Three Strategies To Lead Technical Teams Effectively

As a non-technical founder of a tech company, working with developers can pose a challenge. Sooner or later you’re going to be working with a technical team to build your product, which can seem daunting if you’ve never written a line of code in your life.

During my first few years as founder, I asked our team to focus on producing code as quickly as possible, rather than investing in code quality. This approach resulted in too much technical debt, which was threatening to impact us further down the line. In the end, one of our developers convinced me that we needed to prioritize code quality to avoid encountering serious problems in the future.

Initially, I thought we could get away with building our products as quickly as possible. But I realized that as soon as you gain traction, the quality of your code becomes strategically important for success.

It is vital for you and your technical team to be on the same page in terms of both product and business goals. After this experience, I reflected on how a non-technical founder can be more effective and productive when leading technical teams, summarized in these three strategies:

1. Get familiar with the fundamentals.

You may not be a developer yourself, but if you’re going to work effectively with your development team, you’ll need to speak the same language. Doing some background research into the tech, processes, tools and programming languages that your development team uses on a daily basis is going to improve every single interaction you have with them.

For example, bugs are an inevitable part of software development, so your developers will already have a process in place for capturing and processing bug reports. Imagine a customer has been complaining about an issue with your latest release; if you understand the bug reporting process, you can ask your team about the status of the bug report, who a particular bug has been assigned to or whether the bug was even reproducible in the first place.

However, if you don’t have this insight, then you’re limited to pretty generic questions, such as “has this been fixed yet?” or, even worse, “why hasn’t this been fixed yet?”

Teach yourself how to think and talk more like a developer by completing a few free online courses or reading audio books. You could even ask your development team to present an outline of their current projects for the rest of your organization. Not only will this promote transparency and communication between your different departments, but it’s the perfect opportunity to get a jargon-free explanation of everything your development team is currently working on.

2. Be detailed and specific with feedback.

When you’re providing feedback on technical projects, it’s easy to get hung up on the technical aspect. As a non-technical founder, it may help to reframe your feedback in the context of what you’re more comfortable with, such as marketing or advertising.

When providing feedback, you might be used to giving specific detailed suggestions like “that image should be 10 pixels wider,” or “you need to move the call-to-action button above the fold line.” However, when it comes to technical projects, it’s easy for a lack of specialist knowledge to cause you to make vague comments like “the colors aren’t bright enough” or “this should load faster.”

It’s crucial that you provide a clear direction for your team to implement the changes you want. Wherever possible, it may help to quantify the desired outcome, as having a clear number to work toward tends to work for software development. For example, instead of saying “I want this program to launch faster,” you could say “we need to shave at least five seconds off the startup time.”

If you’re unsure whether you’ve provided your team with the information they need, just ask. After delivering your feedback, try to get into the habit of explicitly asking if there’s any more information you can provide to help them implement the changes.

3. Embrace flexibility and remote work.

Flexibility is a surefire way to boost job satisfaction for all your employees, regardless of job title. Consider taking some or all of your development team remote, as companies like Stripe and others have done. As a founder, you can take advantage of cost savings by allowing your team to work remotely (less office space needed) as well as tangible benefits like evidence of increased employee engagement for remote workers.

Flexibility is particularly important for developers, as urgent issues such as server outages can happen at any time, including evenings and weekends. If your team can work remotely, they may be more willing to fix the critical issue right when it is happening, even if it is not during typical office hours (and then adjust their hours during less critical moments).

Working remotely allows your development team to do their best work and organize their day in the way they can work most effectively. Everyone is unique, with productivity levels varying across a 24-hour period. If a developer is most productive between midnight and 3 a.m., then he or she may never do their best work in a typical 9-5 day.

Building a positive working relationship with developers may be more challenging for a non-technical founder, but you can still set yourself up for success by staying committed to learning and adapting your leadership style with your technical team in mind.

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