for startups. It’s worked well for my clients for many years. The setup applies equally to tech teams, to non-tech teams, to remote teams and to teams within a single office.
If you want to get technical, my setup is a mixture of Scrum and Kanban and aims to create a collaborative, agile, empowering culture within your company. Work together towards a greater good, not to please your line manager or hit a delivery deadline.
Ready to be hugged? Let’s get started!
1. Use project management software
If you’re using email to discuss specifications, stop right now! It’s simply not efficient. This also goes for discussions in new-fangled instant messenger (IM) tools like Slack. Email and IM are a great way to get a discussion going but decisions need to be recorded in a project management tool. I would recommend Trello as an easy way to get started. Check out links at the bottom of this email if you need support in getting something up.
2. Daily standups
Start each day with a 10-minute stand-up meeting. It’s not about progress or pushing a project along – it’s an exercise to bring the team together and focus the day’s activities. As a project manager, if you’re continuously talking during the stand-up, then you’re doing it wrong. Let the team talk. Listen out for problems or obstacles and remove them. Update project management software to record decisions or changed priorities.
Action Links: Patterns for a daily standup meeting
3. Weekly reviews
End the week with a review of completed tasks, tasks in progress and a look-ahead at the next week. The questions you’re looking to get answered: What went well? What didn’t go well? What can we improve next week? Let the team do the talking, give constructive feedback, remove obstacles.
Action Links: Scott Berkun has a good review formula in his book The Year Without Pants
4. Serve your team
Whether you are the CEO, MD, COO, CTO or PM: Your job is to create a culture and a system that lets your team fulfill their potential. Your ego or power are not important in that setup. Make sure your team has the tools, the information, and the environment they need to complete their job. General Sir Patrick Howard-Dobson said it better than I ever could:
“Some day you may have to lead men into battle and ask them to do their duty, and you will do it through Love. You must always put them first. If you arrive somewhere half destroyed, half exhausted at the end of a hard march, do you worry about your food, your bed, and your rest? No, you do not. You must make sure they are fed, rested and have somewhere to sleep. You must make sure arrangements are made for their safety and guards placed, runners sent, whatever is necessary, and it will be a lot. But, if you do this you’ll find that you never have to worry about yourself, because as you look after them, so they will look after you. As they come to know that you love and care for them, so they will love you, and through love for you and for one another they will be the best soldiers the world has seen.”
Action Links: Developing Leaders A British Army Guide (I don’t really expect you to read the whole thing – but would encourage you to look at other industries when it comes to leadership advice)
5. No estimates!
Yes, that’s right: I run all projects with NO formal delivery estimates. Yes, it is still possible to hit deadlines using this technique. Blanket estimates are ineffective, often made up on the spot and easily misused by management to put pressure on the delivery team. The true answer to the question ‘How long will it take?’ is an answer that nobody ever gives you, which is ‘I have no idea’.
If you can’t trust your team to work as hard as they can to get projects delivered as quickly as humanly possible, then you either have the wrong team or you’re not giving them the right environment.
Instead of estimates, do this:
- Share your key milestone dates with the team. Let them know if there is a client presentation next Friday and what your priorities are (“We want to show them our new interface” and not “Get these 5 features done or else…”). Ask your team for solutions to meet those objectives (and be willing to accept them), don’t dictate what you need to get done.
- Let go of your expectations. Accept that it’s impossible to predict how long something will take. Some deadlines can’t be moved – so be prepared to make compromises on the final product instead.
- Show your team which tasks are most important to you. This is easily done in project management software – move the most important task to the top of the list.
- Release new functionality when it’s ready, not when you hit a deadline. By having a flexible and automated release structure, you will get features out as quickly as possible.
Action Links: #noestimates on Twitter
As always, I’d like to leave you with a few actionable steps:
Take a few minutes out of your day right now and think about your own team setup.
- How is it different from what I talk about here?
- What problems did you experience recently?
- Could one of the steps above help to resolve those problems?
Scroll back up and read the Action Links on the step in question.
Implement the new technique next week! Just do 1 at a time and slowly evolve your team into a collaborative, empowered working community.