Category Archives: Introspection

Sharing Information – My basic principles

As a team leader, I sometimes find myself in a situation where I have to communicate a decision to my team. Here are some key principles that I a guide myself by when I do this.

Do it as early as it makes sense

Timing is one of the most important things to me. If my team find out about the “news” from somewhere else, their trust in me is likely to be shaken. I am there to look after them and to be their voice in the conversations that have an impact on them. The sooner I can do that, the more I can help them.

Give a quick rundown of what will be covered

At the beginning of the discussion I try to clarify what I will talk about. This provides not just structure, but it may prevent questions that would be answered anyway. At the same time, it enables everyone to write down any questions that I may have overlooked in my FAQ.

Ideally, the agenda should be sent with the meeting invite, but sometimes this is just not possible.

Provide context

The reality is that not everyone reads their emails. If these emails contain business speak, are too lengthy, or come from a source that is too far away in the organisation, then it’s possible that people will just skim the message and not retain too much information.

The first part of the discussion should definitely include a quick recap of what has been going on, to bring everyone up to speed.

Stay honest, genuine, natural

I have seen so many people try to become somebody they are not during a presentation. Their pitch or tone would change. Their body language would be awkward. Their hand gestures would be unnatural. I try my hardest not to be one of these people.

Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

I feel like being genuine helps reassure people that I am being honest. Even if the point of the meeting is to “sell” to the team something that they might not be too happy about, it’s still important that my tone is affiliative.

Give just the right amount of information

One very important aspect is finding the right balance between getting lost in the details (overwhelming the team with too much information) and being too vague about what the decision really entails.

Go through a FAQ

I try to think ahead of the questions that the team might have. Putting myself in their shoes is good for several reasons:

  • helps me prepare for the meeting
  • contributes to the decision of how much should be communicated
  • keeps me honest
  • prevents the piling up of answers such as “I don’t know”, and “I’ll get back to you”

Take questions

I am a strong believer in the power of an honest “I don’t know”. Realistically, if the truth is that I don’t know, then anything else I would say is BS. I respect my team too much to reply with a political, or vague answer. It’s also very likely that the answer will be important to me too.

Thank and close

When closing, it’s important to remind people that the communication channel is still open. Some people are introverts, or simply not comfortable asking questions in front of their peers. Others prefer to communicate in writing. Their voices are equally important therefore they need to know that they can follow-up with me.

Reboot

I need to put myself out there again. I am at crossroads with my career and I am hoping that writing about the decision making process and the context around it all will help me make the right decisions.

Relevant background

Instead of spending a lot of time and energy writing about my entire life, I will quickly summarise the last decade. Realistically, the last five years are the only relevant ones, so I will go into more detail as I approach current day.

2005 – 2009

About five years ago (2009), I was wrapping up my gig with Fronde Anywhere (a Mobile Banking & Finance pseudo-Start Up). I worked there between 2005 and 2009. My “consultant” title seemed to be the only generic term that could encapsulate all the roles I performed:

  • Software developer (Architecture, Mobile, Web, Systems Integration)
  • Trade Show presenter (e.g. CeBIT in Hannover)
  • RFP responder and integration partner
    • In New Zealand: ANZ, BNZ, KiwiBank, M-Co, Oracle, NZ Post, Telecom, Trade Me, Vodafone, Westpac
    • and abroad: BPI, Citi, Credit Agricole, Figaro, Sparkassen
  • Consultant and trainer (KiwiBank, CSC, Cap Gemini)
  • Marketing genius. Well not really, but I do take full credit for coming up with the Fronde name when Synergy International got rebranded

I soon realised that building software was just one facet of my technology persona. I also became aware that becoming involved with other businesses, and taking more product ownership was what I really wanted to do. Simply put, my view of my career and my priorities was somewhere along these lines:

  • short term: raise my profile as a Mobile technology person
  • medium term: build a popular Mobile solution that I would be proud of
  • long term: fill the gaps in my skills (leadership experience, design awareness, product mindedness)

The company I was working for was a good, comfortable place. However the challenges and the opportunities were not there so I had to make some changes. Without doubt, the most drastic change was starting Tmro. That was possible once I decided to reduce my work week from five to four days. I’ll dissect Tmro some other time, though…

2009 – …

The other change that I made was to take a job at Trade Me (2009). I joined as a back-end developer,  but at every occasion I was pushing the Mobile agenda. My .NET adventure was short lived. The contractor that had been hired to build an iPhone app was constantly asking for my support which was formalised within a few months. His contract wrapped up and I became the solo developer. We released the first version of the Trade Me for iPhone app sometime around Guy Fawkes (2010).

Trade Me Mobile

The iPhone app grew fast; so fast that within just a few months the Trade Me Mobile Team was formed, when Sam joined me as the Mobile Team Tester. Design was a separate entity altogether (It took a few years until the designers joined the developers and the testers to form cross skilled squads/teams as part of the larger Mobile Tribe/Team). The Mobile Team expansion continued by hiring two more iOS developers. We agreed to keep the developer to tester ratio as close as possible to 3 to 1. Before we knew it, we were investigating the possibility of building an Android app to repeat the success of the iPhone app. We did it ourselves, while building another two apps for a satellite business. With four apps to support we finally hired our own Mobile designer. This happened just in time for the first vertical app: the Trade Me Property for iOS app and the beginning of our bravest app: the Trade Me for iPad app. Things escalated quickly: in just a couple of years the app portfolio was growing. So was the team. What was shrinking was the time I was spending building solutions. I found myself doing more and more product advocacy (breaking business rules for the sake of making the apps better), arguing for resources, writing project plans and proposals, taking part in strategy meetings, and most importantly, managing people. The dream was coming true: my medium and long term plans were going great.

Crossroads

I did not anticipate was was about to happen next, but in hindsight it’s easy to understand how building a product suite, growing and managing an entire team, and representing these both internally and externally was going to transform me into a Product person. My job title said “Team Leader” but, in my heart, I saw myself as a Product Gatekeeper with a clear understanding that keeping the team happy was the first step towards delivering delight to our members. My vision was thus formed:

Only a happy team can build products that people love.

Despite attending WWDC (twice), Google Developer events, Rails camps, Webstock, UI/UX conferences, Agile barcamps, and more, I was quickly drifting away from being  just a software developer. My attention was constantly focused on the big picture rather than just the implementation detail. Most of the energy that used to be directed at learning new programming languages and development tools, was now invested in learning about what makes people tick and how to build products that people love.

Today’s turmoil

The Mobile Team is now large (approaching 30) and is made of a bunch of incredible people. There are five leaders who are amazing at representing their colleagues. Our skills cover Android, Design, iOS, Test, and Windows Phone.  We have outgrown Wellington (we are building a brand new team in Auckland). I sometimes wonder whether this is the largest Mobile Team in New Zealand. The products are more than just “relevant”.  Our official strategy documents require that “mobile is ingrained” in everything we do and this requirement is justified by fantastic stats. There’s a problem though: I want more. Currently, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night, taking notes and jotting down thoughts and ideas for a new Product that I have had in the back of my head for around four years now.

Reboot completed. Logging in…

I probably won’t be able to talk about the details of this Product for a while. I will write about the challenges that I come across and the decisions that I plan on making starting with the next post…

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