36 steps to success as technical lead

Build your relationship with the team

16. Gain the team’s respect with the quality of your work and by doing what you are preaching

If you want something from a group of people you have to be an example for that something. Show them quality if you want quality. Show them enthusiasm if you want enthusiasm. And so on… but with a team of programmers don’t forget to show them good code and good design.

17. Be fair

Being perceived as fair by your team is essential and unfortunately this is really hard to get because you have to say no sometimes. No, to good ideas that will improve the product. No, to bad ideas that will improve somebody’s resume. The way you say “no” and when you say “no” and to whom you say it makes all the difference.
Also be fair in allocating work. If somebody is more capable and is able to do more, be sure to compensate that person in some form. A programmer whom I respect deeply once said to me: “I finished my work and then I started to help John. He was way behind and the boss asked me to give him a hand. After a week we were still behind because John’s code was a mess and I had to basically start over. And at that time, in a meeting, the boss screamed at me because I didn’t do John’s work faster!”. The story speaks for itself.

18. Admit your mistakes

Goes hand in hand with the previous advice. It takes courage to admit your mistakes and to make yourself vulnerable in front of your team, but this will build trust between you and the team. Just be careful not to make mistakes too often.

19. Publicly recognize both team’s and individual members’ merits

Think about a scenario: an emergency arises and you ask a team member to take care of it. The person solves the crisis, perhaps with a lot of personal effort. Then, in a meeting with the whole team, and higher management, you say “We worked hard as a team and we solved it”. If you don’t mention the person by name they will never forgive you.

20. Don’t blame anybody publicly for anything

In fact as a tech lead you cannot blame anybody but yourself for anything. The moment you blame a team member in public is the moment when the team starts to die. Internal problems have to be solved internally and preferably privately.

21. Build morale and confidence by offering early victories to the team and to its individual members

I cannot over stress the importance of this advice. Victories bring victories and sometimes you have to set up the first one. If you offer the chance to early victories the team will gel faster and the enthusiasm will create other successes. The best scenario is when somebody manages to accomplish something he was sure he cannot do.

22. Match people and tasks based on skills and their personal preference if possible; explain your decisions

Another difficult skill to master. Everybody in the team wants the glamorous parts that use the latest technology. You have to match every task with a person and you have to make them happy with what they got. It has to be challenging and comfortable at the same time for all of them. This is no easy feat but it can be done. You have to go back and look at what motivates each person in your team.

23. Work the estimates with the team don’t come up with them

If you don’t do it you will be perceived as not fair. Also keep in mind the estimate, to have any meaning, has to be done by the person who will do the work.

24. Mentor people

It is your job to raise the education level of your team. By doing this you can build relationships at a more personal level and this will gel the team faster and harder. It is very effective with more junior people in the team but there are ways to approach even more senior members, just try not to behave like a teacher.

25. Listen to and learn from people

Even if you are the most experienced developer on the team you can always find new things and learn form others. Nobody is a specialist in everything and some of your team members can be domain specialists who can teach you a lot.

26. Explain your technical decisions

There are many reasons for this advice. By trying to explain your decision you get to understand it better. You get valuable feedback. You ideas are bought faster. You make people understand that you value their opinion.

Next page: Build your relationship with the management and business people
Previous page: Set yourself up for success

15 thoughts on “36 steps to success as technical lead”

  1. Can you please provide Subscribe by Email Link/textfiled in your blog? Some times, reading blogs in any RSS reader/google reader and even with old browsers (IE6) not possible. Thanks for your technical sharing.

  2. Nice set of guideline for all who handle a senior role in a project! .
    I really like the clause “Get your hands dirty and code” as it is a main concern that all junior members expect form their seniors. They need the feeling that they are not alone in a difficult task in a project

  3. In addiion, I would like to say that a section on the role of mgmt versus tech lead would be very useful too.

  4. You have to have a clear idea of what you want. You also have to understand what team members and the management want. You also have to be aware that what people really want, what they say the want and sometimes even what they think they want are very different things. Try to be very honest at least with yourself. Success has different definitions for different people. If there is a big disconnect between these definitions you have a problem before you start.

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