Self Reflection as a Manager
Sometimes when I get called in to help a dev manager straighten up their team, I face a lot of resistance. But there’s hope. I have a solution!
The biggest resistance I run into is often not from the team itself, but from the history of the team. For example, I might say to the dev manager “put in a pull request review system” or “alternate developers full weeks on support and on development.”
But, a lot of times I hear this answer: “We tried that before - it didn’t work.”
There’s two reasons that it didn’t work last time - let me break it down for you.
Experience and Skill
Have you ever looked back at your code from years ago and wondered what you were thinking? I know I have! The great thing about our career is that we’re in a place where we’re always learning.
But what that means is that you can’t rely on past performance to dictate what a future outcome could be. (This sounds a lot like a stock picking warning - but it’s true for this too!) There are two things different from the last time this happened: you and the team are better, more experienced, and likely a different mix of skillsets. And second, you have a consultant in with experience running this same process in many different teams. You only have the experience in the makeup of your last team.
So, just because something didn’t work the last time doesn’t mean that it’s not going to work this time. You can mention that it didn’t work last time - but be willing to try it again. Bonus points for explaining in detail why it didn’t work last time!
If everything that someone suggests to you results in a response of “we tried that and it didn’t work” or “that won’t work because …” the problem might not be what you think it is.
It’s not the team. It’s you.
That’s a hard pill to swallow. But, remember what the manager’s job is to do: remove obstacles, provide vision and align resources. Notice that I didn’t say it was to make development decisions?
When you say “that won’t work” you’re limiting the scope of the conversation to only your thoughts. Bring it to your team - ask what they think about it? Encourage them to grow and change. That’s how you get them to respect you and work harder for you.
I’ve been there. I’ve made mistakes with implementation - some I knew about and some I haven’t yet learned. When someone outside the organization suggests you try something you’ve done before, you can get really defensive. But remember why they were brought in. It isn’t because you’re bad - it’s because there’s a challenge in front of you that you aren’t yet equipped to solve. Follow the consultant’s advice and learn something new.
At the best case you can learn and claim the team’s winnings as yours and your teams. At worst, you can blame the consultant, and then try something else. (Then at least you know the idea really doesn’t work - because not only did you try it your way, but someone else tried it their way as well.)